I am a worrier raising worriers. In fact, we’ve recently been going through a course designed to help neurodivergent children confront their overwhelming anxiety. While the focus is on providing concrete ways to deal with fears children on the spectrum experience, I find that I am learning how to better manage my own anxiety, too.
Recently, I learned how maladaptive coping strategies are formed. The Cycle of Anxiety is an interesting phenomenon. We experience anxiety, engage in avoidant behavior, and receive short-term relief that reinforces using avoidance as a coping strategy. This creates worse anxiety with a stronger tendency to avoid, rather than face our fears.
If you look at this from a relationship perspective, it’s easy to see that confronting difficult conversations comes with a strong sense of anxiety. It becomes easier just to avoid having the conversation. While it may avoid a short-term argument, the problem continues to build, and our anxiety just ratchets right up. We keep avoiding tough conversations, the problems keep getting worse, and our relationships break down.
Apply this to any anxiety, and it’s easy to see how we use avoidance to cope. While there’s a near-infinite number of ways to avoid our problems, there’s really only one way to conquer the anxiety we’re experiencing. It’s counterintuitive, but the only way for the anxiety to get better is to practice facing it.
One way to do this is to begin a deep breathing practice. We’ve been learning about the importance of developing coping skills when there is no crisis or anxiety in play. As a family, we’re learning to do a little deep breathing every day, so that we’ll all be better equipped to use this skill when the pressure is on.
Here are 10 ways to practice deep breathing:
With rainbow breathing, we can use an image of a rainbow to practice deep breathing. While this is often used for children, it’s equally adaptable for adults. Simply place a finger on the first color, take a deep breath, and trace a finger over the rainbow. When we arrive at the other side, we can exhale while tracing a color back in the other direction. We can do this until we have traced every color of the rainbow.
Another strategy used by children but equally applicable to adults, we can breathe with finger tracing. Essentially, with deep inhales we trace a finger up the side of our hand, on exhales we trace down until we’ve traced the outline of our hand. We can repeat this as many times as needed. This is a tactile way to practice our deep breathing exercises.
Used for children yet fun for adults, blowing bubbles can actually be a relaxing deep breathing exercise. Bubbles are inexpensive and easy to keep nearby. Practicing bubble breathing may not be possible in the office in the middle of a stressful meeting, but it’s certainly something we can do outside or at home. Out of bubbles? Try this bubble video instead.
Visualize a cake topped with candles. Then, take a deep breath and blow them out. Repeat as often as necessary. We can feel free to make a wish and use this as a way to practice an affirmation or manifest something we desire. Candle breathing may often be used with children, but it’s also fun and relaxing for adults.
To practice belly breathing, we can lie down on our backs and place one hand on our heart and one on our belly. We can take a deep breath in through our noses and feel our bellies rise and then exhale through our mouths, feeling our bellies fall. Repeat as often as needed.
Lion Breath (Simhasana Pranayama)
This is where we leave our seriousness behind and enjoy the silliness of lion breath. In a seated position, we place our hands on our knees and inhale through the nose. We open our mouths wide, stick out our tongues toward our chins, and exhale with a loud “ha” sound. We bring our attention to the third eye in the center of our forehead, inhale with a normal face, and then exhale with lion’s breath again.
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhan Pranayama)
We sit in a comfortable position with our eyes closed. Place one palm on the knee, palm facing upward. Place a thumb on the right side of the nose and the ring finger on the left side. Close the right nostril with your thumb and inhale on the left side, then close the left side with the ring finger and exhale on the right side. Alternate nostril breathing is exactly what it sounds like — breathing in with one nostril and breathing out with the other.
Humming Bee Breath (Brahmari)
For this breathing exercise, we take a deep inhale and then hum the entire length of our exhale. This exercise has been found to help with insomnia, sinus infections, stress, and thyroid problems.
Equal breathing (Sama Vritti)
Equal breathing is simple: we simply breathe in for the same amount of time that we breathe out. If we inhale for four seconds, we exhale for four seconds. Research has shown that breathing this way can reduce anxiety.
The 4–7–8 Breathing technique is easy to remember. Simply inhale for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. This technique has been shown to help with sleep issues and decrease anxiety.
By practicing deep breathing, we can learn to work through the worst of our anxiety so that we can find the strength to face it. Deep breathing isn’t a cure for anxiety. It is, however, a coping skill we can use to ease our stress and live a healthier life.
Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned author. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elephant Journal, Elite Daily, and The Good Men Project. She’s also the author of Left on Main, the first book in the Heart of Madison series. When she’s not writing for Medium and working on her next book, you can find Crystal traveling, paddle boarding, running, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, doing yoga, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with her two wild and wonderful children.
Image courtesy of Matheus Henrin.