This amazing guest post was written by Dr. Andreia Horta, ND and Dr. Emily Lipinski, ND, founders of Infusion Health! You can check out their website here!
How many of you feel nervous, anxious or on edge? Are you are constantly worrying about something: work, deadlines, finances, relationships with loved ones? What about having trouble relaxing? Lastly, how many of you feel as if something bad is about to happen? If you answered yes to these questions, read on, this article will help you!
At times anxiety can be helpful: for instance when you worry about getting a job done the fear of getting in trouble propels you to finish it on time. However, chronic anxiety can be debilitating. It can cause sleep issues, muscle tension, irritability, shortness of breath and can literally prevent you from truly enjoying your life!
Today I am sharing with you three techniques we teach in our Infusion Health workshops. All of which are supported by research and you can rest assured doing any one of these regularly will significantly improve your anxiety!
3 Techniques to Reduce Anxiety
Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a simple technique that reduces anxiety and decreases symptoms of depression. Research shows that it enhances mood and boosts self-esteem too! Now isn’t that great news?!
How about all the physical benefits produced by TM? The list is endless! It reduces atherosclerosis, stroke, reduces congestive heart failure cases, decreases metabolic syndrome markers and improves pre-diabetic states. Wow! Further, when researchers looked at brain images they found an increase in flow to specific areas of the brain. This TM practice helps the body to better adapt to stress by restoring its mental and physical activity.
For best results plan to complete 2 sets of 20 minute TM sessions each day. This is perfect timing for all those long commutes, or on those days you plan to go to bed early! Let’s be honest, all of us can gain from going to bed early!
- Sit in a meditative position with your arms crossed and your hands on top of knees (if this is uncomfortable just sit on a chair, hands on knees).
- Traditionally, you sit in silence (phone off or in airplane mode). If you are just starting out you may want to try a Transcendental Meditation app on your phone, or online resource to plug into and listen to.
- Close your eyes and repeat a mantra. Literally repeat it over and over and over again. You want to repeat it slowly, deliberately and with a pause at the end of each one. The mantra can be selected by you or by a certified TM specialist. The word mantra is broken into two parts; Man (mind) and tra(transport). Essentially this definition stands for a transport of the mind. Transport is a shift from a normal conscious state into a deeper relaxed state, a meditative state. It is important to note that Mantras are not intentions, but a sequence of sounds that resonate and shift the body into relaxation.
An example of a mantra used universally is the word ‘OM’ (sounds like Aaaa-uuuu-mmm). It is said to represent everything in the world, a state of complete consciousness and that this sound energizes all of life. To get the full of experience and benefit of TM it is best to take a TM meditation course, taught by a certified instructor. Taking a course is necessary for all those of you who struggle with discipline of starting a practice! If you can’t take a course try it for a minimum of 5 days. Pay attention to how you feel after a TM meditation and the reduction in anxiety symptoms that begin to happen with regular practice.
Abdominal breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, is a breathing done by focusing on your abdomen, versus breathing using your chest. It is common to see people taking short chest breaths, where you see their chest rise and fall, yet they get very little oxygen exchange. In fact, shallow chest breathing is a regular symptom of anxiety. With abdomen breathing, you take deeper and slower breaths. The body responds by decreasing your heart rate and blood pressure. This breathing will allow your central nervous system to calm down and activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for helping you rest and digest.
Did you know… diaphragmatic breathing significantly improved anxiety levels, depression scores and overall mobility in patients that suffered with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases (COPD)!
This simple technique can be done anywhere. I prefer to practice abdominal breathing when I am commuting. The key is practice at the same time every day, preferably in the same place too. Try it for a week. Let it develop into a regular practice that is not only enjoyable but also beneficial for calming your mind.
Abdominal Breathing Steps
- Turn off all electronic devices (airplane mode works well for a smartphone)
- Sit or lie in a comfortable position
- Shake out your shoulders, move your head gently from side to side, relaxing the neck before setting it back to its normal position
- Pull the shoulders back, squeezing the shoulder blades, puffing out the chest
- Take a deep breath in, and exhale it out (repeat 3 times)
- This time, place your hands along the sides of your rib cage, take a slower deeper breath, and expand the ribcage outwards, towards both sides of the body, widening your rib cage outward
- Watch the body switch from its normal short chest breath to a deeper longer lower abdominal breath ( here there is more expansion of the ribs, more oxygen exchange)
- Hold that breath for a moment (1-2 sec)
- Exhale it out, slowly, gently, completely
- Hold that exhale for a moment (1-2 sec)
- Then begin again
- Inhale (widening of the rib cage), pause, exhale (gently slowly pushing air out) and pause
- Complete this cycle for 30 breaths (approximately 5 min each day)
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Start the practice off slow. If 5 minutes is too long, start with 2 min each day. As you feel comfortable, add 1 minute a week, until your reach 5 minutes total.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a practice that involves creating tension and then releasing that same tension you just created. The premise is simple if our physical bodies are tight and tense, the associative feeling is one of anxiousness. We have the physical component which is tension and the mental component which is anxiety. The two are highly correlated in many ways. This PMR technique reduces the physical tension and the mental component begins to reduce simultaneously. Slowly with regular practice, a person’s anxiety decreases.
Several papers have been published praising PMR as an effective and safe tool for long-term anxiety and depression reduction. Further, we now know it decreases salivary cortisol (cortisol hormone is secreted during times of stress) and generalized anxiety scores. In a recent 2015 study with over 236 participants undergoing chemotherapy, they all showed a decrease in both anxiety and depression scores with regular Progressive Muscle Relaxation! Yay! PMR works!
Although it is possible to do PMR on only one body part at a time, I would highly recommend doing a body scan. This means practicing the PMR technique while moving from one area of the body, all the way to the opposite end (i.e. starting from the tip of your toes and progressing all the way up to your head). Best results are seen when you do PMR twice a day, for approximately for 15 -20 min each session.
Here is a PMR Sample Practice
The body scan sequence can start at the feet, and move upwards toward the legs, abdomen, chest, arms, hands, shoulders, upper back and lastly face.
- Start at your feet, squeeze them tightly, curling the toes in and holding it for 10 seconds. Then release them for 20 seconds.
- Move upward towards your legs, squeeze and hold the tension for 10 seconds and then release it for 20 seconds. Continue this pattern of tension and release all the way up to the top of the face.
- Once you have completed the entire body, do one full body squeeze, where you contract every inch of your body for 10 seconds, and release gently for 20 seconds.
- Now your body scan is complete.
Take 3 deep breaths to close your practice and thank yourself for taking the time to care for yourself!
Let’s face it! Most of us have dealt with anxiety, and we know it can be difficult to manage! However, with a little courage and practice, your anxiety can be reduced. Do not hesitate to contact a certified therapist or Naturopathic Doctor for additional anxiety help!
Be proactive! Take action and empower yourself to feel better!
Anderson J.W., Liu C., Kryscio R. J. Blood pressure response to Transcendental Meditation: a meta-analysis. American Journal of Hypertension 2008; 21 (3), 310-316.
Bonadonna R. Meditation‘s impact on chronic illness. Holistic Nursing Practice, 2003; 17(6), 309-319.
Barnes V.A., Treiber F.A., Johnson M. H. Impact of Transcendental Meditation on ambulatory blood pressure in AfricanAmerican adolescents. American Journal of Hypertension, 2004; 17, 366-369.
Cahn B.R., Polich J. Meditation states and traits: EEG, ERP, and neuroimaging studies. Psychol Bull., 2006; 132(2), 180- 211.
Castillo-Richmond M. A., Schneider R.H, Charles N. A., Cook R., Myers H., Nidich S., Haney C., Rainforth M., Salerno J. Effects of the Transcendental Meditation Program on carotid atherosclerosis in hypertensive African Americans. Stroke 2006; 31, 568-573.
Jacobson E. Progressive relaxation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 1938.
Lang E.V., Benotsch E.G., Fick L.J., Lutgendorf S., Berbaum M.L., Berbaum K.S., Logan H., Spiegel, D. Adjunctive non-pharmacological analgesia for invasive medical procedures: a randomized trial. Lancet, 2000; 355(9214), 1486-1490.
Pawlow L. A., Jones, G. E.The impact of abbreviated progressive muscle relaxation on salivary cortisol. Biological Psychology, 2002; 60 (1), 1-16.
Sheu S., Irvin, B. L., Lin, H.S, Mar, C. L. Effects of Progressive Muscle Relaxation on Blood Pressure and Psychosocial Status for Clients with Essential Hypertension in Taiwan. Holistic Nursing Practice, 2003; 17 (1), 41-47.
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Travis F., Haaga D.A., Hagelin J., Tanner M., Nidich S., Gaylord-King C., Grosswald S., Rainforth M., Schneider, R.H. Effects of Transcendental Meditation practice on brain functioning and stress reactivity in college students. Int J Psychophysiol., 2009; 71(2), 170-176.
Walton, K.G., Schneider, R.H., & Indic, S. Review of controlled research on the transcendental meditation program and cardiovascular disease. Risk factors, morbidity, and mortality. Cardiol Rev, 2004; 12(5), 262-266.
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