You are safe. Simple anxiety soother.
2 min read
Place your hand over your heart.
Inhale a deep, slow, full breath in through your nose.
Hold your breath and count to 4.
As you exhale slowly through your nose, repeat silently in your mind, or out loud: I am safe. I am safe. I am safe.
Since you had to read this with our eyes open (unless #somesuperpower), try it now with your eyes closed if you feel ok to do so.
How did that feel? What did you observe?
This simple task hides so many complex functions of our brain and nervous system it’s magical.
What’s amazing about it is it helps reduce anxiety and regulate emotions when we encounter stressful situations.
Our brains are trained to spot threats and act lighting-speed fast to keep us safe in a matter of seconds. When a threat is detected our sympathetic nervous system is activated (the fight/flight mode), among other complex brain functions. If we’re in physical danger we want it to function because it's what gets our blood pumping so we can run and get out of harm's way to stay alive.
At the same time, we also have the parasympathetic nervous system which does the opposite. When it's activated, our entire system is in a rested, calm state (freeze/fold mode), giving us the ability to relax and #Netflix&chill. It's also what prompts us to play dead and lie motionless in the face of danger, as another coping mechanism.
Linda Graham MFT considers the first our "gas" and the second our "break."
Both of these worked exceptionally well when we dealt with life and death situations thousands of years ago.
And of course we still need it. The difference is, we don't have to deal with life and death situations daily if we're living in a safe environment and our basic needs are met.
But our brain doesn't know that.
It doesn't know that when we stress about work or we're running late to our appointment, it's not a lion that's chasing us. It thinks "Oh sh*t, danger, I need to activate ALL the things to respond to the situation and not die."
So when faced with a stressful situation our system is trying to protect us.
It will rev up the "gas" and keep us in panic mode (anxiety, stress) to avoid being eaten by the lion
it will apply a hefty dose of the "breaks," and it will make us shut down because it's too much and I'm just gonna play dead until the threat goes away (dissociation, numbing of emotions.)
The good news is we can rewire our brain to respond differently, and not get hijacked by anxiety or shut down by dissociation.
This simple breathing exercise physiologically calms our sympathetic nervous system down, while reminding us that indeed we are safe. It can help “retrain” our brain to respond differently to daily stressors.
So you can:
Quickly calm yourself down
Respond with purposeful, intelligent action rather than panicked reaction
Become less afraid when another stressor comes up
Gain confidence in managing your emotions
I go back to this phrase anytime I sense my anxiety acting up. I don’t even need to close my eyes, I simply repeat it in my mind. It’s been a game changer dealing with life’s challenges and I hope you give it a try.
If you do comment below to let me know how that experience was for you.
For more on the topic and other practices to strengthen resilience check out Linda Graham’s book “RESILIENCE: POWERFUL PRACTICES FOR BOUNCING BACK FROM DISAPPOINTMENT, DIFFICULTY AND EVEN DISASTER.”
**Note, if you’re in any type of physical danger or an abusive relationship or dealing with threatening behavioral issues, please know that you’re entitled to safety. You can reach out to your local support hotlines that are available 24/7. You deserve safety.