In this post Jan Alcoe shares her top 4 tools to “trigger” the relaxation response and avoid the escalation of anxiety.
7/11 or negative breathing
When we feel stressed, we begin to breathe in short gasps. If we don’t take any physical action, for example, running away or fighting for ‘survival’, then we take in more oxygen than we can use. As it is breathed out again, it takes carbon dioxide, essential to the absorption of oxygen by the body, with it. If too much carbon dioxide is lost from the body, we begin to experience the terrifying feeling of suffocating or choking, even though we are still breathing.
One of the quickest ways to stop the stress response escalating (and stimulate the relaxation response) is to focus on a rhythm of breathing called 7/11 breathing.
Breathe in (preferably through the nose) for a count of 7. Then breathe out more slowly to a count of 11. The longer out breath stimulates the body’s natural relaxation response and quickly stops any feelings of panic. If you can’t extend the out breath for 11, try breathing in to a count of 3, and out, more slowly, to a count of 5. Alternatively, just hold your breath while you continue counting and then take the next in breath.
Do this about 10 to 20 times, telling yourself that you are relaxing more with each breath.
Concentrate on the counting and notice how much less tense you feel in your body and mind.
If you feel your stress levels rising, focus the mind on a repetitive task for a minute or two, like counting backwards from 300 in 3’s. This distracts away from thoughts which may be fuelling anxiety. Alternatively, take some vigorous exercise which uses the bodily changes which occur with the stress response for the purpose they were intended!
This is a relaxation approach which gently focuses the mind on moment-by-moment experience, for example, on the breath entering and leaving the nostrils, or on each part of the body in turn, or on sounds as they occur in our surroundings. Training our attention to focus in this way, without trying to change anything brings us fully into the present, away from worries about the past or unhelpful imaginings about the future.
Positive visualisation is a wonderful tool which utilises our imaginations to affect all kinds of changes in how we feel. It is also deeply relaxing. The art of visualisation is to use all your senses, not just ‘seeing’, but hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling textures, movement and sensations. We all have a dominant sense, but it is helpful to practise using others until your visualisation becomes a richer and richer experience. Visualisation focuses the attention inwards, creating a deeply relaxing, trance state. Trance is a natural state which we all dip into when we day dream, or otherwise become absorbed in our inner thoughts and experiences. When we access this state, we create powerful images and we are open to creative problem solving and new learning. We can see our problems in new, more helpful ways and can rehearse the changes we want to make.
Even spending a few minutes to get into a deeply relaxed state, using any of the tools above, can be an important step to better emotional and physical health.
Note: the above is based on extracts from 49 Ways to Think Yourself Well by Jan Alcoe and Emily Gajewski
Jan Alcoe BSSc, DHypPsych(UK), GQHP is a clinical hypnotherapist and author of 49 Ways to Think Yourself Well (Step Beach Press), Lifting Your Spirits: 7 tools for coping with illness and The Heart of Well-being: 7 tools for surviving and thriving (both published by The Janki Foundation for Global Health Care)