Maybe your heart is pounding and you feel light headed. Or maybe you just feel that tummy-tightening stress churning away. Anxiety is no fun, and it may seem like it’s everywhere these days. Whatever you’re worrying about, it’s vital to ease the strain by getting grounded.
We’re lucky enough to walk around with one of the best anxiety-reducing tools available – your breath. Focusing on breathing gets you back on track by slowing your heart rate and getting lots of mind-clearing oxygen back to your brain.
During moments of anxiety, your body can go into fight-or-flight mode as your parasympathetic nervous system takes over. Blood rushes away from your brain and into your body (tiger!), and you might feel a racing or fluttering heart and flushed skin. You may feel breathless, like you can’t catch enough air, or you may hyperventilate, breathing too fast and shallow. Your muscles may tense as your metabolism cranks up. You’re standing there ready for a battle that’s raging in your mind.
Slow Belly Breaths Out
The first thing to remember is this – you have to give breath to get breath. When you’re feeling breathless, it’s usually because you aren’t emptying your lungs before trying to breathe again. Start by dropping your shoulders and letting the air leave your lungs, all the way.
By focusing on your out-breaths, your in-breaths will deepen too. Breathe slowly, concentrating only on releasing your full breath each time. Putting your attention on your breath also forces your mind to stop skipping around, quieting the mental noise that may be triggering anxiety in the first place.
Continue focusing on breathing fully out until your breath comes calm and slow. You might yawn during this exercise, and you’ll notice that you can’t yawn without a wonderfully deep breath in first! It’s also a good sign that you’re starting to relax.
Now that you’re breathing slowly, place a hand on your belly. If your belly is rising more than your chest while you breathe, you’re already belly breathing. If your chest is rising more than your belly, work on using your diaphragm rather than your chest muscles to breathe. It requires less effort and allows a deeper breath.
While you are focusing on your breath work, perhaps you could also utilize this time for a little self-care treatment with a Zen Detox hair and scalp mask.
4-7-8 Rhythmic Breathing
Now that you have your breathing under control, explore another exercise that brings in elements of simple meditation – counting your breaths. Dr. Weil, founder and director of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, is a proponent of this technique for its ability to help not just with anxiety, but difficulty sleeping. Some also say it can help curb cravings and manage anger.
When you’re ready (sit down for this one), 4-7-8 breathing goes like this: take a deep breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and push all your air out for 8 seconds, like you’re blowing out a candle. Repeat four times. You may feel a little lightheaded, and that’s ok. If it makes you feel woozy, try shortening the times, but keep the ratio the same. Breathe in for 2 seconds, hold for 3 ½, then out for 4. Increase as you get more comfortable holding your breath. Just like it takes time for your natural hair oils to balance with Morrocco Method hair care, it takes time for your body to adjust to a new breathing practice.
Studies suggest that six weeks of practicing pranayamic breathing, or breathing that focuses on controlling breath movement, may regulate your heart rate. Spikes in resting heart rate not related to exercise are an indicator of stress and anxiety. Getting more oxygen to your brain also improves cognition, so we can think clearly about the not-tigers in our lives.
This is another great opportunity to multi-task and pamper yourself with a mini spa session with Morrocco Method Mystic Healing Hot Oil.
Also stemming from ancient practices of pranayama yoga, equal breathing is exactly as it sounds – inhaling the same amount of time as you exhale. As with most breathing exercises, you’ll want to start by sitting comfortably and just breathing normally for a moment. Equal breathing is a wonderful exercise because it is so simple it can be practiced anywhere, by anyone. It’s a very unobtrusive way to breathe and meditate, even in public.
When you’re ready, breathe in and count to four as you fill your lungs. Pause at the top and feel the sense of fullness in your chest, then breathe out for another count of four. Pause again with the empty feeling, and repeat. You can change the cadence, breathing for more counts or fewer. As long as you’re breathing in the same amount of time as you’re breathing out, and aware of each breath, you will start to see the benefits.
For a deeper dive into the art and science of breathwork, take a few moments to explore the world of Dan Brulé, author of Shut Up and Breathe, among other books, a pioneer and dedicated practitioner and teacher of many thousands of people in dozens of countries around the world.
To help start or maintain a daily practice, you may also find these apps useful to track your progress and remind you each day. Breathe is a free iOS app which helps people practice the 4-7-8 breathing method, or try Prana Breath: Calm & Meditate for Android, exploring different methods of relaxation breathing.
Don’t forget the role scent plays while breathing, too. To promote relaxation, try our Morrocco Method Ocean Air Facial Spray. With essential oils like sandalwood and lavender, it sets a beautiful tone for a moment of calm in your day.
For more relaxing self-care tips, check out our guide to the Ultimate Self Care Routine.