Hello everyone. I wanted to write a blog to give you some guidance or ideas you could use when you are feeling particularly anxious, overwhelmed, uneasy, frustrated, disconnected or any other difficult emotions you might be experiencing.
A very important approach I take in my style of therapy is to attempt to move my clients away from their head and into their body more – to operate from the bottom up rather than the top down.
It's easy to feel overwhelmed when there is “too much” to handle. The mind races trying to figure out solutions, and the body either tenses up in an effort to get things done or collapses to give up, neither of which are helpful in dealing with the overwhelming situation. Training yourself to become aware of your body's sensations during these moments can reduce stress and teach you how your body can lead you back to mental and physical equilibrium.
Soothing Rhythm Breathing
Focusing on your breath is something we hear about all the time but it is vital to begin here, your breath is your anchor. To practice the soothing rhythm breathing exercise, first make sure that you are sitting comfortably with both feet flat on the floor, about shoulder’s width apart. Rest your hands on top of your legs and close your eyes or look down at the floor. Let yourself have a gentle facial expression, like a small smile.
Begin to focus on your breathing. Allow the air of each breath to come down into your diaphragm and feel it move in and out as you breathe. Play with the speed of your breath until you find a comfortable, soothing rhythm of breath.
You will likely find that your soothing rhythm is about three seconds in-breath, a slight pause, and three seconds out-breath. Continue focusing just on your breathing until you reach your peaceful rhythm.
Next comes a grounding moment. Turn your attention to your body, sensing the weight of your body resting on the chair and the floor underneath you. Let yourself feel held and supported by the chair.
Remember that it is okay for your mind to wander – just notice where it wanders, and gently guide it back to awareness of your body. Feel the air flowing in and out of your nostrils, and simply allow yourself to “be.”
If you find it difficult to pay attention to your breathing, let yourself focus on an object instead. You can hold something like a smooth stone or a soft ball, something that feels good to hold. Focus on the object as well as your breathing, and note the way it feels to hold the object. When you’re ready, slowly open your eyes and bring yourself back to the present moment. A small stretch and a deep breath can help you ready yourself for the rest of your day.
Soothing with your Hand and Breath
We hold our own body instinctively when we are hurt. If you bump your elbow, your hand immediately goes to cradle it. Our own hands can be very healing. Next time you feel those butterflies in your stomach, the tightness in your chest or any other uncomfortable bodily sensation do not try to push the nervous sensations away, but allow yourself to actually feel the trembling, tightness or butterflies. Put your hand where you feel it. Experience your breath moving in and out of that area, and let your hand move with your breath. Feel the warmth of your hand against your body. The nervous sensations will likely subside from the calming attention of the hands and breath.
Creating a safe image
Do you experience disturbing images or flashbacks or panic? Creating a safe, comforting image might be helpful. Close you eyes and imagine a place that feels calm, soothing, warm….take your time with this, it can be a memory or a place you like to go to or people you like to be with, whatever comes…it is very important that this place feels completely safe, there is no sadness or distress there at all. Now engage all your senses to make it as real as you can, like you are right there…what do you see, what do you smell, what can you hear, what can you touch, what are you wearing…stay there until you notice something different in your body…until you begin to feel more at ease.
You can use this when you are feeling overwhelmed, uneasy, shaky, distressed. The original disturbing image may come in but it is important to allow yourself to swing between the two, like a pendulum. The disturbing image comes, you then go to your safe one, the disturbing one may come again, you go to the safe one again. Be patient with yourself, this is a skill and so it takes practice and commitment. I find that it can really help cope better with your emotional responses.
Compassion Flowing Out
To try this exercise, sit somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed and begin to focus on your breathing. Think about a time when you felt very kind and caring towards a person or a beloved animal.
Try not to choose a time when that person or animal was very distressed because then you are likely to focus on that distress instead of the kind, compassionate feelings for him or her.
Next, focus on the desire to help the person or animal, and the feelings of kindness that will guide you to help. Remember that in this exercise it is your intentions that are important, not how the person or animal responds. Bring to mind a specific time when you felt compassionate towards him or her. Imagine yourself expanding, as if you are becoming calmer, wise, stronger, and more responsible, and able to help him or her.
Pay attention to your body as you remember how it felt to be kind. Spend some time expanding with warmth in your body. Notice the genuine desire for this person to be free of suffering and to flourish. Spend a minute or two thinking about the tone of your voice and the kinds of things you said, or the kinds of things you did or wanted to do to help.
Spend another minute or two on thinking about how good it felt to be kind to him or her.
Finally, focus only on your desire to be helpful and kind: the sense of warmth, feelings of expansion, your kind tone of voice, the wisdom in your voice and your behavior. When you have finished this exercise, you may want to take some notes about how this felt for you.
Writing can be a powerful tool. I would encourage you to write about how you are feeling, what you are experiencing, what you notice about yourself and in your body, your thoughts etc. However, it is also very important to feel like your writing has a healing quality so remember to also notice things that feels gentle and kind, for example, what you are grateful for that day, what felt good, what made you smile or gave you a warm feeling in that moment etc.
I would encourage you to download some meditation apps, for example, Calm or Headspace. There are also loads of videos on youtube under ‘guided meditation’ and ‘Jon Kabat Zinn’ that you may find helpful. Do not put yourself under pressure to be able to do a lengthy meditation, begin small, even 5 minutes and try and make it part of your daily routine.
Exercise and Nature
Try and get out for some exercise and be in nature for at least 20 minutes everyday, appreciate what you see, hear and can touch. Pay attention to your surroundings and allow yourself to be in that moment
With all of the above I want to emphasise that it takes practice and commitment to begin to notice a change. It takes a bit of work but it can really make a difference to how you cope better with emotions as they arise; to allow yourself to experience increased feelings of calmness, warmth and connection, even when things feel really difficult. I also want to remind you to allow yourself to pay attention to the calmness and the distress at the same time. They live very close to each other and you can learn to feel both. It is not about not feeling the difficult emotions but paying attention to them and allowing compassion to come through so they begin to feel less intense and fade into the background a bit more.
Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love