Catch Your Breath

Catch Your Breath

I deal with a variety of issues in therapy and one of the most frequent is anxiety. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety are a few of the common sub-types. Those who struggle with these are worried and fearful a lot. They sometimes have racing or obsessive thoughts and find going to sleep or staying asleep very difficult. They often say they are constantly fatigued. They may report feeling “keyed up” many hours a day. They are sometimes irritable and tense. They fear they just can’t get any peace.

Doesn’t sound much fun does it? Those of you who have had at least some level of anxiety in your life would agree that it’s not. The other truth is that almost all of us struggle with anxiety along the way. I know I have had my hours, days, and weeks of almost all these feelings.

For my next few blogs, I will share some things you might try when struggling with your season of anxiety. One of the worst things about anxiety is the feeling of powerlessness you have while in the middle of it. Having a few “tools” that ease some of the pain is really helpful and knowing you are not completely powerless is even more helpful.

First, here’s one thing NOT to do. Do not self-medicate (which I see far too often). Be very careful with alcohol and never take illegal drugs but also don’t “try some of Aunt Flossie’s Xanax” that she uses on occasion. There are some fine medical treatments for anxiety and your doctor would be glad to help you if you are a candidate.

Short of medicine there are a few other things to try. The simplest is exercise. I know many people who say that exercise is their therapy and often what they mean is “my anxiety eases some when I get in a good workout”.  If your doctor says you are healthy enough to exercise, do that. You’ll feel better. But when you can’t get to the gym or you are stuck at your desk when it hits, you’ll need some other tools. Here’s one I call 4-7-8 breathing.

Sit down and put your feel flat on the floor (not driving, please, as hyperventilation may cause steering problems!). For 4 counts breathe in through your nose. For 7 counts hold it. For 8 counts breathe out through your mouth. Then do the whole pattern two more times for a total of three times through. Feels pretty good, doesn’t it? Now practice this a few times every day even when you are not feeling particularly anxious. Then the next time you feel the anxiety monster starting to gear up, do the breathing. My bet is you will notice at least a moment or two of some easing and that’s a very good thing. This may be the first step to believing you can cope!