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  • Writer's pictureTed Bradshaw

Something to think about, something to do

When we are anxious, everything is going faster. Your heart is beating faster, your breathing is quicker and more shallow. It is the fight or flight reaction: your body is preparing you to either fight off or run away from a threat. A side effect of this is that it becomes harder to think clearly too. Often thoughts are racing or buzzing around, or you end up with tunnel vision.

 

The anxiety response in your body starts to get in the way of being able to think.

 

I like to explain this by saying that if a tiger is in the room and your body is getting you ready to respond, you don’t need to be able to do philosophy or maths. All you need to be able to do is see the tiger and the exit. There isn’t space for anything else.

 

So, if we can just slow the body down, it becomes that little bit easier to think, to get perspective and choose how we want to respond. Here’s three ways of doing that:

 

Breathing

 

We can't really control our heart rate directly, but we do have the ability to slow our breathing down and if we do that, the heart rate follows. There are so many breathing exercises out there, but the key principles are that when we are anxious, breathing is fast and shallow. We want to imitate breathing that is more like what happens when we are really relaxed, or even asleep:

  • Slowly in through the nose and out through the mouth (think of the kind of pace you hear when someone is snoring)

  • You are aiming to fill up your lungs completely. That means your diaphragm will drop right down (so you need to let your belly hang out to make room for that, rather than holding it tense and tight which sometimes happens when you are anxious)

  • When you breathe in, think about doing it slowly enough that you can't really feel the air going in through your nostrils

  • When you breathe out, you can make a sound if you like (it does actually help I reckon)

  • You really don't need to do this for half an hour if you don't have it. Even 30 seconds will make a difference.

 

Sometimes you aren't in a position to do some deep breathing. If you are in a meeting or giving a presentation, you might want ways of slowing things down without having to say "hold up, let me just take a few moments to breathe."

 

Pace

 

Slowing down the pace of your speech and your movements is a great one. When you are anxious, your speech and movements are fast. If you speak slowly and pause between your words, your breathing will slow down too. If you walk slowly or type slowly, your body can take the cue that it is OK to relax.

 

Posture

 

When you are anxious, your body wants to tense and curl up like a hedgehog:

  • Looking down

  • Tense shoulders

  • Hunched over

When you are relaxed, your stance can be much more open

  • Shoulders back and down (open chest)

  • Chin up, looking ahead

  • Loosey goosey

 

All of those tweaks make it easier to use the full capacity of your lungs, too.

 

Something to think about 

 

Sometimes we try to talk ourselves out of our anxiety, or work our way out of it by distracting ourselves or doing things to try to resolve it. Sometimes that helps, but sometimes all we really need to do is acknowledge it and try to slow things down.

 

Something to do

 

Test out breathing, slowing your pace, and opening your posture up this week. See which works well for you.

 

Thanks for reading! Until next week,

 

Ted

 

P.S. it won't always take the anxiety away, so it's OK if you still have some left when you have done these things. It might just give you a bit of breathing space.

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