Some of the ways I can think of to help a person grow and develop potential, can really sound strange to some people. The point it, it doesn’t matter how strange something sounds, but rather does it work? We can practice being positive. We can try hard to make peace with our inner parts. We can do our best not to allow negative “over the top” thoughts to control our behaviours and at the end of the day, it is so easy to experience becoming totally overwhelmed in an instant when triggered by an upsetting memory or reminder.
The difficulty is that we can go from 0 to 100 on the anxiety scale so quickly, that we don’t have time to do any of the strategies we are learning. These strategies are often best to practice at times when we are not upset because these other strategies slowly build up an inner strength and resilience over time that can reduce the frequency and intensity of the bad times. But, what about the bad times, when we get really panicky or anxious, or find ourself freezing up inside unable to do what we want to do?
The key question is what do we do in that moment that panic launches us into anxiety-orbit? The natural body response is to catch and hold our breath. It can be helpful to do this for a moment, just to help us “stop” and not escalate our inner panic. Notice ourself holding our breath and then do what I call a “mind-over ride”. This is where you consciously force yourself to start breathing again. The important part of this practice is to make yourself breathe more slowly and deeply than you would normally do. Keep this up for a while, and you will be surprised how helpful it is as a way to calm yourself and avoid going into a panic attack. It also reduces the chances of becoming dissociated.
So what is behind this breathing strategy? Think of it like this, we all know that mood affects how we breath. Imagine how you would breathe if you were sad, or relaxed on a beach, or were anxious or angry? In each case most people can easily identify a breathing style that fits a mood. Anxious breathing tends to be fast, and irregular. So, the benefit of this approach is to imagine how you would breathe if you were totally relaxed and calm, and then do that as your mind over ride. By concentrating on breathing as if you are relaxed you are also using up mind space that would otherwise get drawn into panicky over the top thoughts. You are distracting yourself, and staying in your body and not dissociating and most importantly you are triggering a range of changes in your body.
If you are able to practice this frequently- like every day for several minutes, you are learning ahead of time what your relaxed breathing pace really is and it becomes semi-automatic after a while. When it has become semi automatic, it is possible to launch into this process following holding your breath in that split second before panic sets in, and you can instead take a different route. In the next blog post, I will explain some other amazing and helpful ways of making this process even more effective.