What does anxiety feel like?
A sick feeling in the pit of your stomach; heart beating too hard or too fast; brain fog and confusion; snapping at people even though you don't mean to; feeling judged - these are some of the most obvious signs that you're anxious or under stress.
You might notice other things too - a clenched jaw, tension in your body, tight fists or sweaty palms, for example.
Something you might not be consciously aware of, however, is your breath, and how it changes when you're stressed and anxious.
The breath is useful in two ways:
changes in the breath are an early warning sign that you're unsettled
controlling the breath is the key to slowing down and even stopping panic responses
When we're comfortable and relaxed, the breath flows easily - neither especially deep nor very shallow.
When we're anxious, however, one of the first things affected is the breath - we usually hold it, often without realising.
This is an ancestral throwback - a remnant of the 'fight, flight or freeze' response. Unconsciously, we're listening for prey, poising for battle or for running away.
As anxiety takes hold, we might find ourselves breathing more rapidly, and taking more shallow breaths; we're drawing more oxygen into our bodies to ready the muscles for a fight.
In our modern world it's unlikely that we're going to need to fight or run away from predators.
But the brain and the body don't know any different - they keep pumping out adrenaline and cortisol and overworking the lungs and heart to get us ready, just in case.
If it grows greater, this ancient unconscious response can make us feel out of control - and that triggers panic.
The breath gets very shallow and it's a struggle to get enough air.
Hyperventilating, the panic gets worse and worse. Breathing normally seems impossible.
So how do we ease anxiety, before it takes hold? And how can we get back control, if we've tipped over into panic?
Try these simple exercises to get control of your breathing, and therefore your anxiety.
Pro Tip: practice these exercises regularly when you're calm, so that you're not trying to learn something new when you're anxious or panicked.
Exercise One: Blow Away Stress - Easy
This is a very simple exercise you can try when you're beginning to feel tense and stressed out.