My last blog on “Why people panic” suggested some possible ways to control Stress or Anxiety when a person is faced with an unsafe situation. Unsafe does not just mean physical harm to the body. It could also include a threat to mental or emotional stability. There are skills that help to control anxiety and prevent it from spiraling out of control. A couple of techniques are described below. Anyone can practice these techniques when they feel that their emotions are on the edge. Regular practice of these techniques helps to rewire the brain, and how it reacts to stressful stimuli. These techniques that are relatives easy to practice and when done consistently over time have been known to rewire the brain and help people deal better with situations that have earlier caused anxiety. Two techniques will be described in this blog
Paired Relaxation technique
These techniques help to calm the person down as it works on the para sympathetic nervous system which regulates the “rest and digest” activities. It that promote relaxation by inhibiting bodily functions that create the experience of stress. The sympathetic nervous system energizes the body to action in reaction to the perception of threats faced from the environment while the parasympathetic nervous system inhibits these very same activities to calm a person down by slowing down the heart rate, restricting secretion of adrenaline, constricting the pupils in the eyes and and the bronchioles in the lungs which reduces the intake of oxygen which is not needed by a body that is preparing to rest. Rest does not mean going to sleeping. It simply means that the body is now in a calming down mode as it is not facing any threat, and so on. When an individual becomes anxious it is because of a real or perceived threat from the environment which sets into motion the flight or fight response.
Deep Breathing advocated by experts of yoga from ancient times is now being used liberally by psychotherapists to induce calm behavior in people who experience anxiety or depression.
How to do it:
In this practice the inhale and exhale are done consciously. The practice helps to lengthen the inhale and exhale by deliberately breathing more deeply and longer. A simple method is to make the exhale twice as long as the inhale. The ratio of inhale to exhale should be 1:2. For example, count to 3 for the inhale and 6 for the exhale. Contrary to the popular belief, the exhale needs to be longer than the inhale as it helps to throw the toxins out. If you find this difficult you can breathe in for two counts and breath out for four. If you find it easy you can lengthen the span of your breath.
Paired relaxation technique
In this technique, the person is made to relax by tightening and relaxing each part of the body one by one, breathing in with the tightening and out with the relaxing. It is recommended that this practice be done while lying down on a yoga mat or on your bed.
How to do it:
Lie down on your mat. Close your eyes and let your hands drop down to the mat. Take a few deep breaths and when you feel sufficiently settled, start the process of tightening and loosening the body parts one by one starting with the toes and gradually taking your attention up the body until you reach the crown of your head and have covered every part of the body. Try to maintain the natural sequence of your body, starting with the toes and working your way up to the head. When you have completed the entire sequence, you should reach a state of complete state of relaxation. Lie in this relaxed mode for a few minutes. You can do this before bed time in which case you can drift off to sleep. At other times complete the practice by refocusing back on to your breath. When you are ready, roll over to any one side and gently sit up. Take a few breaths here focusing on the sounds around you that will gently nudge you back to reality.
A tip here is to reverse the process if you feel that you simply cannot quiet your thoughts and focus on the process. In that case start the relaxation technique at the head and moon towards your toes.
I will cover two more practices in my next blog.