Breathing Exercises and Other Techniques to Remain Calm

breathing

Just Breathe

If you’re looking to improve your ability to stay calm and collected under pressure, then there are numerous different techniques you can use. One of the most potent is to learn to control your breathing, which can immediately help you to feel calmer and avoid being pushed over into the stress response. In this post, we’ll be looking at some breathing techniques you can employ to stay calm, as well as looking at some other techniques you can use.

Equal Breathing

Equal breathing is a technique from yoga, which essentially requires you to breathe in and out through your nose. While doing this, you maintain your breath for an equal amount of time on the in-wards and out-wards breaths. So you might breathe out for 4 seconds and then breathe in for four seconds.

This helps you to empty your lungs and fill them with fresh oxygen. What’s more, the slow and deep breathing will allow you to trigger your ‘rest and digest’ state which is similar but slightly different to the ‘fight or flight’ state and is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system. This is a great way to stave off a anxiety response.

Breathing From the Stomach

Another breathing technique to try is simply to breathe from the stomach as we are naturally designed to do. If you try breathing right now and note whether your stomach or chest moves first, you may well find that you breathe by leading with your chest. This limits the amount of oxygen you can take in with each breath and that can increase stress.

breathing

Instead, breathe by first allowing your abdomen to expand. Use your transverse abdominis and expand your abdominal cavity. This will allow your diaphragm to drop into that space, opening up your lungs. You can then follow by expanding your chest and you’ll have more space in total to take in more oxygen.

Power Positions

Power positions are positions that have been shown by research to trigger the production of testosterone and other positive, stress-fighting hormones. One is the ‘victory pose’. If you simply stand with your arms above you in a ‘V’ shape, as though you had just won a competition, this will increase your production of testosterone, helping you to feel more confident and more driven. Of course it’s best to do this somewhere private before the event you’re nervous about!


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Why Stress Isn’t Always a Bad Thing

stress

If you’re trying to breathe and stay calm in more stressful situations and generally remain cooler under pressure, then you’ll often be approaching the idea of stress as something ‘bad’ that you need to ‘fix’ or address. Actually though, this is the wrong way to think about stress and it’s even responsible for some of the issues associated with it. The perception is that stress makes us less confident, less able to make decisions and generally weaker. But the reality couldn’t be further from that. In fact, stress actually makes us much stronger and also improves our performance in various other ways too.

How it Makes You Stronger

When you’re stressed, it triggers your body to release neurotransmitters and hormones which include adrenaline, dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Together, these contribute to pain relief, an increased heart rate, dilation of the blood vessels, increased blood viscosity and tension in the muscles. Blood and oxygen are directed away from the digestive system and immune system and instead they’re directed to your muscles and brain. This makes you faster and stronger and therefore better able to escape danger or confront it head on. What’s more is that it improves your focus and alertness and improves your ability to act quickly and respond to threats. If you’re in a fight then, or an athletic contest – stress can actually help you to perform better and achieve more.

How Stress Motivates Us

At the same time, stress has the positive effect of motivating us. An example of this might be when we’re studying, at which point it’s often anxiety that makes us revise more or double check our work. The same goes for interviews and any other scenario where the outcome relies on us putting in work. This type of positive motivating stress is called ‘eustress’ and people tend to be more successful if they experience this to a good degree.

stress

The key then is not to completely eradicate stress but rather to control it. By being able to dictate when you become anxious and how much stress you experience, you can thereby improve your ability to stay while at the same time tapping into the heightened strength, speed and intelligence that comes from a stress response. Next time you find yourself feeling anxious, don’t try to fight it (which will only make you more stressed ironically) but instead lean into it and channel it!


Soothing Tools

Why Motivation Doesn’t Matter

motivation

Motivation for Success?

You may think that motivation is the key to success. Many people do, and that’s why so many people fail at their goals. Motivation is a fickle friend. It’s sort of like the classic literary muse. Sometimes it is there, guiding you along, and sometimes it is as elusive as a breath of fresh air in a fire. Thus, if you wait until you are motivated, you are never going to achieve your goals.

So, what is a person to do then? How do you reach your goals if you aren’t motivated to do so? There is only one way that you can make it through the times when you don’t feel motivated and that is by committing to something and sticking to it.

It is very easy to complete tasks and work on your success when you feel motivated. When you are motivated, every task seems easy and every goal seems achievable. However, when you are not motivated, every task seems like total drudgery. Your goals seem like they will never be realized. When those times come and you cannot conjure up enough motivation to get you through the tasks that you have set for yourself, that’s when you need to sit down and remember the commitments that you have made to yourself.

What if I Lost My Motivation?

There are a couple of steps before that which will help you when the time comes to use commitment to proceed. First, you have to teach yourself that commitment is important, even if it is to yourself. Most people have a habit of breaking commitments to themselves and so it is not a big deal when they do it again. You need to convince yourself that making a promise to yourself is just as important as a promise you make to someone else.You also need to have the commitments laid out and on paper in advance. You aren’t going to be able to use the commitment to force yourself to complete your tasks if you don’t know what they are. Make sure that your commitments are written down somewhere.

motivation
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The bottom line is that you recognize that you are going to have times when motivation isn’t enough, and when that happens, you are going to want to have a plan of action and pre-recorded commitments so that you can push through when you don’t feel like working and get the things that you need done accomplished.


How House Plants Can Reduce Your Stress

house plants

Want a quick hack that can improve your stress and help your health in a number of other ways? Then just get some plants and put them around your home! Plants in your home have been shown in countless studies to be highly effective for improving mood and general health and there are a number of reasons for this. Read on and we’ll examine why house plants are so useful for stress levels and how you can benefit from them.

The Effect of Plants on Stress

It has been known for a while now that having plants around can improve the mood of an environment. Research has shown, that plants help to combat stress, depression and other negative emotions. In fact, many businesses are encouraged to add plants to their office environments in order to build staff motivation. Studies show that having plants help their staff deal with large workloads and to combat feelings of stress.

So what’s going on?

Well, the effect harkens back to our days in the wild. When we were still evolving, we would have had to seek our vegetation in order to stay alive. In the African savanna, seeing large patches of green would have meant that we had found areas rich in natural resources. Here we would be able to find food, shelter, hydration and nourishment.

As such, it seems that we still have a similar response to seeing plants. Our bodies still respond by engaging our ‘rest and digest’ state via parasympathetic nervous system activation. Our heart rates slow down and we become more relaxed. Even just seeing the color green has been shown to have this effect!

house plants

Other Effects

house plants

There are other benefits of having house plants around too. One is that they can help to improve creativity. This is a byproduct of increased restfulness – and there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that we are at our most creative when we’re more relaxed. This way we lose the ‘tunnel vision’ that comes from stress and focus and instead we’re able to explore different ideas and alternative solutions to problems. Having plants around helps us to get into this state of mind and thus helps us discover more novel and creative solutions to our problems.

Plants can also help to boost our general health by cleaning the air and increasing oxygen. This has again been shown in several studies and it has been suggested that we should keep a few plants around for every family member to improve air quality.


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Three Common Causes of Stress in Your Life and How to Deal With Them

causes of stress

What Causes Stress?

One way to tackle stress is to improve your health, your energy levels and your mood. By doing these things, you can help yourself to become more resilient and hardy to stress and you can avoid letting the smaller things bog you down. But that’s a fairly abstract way to combat anxiety that doesn’t always have an immediate effect.

The other route to take then is to look at the specific causes of stress in your life – the stressors – and to remove them. Some of these will be big and some of them will be small, but all of them contribute to raising blood pressure and making us feel a little less calm and relaxed. The problem is, many of us can’t put our fingers on exactly what it is that is causing us stress and even when we do, it’s not always obvious how we can deal with the problems.

causes of stress

Read on then and we will look at some of the most common causes of stress and at what you can do to deal with them once and for all…

The Commute Cause of Stress

Did you know that the only ‘universal fear’ is things heading towards you? Thus, walking to work and having hundreds of people moving the other way down the street is pretty much a recipe for stress – especially if you’re running late or if you have a long way to travel.

One solution then is to avoid the rush hour. You can do this by speaking with your employer and asking them to give you more flexible working hours: perhaps you could work 8am-4pm for instance instead of 9am-5pm? Alternatively, look at other ways of getting in, like cycling. Or just arrive a little early!

‘Open Loops’

Many of us have lots of niggling jobs and stresses in the back of our minds that contribute to our stress. For instance, you might need to call your relative. Or maybe you have a bill to pay. These are what are known as ‘open loops’ and they can drain us of energy, focus and positivity. The solution is to deal with each of them as soon as possible rather than letting them drag on.

The Money Cause of Stress

Money is a huge stress for many of us and can cause many a sleepless night.

The solution? Creating a budget. Budgets show us how much we’re losing and where and allow us to formulate a plan to get back on top. What you will often find is that simply cancelling some of your recurring bills and changing your lifestyle a little can make a big difference and help you to get back in the black.


Stress Mangement Tools

The Harmony Safety Care Plan

Harmony Self Care Plan

The Harmony Safety Care Plan is used as an emotional regulation tool as well as a harm reduction technique. If you notice at the top of the Harmony Safety Care Plan is the Suicide Hotline’s number. The first thing a person sees is how to get help immediately. Also notice the plan follows the Triangle of Safety model.

The Triangle of Safety works from the general to the specific. Working from what you can do, where you can go, to the various of individuals you can ask for help. As a result, you realize you have more control over yourself and abilities. It moves your locus of control from external to internal.

Triangle of Safety
Triangle of Safety

Step One

Starting at the beginning, step one, looks at your warning signs for an emotional crisis. These include dark thoughts, nightmares, heavy depressive moods. Warning signs include the types of situations you put yourself in such as risky behavior. For example being around people you know are not good for you or going to “triggering places.” Pay attention to these maladaptive coping skills and warning signs.

Step Two

Step 2, identifying your internal coping strategies. What are the activities you can do to take your mind off the problems without contacting another person. Coping skills that only involve you and other items. These strategies include meditation, mindfulness, physical activity, showers, video games, and watching favorite show. Try to work on urges yourself first and if those do not work then move to step 3.

Step Three

People and social settings that provide distraction make up step 3 of the Harmony Safety Care Plan. Social settings can include support meetings, game night with family or friends, going to the park. People here are individuals in your outer or inner circle of friends that can provide a distraction. They may not be the people you who super vulnerable with. We save those people for Step 4.

Step Four

Step 4 involves the people you can for help. People from your inner circle make up this list. You need to identify at least 2 people. Make sure to write their numbers down as well because when we are emotionally flooded we forget numbers. In a crisis your phone maybe out of battery life. It is a good idea to write the numbers down.

Step Five

Speaking of numbers step 5 involves the contact information of 24/7 professional agencies. These agencies include local urgent care services and national urgent care services. The ones we have are the National Suicide hotline, texting a national hotline, and a line directly for teenagers.

Step Six

Step 6 of the Harmony Safety Care Plan contains therapist contact information.  It is important to have therapists’ and psychiatrists’ contact information so you can communicate with them. As a result they can help you and provide the resources you may need.  Lastly, is making your environment safe.

Step Seven

What do you need make your environment safe during an emotional crisis? For example some people who take medications will hand over the medication to a trusted individual. Therefore, they can only take their medication as prescribed. Other individuals remove all sharp objects from their homes. Number one thing is if you have firearms in your house please give them to someone else while you are having an emotional crisis. It is just best practice not to have firearms around during these times.

Finally, write down at least one thing that is important to you and worth living for. Even if it just to see the sunrise or your pet. These are both valid reasons to stick around on this plane of exist. Once you have completed the The Harmony Safety Care Plan put a copy in your self-soothe kit, wallet, or bag. Also give a copy to your therapist and/or psychiatrist. Lastly, you may want to consider giving a copy to the people you ask for help from. The more the individuals how to help you the better they serve you during a crisis.

If you want to know about the Harmony Safety Care Plan watch this video

Here is how to make a self-soothe kit

Last, but not least an explanation of the Triangle of Safety

The POP That Never Stops!

pop toy

Feeling anxious … stressed … or just plain fidgety and bored to tears?!  Do you ever find yourself, or even your kids, constantly trying to find something to do with your hands, without even really being aware that you are.  How many times have you been asked OR said to someone else … “Will you STOP fidgeting!”

Fidgeting is … well I don’t know what it is, but I do believe it can be a lot of things and none of them bad.  However, when you have the “fidgeties” and you need something to do that will occupy your mind AND your hands, you will really love the push-poke-pop bubble sensory toy.  This is a non-toxic silicone toy, that fits in the palm of your hand and that can be washed and reused as much as you want.  What that mean is, “the pop never stops!”

The “Green” Version of Popping Paper

With no assembly required or small parts that can be easily lost, the push-pop bubble fidget toy is probably the most user-friendly, discreet sensory tool that you can take with you and use anywhere.  Your child is feeling anxious waiting for their dentist appointment?  Let them get lost in the soothing playfulness of the push-pop bubble fidget toy!  Nervous about flying?  No problem …  having the push-pop bubble fidget toy gives your mind somewhere else to focus and your hands something to do.

What I really love about the push-pop bubble sensory toy is that it gives you ALL the fun and satisfaction of bubble wrap, but without the loud popping noise, so you can use it in a lot more public places.  Essentially, you can deal with your fidgeting, calm anxious nerves and reduce your stress without anyone hitting the deck at every POP!


New Fidget Tools

How to Overcome a Panic Attack With the ‘AWARE’ Method

panic aware

What is AWARE?

All of us experience anxiety from time to time but this is most severe by far when it evolves into a full blown anxiety attack of panic attack. This is something that most of us will experience at some time in our lives and that can ultimately become crippling as you worry that heading out into public spaces could result in fainting, or that falling asleep could trigger an attack.

Fortunately, there are ways to treat panic attacks and with the right approach, these methods can be highly effective at getting the problem under control and even preventing them altogether. One such option is to use the ‘AWARE’ strategy.

AWARE is an acronym that stands for:

  • Acknowledge and Accept
  • Wait and watch
  • Actions to make yourself comfortable
  • Repeat
  • End

The key to this is essentially to accept that the attack is happening and not to try and ‘fight it’. Instead, you simply acknowledge it and then ‘watch’ it as you go about your business as usual. The very best way to fight a panic attack? To continue acting as though it’s not happening.

Why Ignore a Panic Attack

When you first notice a panic attack begin, you will find that the symptoms can be somewhat similar to what you imagine a heart attack to be like. As you may expect, this in itself can be a highly distressing prospect and actually creates much more anxiety. Other people are actually afraid of anxiety attacks themselves because they dislike the experience so much.

Thus it’s common to start worrying about the panic attack itself as well as whatever triggered it. It’s this subsequent panic that can lead to escalation and ultimately result in the individual passing out of collapsing.

And this in turn is why it’s so important not to try and ‘combat’ the effects of a panic attack through sheer will. Instead, by ignoring the panic attack, by recognizing it for what it is and by being comfortable and allowing it to run its course you can actually find that it goes away much more quickly. What’s more, is that once you lose the fear of the symptoms, it will eventually stop happening altogether.

Of course it is still important to try and remove yourself from any potential danger – which may mean pulling over if you are driving or removing yourself from a public space.

aware

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Introduction to CBT

cbt

If you’re looking for a way to stay calm in a tense situation or a way to be focussed when all you want to do is relax – then CBT is something you should definitely consider. CBT stands for ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’. Essentially, it is a set of tools used as a therapeutic tool when treating anxiety disorders. This also happens to be the preferred method of therapy among most health institutions today.

The best bit? As well as being highly effective and proven in countless studies, CBT is also very simple to teach and use. Here we will take a look at what CBT entails, why it’s so powerful and why it’s very much worth learning.

How CBT Works

CBT is essentially the natural evolution from behaviorism. Behaviorism is a school of psychology that views all of our behaviors and beliefs as trained. We repeat behaviors that create an outcome we are looking for. Behaviors that have been rewarded become reinforced and we perform them more often. Behaviors that have been punished or ignored become less common.

cbt
Diagram of cognitive-behavioral therapy

CBT takes this principle and adds an additional cognitive element – showing that we can actually reinforce a behaviour through the way we think. If we have anxious thoughts about an action for instance, then we can find ourselves actually enforcing that association to the point of even developing a phobia. We don’t actually have to experience anything bad – our belief and predictions alone are enough to create the association!

The same can also work in reverse. For example, first, logically break down your fears. Then, explain to yourself why you shouldn’t be afraid of them. Eventually, you can completely remove those phobias.

CBT Example

So how might this work?

A good example is a social phobia, which can be created through the maladaptive belief that you’re going to embarrass yourself, that you’re going to faint or that perhaps you’re in some kind of danger. It is your job then to remove this association through CBT using techniques such as ‘thought challenge’. Thought challenging involves assessing just how realistic a fear is in a logical way and often you’ll be able to disprove your own fears to yourself.

You can then formulate these new thoughts as positive affirmations and actually talk yourself up before big events. Eventually, this can be enough to complete remove the phobia or anxiety – and it’s something that anyone can practice alone at home!

cbt


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Maintaining Mental Health During Covid-19

covid mental health

As we continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic it is vital that we pay attention to mental health. Over the course of the pandemic, fear, uncertainty, anxiety, sadness, grief and depression have become common place. Not only are individuals worried for their physical health and that of their loved ones, they may also be experiencing financial instability, isolation due to social distancing and quarantine measures, or perhaps a sense of hopelessness. It is important to make some adaptations while we hope for brighter and safer days ahead. Doing so can greatly improve and protect your mental health.

Tips For Improving and Maintaining Mental Health During Covid-19:

Ask for Help and Seek Mental Health Support

It can be really challenging to reach out and ask for help when you are struggling. While it may not feel comfortable, asking for help when you need it is the most important tip on this list. Asking for help can start small with things like asking a partner to assist you with a task around the house when you feel overwhelmed. Asking for help may also mean contacting a mental health professional for professional mental health support.

Most importantly, if you are experiencing a mental health crisis, or fear that you may, ask for help by utilizing mental health crisis lines and support networks. Here are some crisis lines that you can keep handy:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1- 800-799-7233
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255); www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
  • The Trevor Project: (Provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQIA+ individuals under the age of 25.) 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678678.
  • Veterans Crisis Line: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net
  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline- (Provides treatment referral and information for individuals and families facing mental health or substance use disorders.) 1-800-662-4357
National Helpline
National Helpline

Stay Social

Social distancing measures, while working to keep us safe and protect our health, have left many people feeling isolated and lonely. It is important to maintain social contact as best as you can during this time. Here are some ideas for staying socially connected, while socially distanced:

  • Talk to your friends and family and determine a day and time that is open for everyone. Schedule a weekly video chat to catch up.
  • Find online virtual gaming spaces where you can play games with your friends or family online together. Set up a weekly game night.
  • Where you would normally text, try calling where you are able to instead, so you can have more of a socially connected conversation.
  • Have themed video call “parties”. You and your friends or family can dress up according to the theme, and show off your outfits during the video call. This can be a fun way to get out of your typical routine and comfort zone!

Limit News Intake

It is important to stay informed during this time, to make sure you are taking the proper steps to keep you and your loved ones safe and healthy. However, the constant influx of COVID-19 news can leave you feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed. Limit your news intake if possible by setting a designated amount of time per day, perhaps one hour, to catch up on news. Receive your COVID-19 important news and updates directly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, as opposed to watching lengthy news presentations. Limiting your news intake, can be really beneficial to your mental health.


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