If you’re reading this and feeling overwhelmed with feelings of stress, frustration, anxiety or distress right now, we’re here with some tools and resources to help bring your emotions back down to a manageable level.
Understanding Your Distress
When you’re overwhelmed with feelings of acute stress or anxiety, it can be helpful to understand why your brain is responding the way it is.
Your brain is wired to instinctively protect you from any perceived threat in a stressful situation, sometimes before you’ve even realised it yourself!
When you experience a stressful event, a section of your brain called your amygdala, which contributes to emotional processing, sends a signal to your hypothalamus, which is like the control centre of your brain. This sends a message to your body to activate your sympathetic nervous system and trigger a fight-or-flight response to flee any perceived danger your brain thinks you might be in. Before you know it, your body is fired up with a burst of energy and adrenaline and you may experience symptoms such as rapid breathing, an increased pulse rate & blood pressure, tingling or sweating.
Engaging Your Parasympathetic Nervous System with Deep Breathing
If your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is fired up because your brain perceived a threat or danger from the stressful event that has occurred, the best thing you can do to calm yourself back down is to engage your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), also known as your rest and digest state, which is your body’s default switch when there is no perceived danger.
Slow and deep breathing is an excellent strategy you can use to stimulate your PNS and your body’s relaxation response.
Aim to lengthen the duration of your exhale to double the length of your inhale, in a simple technique called 2-1 breathing. This can help to quieten the mind and cause a drop in the arousal level of your body’s SNS.
Sometimes it can be difficult to gain control over your breathing amid a panic attack or feelings of acute anxiety, so below are some quick and easy Youtube videos that can provide you with guidance in achieving slow, deep breathing.
2 Min Breathe Bubble: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tOJZQhO_Uw&t=1s
Use This Video To Stop a Panic Attack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXZ5l7G6T2I
Guided Breathing Meditation with Kim Eng: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67SeR3LxtdI
Other Relaxation Techniques to Try
In addition to deep breathing to engage your PNS, here are some other practical strategies to help relax your mind & body:
- Activating your senses such as identifying 5 things in the room that you can see, hear, smell, touch or taste
- Walking barefoot along your carpet or floorboards slowly, as if you’re walking on a tightrope, and observing how the ground feels beneath you – this forces your brain to concentrate on balancing and can help you to feel more grounded
- A special relaxation technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation – read about it here
- Taking a warm shower or bath, which can help encourage physical and mental relaxation
- Distractions – anything positive, funny or interesting that can help you to take your mind off your anxiety. This gives your brain to catch up with you and realise that there is no danger or threat. Some distractions may include watching a funny video that makes you laugh, doing a puzzle, calling a friend to chat, turning on the TV, spending time with your pet – anything that makes you feel good and occupies brain space!
- Writing down ten things that you feel grateful for – it could be as simple as expressing gratitude for your health, the fresh air, your family, a roof over your head, anything!
If you struggle with feelings of stress, anxiety or panic often, we encourage you to reach out for professional mental health support. Your GP (including your Alevia doctor) is an excellent starting point, as they have the tools, training and resources to help guide you in figuring out your next step to gain control over your anxiety and improve your mental health.
You can always book in an appointment with your Alevia doctor online or you can reach out to us on 1300 44 13 22. Alternatively, get in contact with your GP for more information.