With PTSD, you never know when you might be triggered into a bout of unrelenting anxiety. One of the first things to check for when you are trying to release some of the tension in your body is: your breathing.
Often, without even knowing it, those with PTSD will “forget” to breath, holding tension and anxiety inside. The sooner you breath it out, the better.
Three years of therapy taught me several tools which I have carried with me through my years, a few different methods of trying to steer the ship in another direction when it feels like anxiety is escalating. If you feel like you’ve been strongly triggered and you have time and privacy, this article may be better for you: Handling PTSD Anxiety Effectively After Being Triggered. However, if you’re dealing with a fairly low-level of anxiety and you need something fast and easy – a few moments of mindful breathing is exactly what you’re looking for.
Here’s how it’s done:
Close your eyes. Take a breath, and say to yourself “I’m ok.” You can do this either out loud or silently…just go with what feels more comfortable for you. If you feel too distracted, try focusing on the darkness behind your eyelids for a few moments.
After you’ve shut out the world, you’re ready to breathe.
As you go through this exercise, breathe at a moderate, comfortable pace.
‘Breathe it out’ when you exhale; don’t force the breath out quickly, or try to slow it down. Think about just freely letting the air escape from your lungs: let it go.
Focus on three key things:
•breathing in through your nose, and out through your mouth
•keeping the rhythm steady, even
Breathe in through your nose… (say “In, one…”)
Exhale through your mouth… (say “Out, one…”)
Breathe in through your nose… (say “In, two…”)
Exhale through your mouth… (say “Out, two…”)
Breathe in through your nose… (say “In, three…”)
Exhale through your mouth… (say “Out, three…”)
Breathe in through your nose… (say “In, four…”)
Exhale through your mouth… (say “Out, four…”)
Focus – if you lose count, start over. It’s not as easy as it sounds!
Do this until you make it all the way through ten without losing count, then take one more breath as you again say to yourself: “I’m ok.”
Before you open your eyes, stop for a moment and see how you feel. If you feel like you need to take your anxiety to a lower level, do your breathing again. Keep trying until you find yourself at an acceptable level.
Obviously if you have allergies or other issues with your sinuses that prevent you from comfortably breathing through your nose, just breathe through your mouth. The idea is to take down your anxiety, and that’s not going to happen if you can’t breathe!
It can be difficult to do, especially when you’re feeling anxious. Losing count the first couple of times can be frustrating, but stick with it. Focusing on the rhythm, counting, and type of breaths you’re taking is distracting from the anxiety and soothing to the mind.
This method works for me the most consistently. I use it every day not just to manage anxious feelings, but also to control anger. I hope it works for you, too. 🙂
The most important thing to remember through the entire process? Be gentle. Let it go.