Anxiety Mental Health

Breathing Your Way Through Anxiety

Our ambassador Max Hovey talks about what he finds helpful when he’s dealing with anxiety

I hate anxiety, I really F***ing do. It creates so many problems and can be such a hindrance to me in most walks of life. But the fact I have to face is that it’s just how my brain works. I can’t beat myself up for it, my brains just trying its best. The healthiest thing to do is to simply accept it as a fact, and gradually we can learn to live with it more peacefully.

I think literally the worst thing a person can hear when experiencing anxiety, anxious thoughts or an anxiety attack is “calm down”. It’s the equivalent to telling someone that is depressed to “cheer up”. It’s a complete invalidation of someone’s emotions and mental state and is probably the least helpful thing you can say. The thing I have found most helpful is if someone helps me to breathe by reminding me to take deep breaths. When someone breathes with me and helps to bring my breathing pattern back to normal, within a short period of time, I will be calm.

The problem with this is that I’m not always going to have someone there to breathe with me. I’m not always going to have someone there to make me feel safe, tell me everything’s OK, and to get me to take deep breaths. The last thing anyone should become when suffering with anxiety is co-dependent. The idea of medication, therapy and coping mechanisms is to teach us how to gradually deal with anxiety by ourselves and to help ourselves to breathe through it. Sure, there will still be times that we still need some help, but the aim of this is to minimise the amount of additional support that we need.

I myself have learned many techniques for my anxiety over the years. Some have been incredibly beneficial, others not so much. My first round of therapy taught me more practical methods such as thought diary’s:

A thought diary is a way of noting down your thought process and then picking it apart piece by piece, and figuring out how true the thought is, and redirecting it into a more positive and rational thought process.

Whilst thought diaries had become helpful for me, I have a very hectic lifestyle and am almost always busy. So, when some anxiety arises, I don’t have the time to stop for 10 minutes to write down my thought process and tell myself I’m being irrational, sometimes it just isn’t practical.

So, I began to learn that there are some techniques that are good for short-term anxiety relief and some that are better for long-term. 

Short-term Anxiety Relief:

1. Counting down from 100 – This is the most recent technique that my therapy has taught me. This takes up a lot more brain activity as you have to think more consciously about what number comes next. This is a great way to distract your brain, stop it spiralling and bring yourself to the present moment. 

2. Square Breathing – I learned this technique in my yoga practices. The act of square breathing involves breathing in for 4 counts, holding for 4 counts, exhaling for 4 counts, holding for 4 counts – and repeat. Doing this will naturally slow your breathing and help to slow your heartbeat back down to something more manageable. If like me you experience the joy of palpitations during anxiety, then this will be super helpful for you. 

3. Calming Statements – Imagine someone was just continuously insulting you, you’d start to feel and about yourself, right? And you definitely wouldn’t do that to someone else, so why would it make any sense to do that to yourself? The way you speak to yourself matters. When negative or self-depreciating thoughts arise, have some calming statements memorised that can help put a stopper in that spiral. For example: for me, I really struggle with the idea of doing or getting things wrong, I’m a perfectionist. So, when I do do something wrong, it is easy to put myself down. A calming statement my therapist has taught me is “I prefer not to do anything wrong, but it’s not essential”. The whole idea of this is that not doing something wrong is simply a preference, we’re human and we’ll get things wrong from time to time!

Longer-term Anxiety Relief:

1. Thought Diary – Now, if you do have the time for a thought diary, these can be great for stopping your anxious spirals. Whilst these are not a permanent fix, these will be better at addressing the problem directly rather than a short-term distraction. If committed to, a thought diary will become a more natural technique that can become second nature to you, helping you deal with anxiety more readily when it arises. 

2. Zigzag Technique – This may sound weird, but this is a way of having an argument with your brain. Your natural response to anxiety may be to panic and think worst case scenario – this is the part that we want to lose. By using the zigzag technique, we are able to lay out what we are saying ourselves that is negative and then argue against it. The whole point of this argument is to keep going until you have no more negatives or “attacks” to give, helping you to realise the irrationality of your automatic thought process. This can be quite time consuming, but again with practice can become very powerful.

3. Education – A lot of what therapy is, is homework. Both my courses of treatment have had me doing activities at home to help me develop my own skills to “become my own therapist”. A really helpful tool is books. Sure, there are a lot of self-help books that generally regurgitate the same thing as everything else, but some can actually be really helpful and insightful. Some that have proven to be a great changer of attitudes are:

  • A New Earth and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
  • F**k it by John C. Parkin (my personal favourite)
  • Overcoming Anxiety by Helen Kennerley

Anxiety is a bitch. None of us like it, and more people have it than we care to admit. But we cannot let it beat us. So, here are a few tips that may help you.

Just know that it is ok not to be ok, it’s ok to have anxiety and it’s ok to have for help. You’ve got this!

Stay True,