Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Using Abdominal Breathing to reduce Anxiety and Stress

One of the original blog entries for this site was on the topic of how abdominal breathing helps to reduce stress and anxiety.  You can read that blog entry here  Abdominal Breathing: Your Secret Weapon Against Symptoms of Anxiety

Because that blog was so popular, it’s clear that many people are interested in information about using abdominal breathing to help them reduce stress and anxiety, and it’s a good thing, because it works very well.

Many times people will try abdominal breathing and feel it’s either too hard, or they will judge themselves and believe they are doing it wrong.  Usually, the reason it feels difficult or wrong is because stressful breathing has become habitual at that point and most likely has replaced natural and normal breathing patterns.  You could say that the unnatural breathing has become the new normal, or at least what feels normal.  Un-learning the bad form of breathing will feel unnatural at first, even difficult, but you can become better at it with practice.

It helps to understand that the diaphragm is a muscle that sits below the rib cage and when you flex your tummy, the tight muscles push the diaphragm upward and into the bottom of your lungs, thus crowding the lower part of the lungs.  This pressure under your lungs leaves less room for air to enter, so you get less air and tend to breathe more into the upper chest, which is more like hyperventilating than really breathing in a relaxed way. 

If you relax your tummy instead, and even let it pooch out a little when you breathe in, this lowers the diaphragm and allows the lower part of the lungs to relax downward and fill with more fresh air.  This brings more oxygen into the body with every inhalation, and takes more toxic carbon dioxide out with each exhalation.  For a while, you may have to consciously work at extending your tummy each time you breathe in, and consciously push your tummy inward each time you exhale, just until this starts to become more natural and the new normal.   

Take it slow and be patient with yourself.  Most of all, stop believing those false social norms that say you should suck or hold your gut in or try to flatten your stomach by holding your breath or flexing your stomach all the time.  Those false beliefs only make you more tense and perpetuate even more unhealthy breathing.

Thanks to Robert Couse-Baker for the great photo - The Winds of Spring

Using Feng Shui to reduce Stress

According to the ancient art of Feng Shui,  how you arrange your living environment and how it works in harmony with you, has a strong influence on your level of well-being and relaxation.  This can range from the selection of a building's location, to the design of a garden or living room.  Everything from the choice of color, to the location where an item is placed may have an influence on the overall energy in a given room, building, office, or landscape.

Basically, it’s all about how you arrange, position, and design your surroundings and the things in the environment in which you dwell.  The belief is that you can improve the flow of energy in these environments and bring balance and harmony into the areas in which you spend time, which subsequently then influences other areas of your life—like relationships, health, and professional success.

There are some key things you can try that target stress reduction and ways to enhance relaxation.  For instance, it has been found that using the color blue in your room design can lead to a soothing feeling for occupants.  In addition, including aspects of nature results in a feeling of relaxation, such as including plants, water fountains, or canvas wall hangings of nature.

Be sure to de-clutter your rooms and put things away as the clutter is only a reflection of a mind cluttered with thoughts and worry.  Using candle or natural incense is very powerful as many scents have a strong influence on mood, memory, and thought.

When it comes to relaxation, your environment should be arranged so as to bring about a quiet and peaceful setting for everything from reading to meditation.  You will definitely see a difference in your level of stress and worry when you take the time to be mindful about arranging your surroundings.

Thanks to Tanaka Juuyho for the photo - Japanese traditional style house

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Biofeedback for Stress and Anxiety

Biofeedback has been around a long time and is a great way to become more aware of how your body reacts to stress and anxiety.  It also helps you discover what you can do to train your body to respond differently and in ways that are less stressful for both your body and mind.

When you are learning Biofeedback, you are hooked up to various sensors—such as a sensor to measure perspiration, or a sensor to measure muscle activity—that then feed this information back to recording or measuring devices that you can see or hear.  These devices let you know how you are doing and can be viewed on a computer screen or light, or perhaps via an auditory response like a tone or other sound.  Many times the feedback might just be a number to let you know how high or low, good or bad, strong or weak a signal is.

One example of biofeedback is to have a headband of electrodes placed on the forehead that measures the muscle activity in the face.  This is a great method for discovering if you hold tension in your facial muscles and can help you realize subtle things, like that you squint your eyes when you are thinking too hard, or it may pick up on activity that allows you to know that you clench your teeth when you are asked about work, which could explain the tension you keep having in your jaw or the headache you keep coming home with each night.

Once the biofeedback information is known, then you have data to help you zero in on specific relaxation techniques that can be used to remedy the problem.  For instance, if you discover that you clench your jaw, you can begin practicing activities during your day that help you stay aware of your jaw clenching and how to release the tension there frequently and repeatedly throughout your day.

There are biofeedback counselors across the nation who are trained to help you with your stress and anxiety.  Some can be found via the "practitioners" link through The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Inc., or you can find a number of devices to monitor your own biofeedback by doing a Google search for "biofeedback home units". 

Gaining insight into the way your body might be unconsciously reacting to stress is extremely helpful in knowing what steps can be taken to remedy the problem.

Thanks to Faraz Kahn for the above image - Biofeedback