"Fortunately, there are tools that can help our nervous system quickly recover."

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Episode 153 -- September 30, 2021

Stress Less: Two Techniques for Calming Anxiety

Stress is part of the human condition. Those of us new to recovery have let go of the substances and processes we once employed to detach from our anxiety and deaden fear. Now we need some new—and hopefully healthier—ways to manage stress and make it through each day's anxiety-provoking experiences.

Relieve Stress: 5-Minute First Aid for the Mind, by Dr. Katrin Schubert, is a welcome guide to coping with stressful situations in recovery and daily life. In the book, Schubert shares twenty exercises in bodily awareness and emotional mindfulness that vary from guided imagery and breathing exercises to acupressure.

The following excerpt includes two of Schubert's step-by-step techniques for calming anxiety and managing stress. The first focuses on breaking the circle of stress that can occur when we argue with ourselves or the people around us. The second helps our nervous system recover quickly from situations in which we feel triggered.

This excerpt has been edited for brevity.

Some mornings Kyle awakes with high levels of anxiety that make him feel unable to get ready for his day. He said, "It feels like very physical anxiety, with my heart racing and my body feeling uneasy, like a vibrating fear." Kyle found the Ocean Sounding Breath technique really helpful; he could feel a "slowing down" all over his body and his heart rate normalizing. He reported, "I also feel an overall calming sensation, and I am always surprised how quickly it improves my sense of well-being."

Can you recall a heated argument from your past? Do you remember how your body tightened when you were insulted, felt that you weren't being heard, or perhaps that you were being taken for granted? Our minds often continue to go over and over the argument, the wrongs that have to be righted, and our brilliant brains come up with even better retorts for the next round. Or we may feel crushed by the incident, wanting to withdraw and curl up and hide under the covers. There is a technique that can help you break the vicious circle of stress that arguing with yourself or the people around you can cause. A very calming breathing technique, the Ocean Sounding Breath is named after the soft rushing sound you hear when breathing in this manner.

How to Do It
Gently tighten the back of your throat as if you want to whisper and slowly, without forcing it, breathe in and out. This will reduce the flow of air going in and out of your lungs. You will hear a sound that reminds you of ocean waves. Now, slowly breathe in and out through your nose, making both the in-breath and the out-breath equally long. You can mindfully count from one to five while you inhale, then count from one to five while you exhale. First, breathe through your nose and fill your belly with air. Once your belly feels full of air, fill your lungs. Exhale in reverse order—let go of the air in your lungs and then in your belly. Start over again and keep going for three minutes or so.

This kind of breathing is used by both yoga and Taoist masters in their meditation practices and can assist in slowing down your thoughts. If you feel distressed while breathing this way, thinking that you are not getting enough air, you are trying too hard. Back off a bit and allow more air to flow into your body.

This way of breathing not only delivers more oxygen to your cells and your brain; it also helps you become more aware of the present moment and your thoughts become more balanced. You may feel a gentle and pleasant tingling in your body, indicating an increased flow of good energy.

Summary of the Technique

  1. Gently tighten the back of your throat.
  2. Slowly inhale through your nose while counting from one to five. Breathe into your belly first, then into your chest.
  3. Slowly exhale through your nose while counting from one to five. Breathe out from your chest first, then your belly.
  4. Notice the sound and the calm waves of breath moving in and out of you, filling you with life-giving oxygen and nourishing your brain and body.

Recognizing that many of our choices are made out of fear is a great step toward freedom from a stress-causing pattern.

Any change to our routine can trigger alertness and stress inside of us. Whether it is taking on a new task at work, dealing with a disagreement with a loved one or friend, needing to have our tires rotated, or noticing that the grocery store is running out of our favorite food or our bank account is running low, we feel our nervous system tighten. Our brain's alarm system goes on high alert, and we have only a split second to decide whether to adapt or go into distress, fear, or anger mode.

Our response, of course, depends to a large extent on our present stress level and our past experiences. We all have been in situations where one simple trigger creates a big response, a knee-jerk reaction: we pull back, engage in anger, or dissolve in tears.

Fortunately, there are tools that can help our nervous system quickly recover.

How to Do It
When you realize that you're having a strong, negative reaction either internally (such as panicky thoughts) or externally (such as harsh words or emotional meltdowns), take a deep breath, look around you, and notice your surroundings. Become aware that everything is in its place. The trees grow where they always have, cars continue to drive by in the same manner, pedestrians head toward their destinations, and birds fly overhead just as before, when life was calmer.

Now pick a wise saying or slogan from the list below that seems fitting for you in this moment; choose intuitively without thinking too hard. Then reflect for a moment about the meaning this slogan has in your life right now. What does it remind you of and how is it helpful to you? You may remember a saying you picked up from your parents, grandparents, or another person instead. Go with that one! What does it mean in your current situation?

Sample Words of Wisdom

How important is it?

Even after a deep dark night the sun will rise again!

Life goes on.

Expect miracles.

Thy will be done.

I am not in charge.

Live and let live.

Love prevails.

This too shall pass.

Eat the elephant (the insurmountable problem) one bite at a time.

Easy does it.

Let it go.

About the Author:
Katrin Schubert has dedicated her career to helping her fellow human beings heal their bodies, minds, and spirits with natural medicine. After completing her medical degree and a PhD in human genetics at the University of Hamburg, and receiving international training in England, the Czech Republic, India, China, Canada, and the United States, she opened her holistic health clinics in Kingston and Gananoque, Ontario, Canada. Katrin also has a science degree from Queen's University in Kingston.

© 2016 by Katrin Schubert
All rights reserved