I mentioned in my previous article on social anxiety that it was important to get as grounded as possible. When we feel anxious we tend to breathe more quickly and less fully. As a result we can become heady and have physical symptoms such as feeling dizzy, spaced out or numb. Consequently we no longer feel balanced and find it difficult to get in touch with other more supportive states that counter the anxious thoughts for example excitement, curiosity or confidence. Grounding involves being more in our bodies and less in our heads.
I’m not saying that it’s as easy as getting grounded to beat anxiety. Many of my clients have, out of their awareness, chosen precisely not to feel grounded. Feeling one’s body can bring up uncomfortable emotions. Emotions originate in the body and are linked to physical sensations for example a sinking heart and disappointment, a tight chest and anxiety, a fluttering in the stomach and excitement. An individual who has experienced trauma may have ‘escaped’ to their mind or disassociated in order to avoid the harrowing experience and accompanying anxiety. This then becomes a habitual pattern.
However even those of us with no trauma that live in cities are often ungrounded due to our environment. Many of us work in offices surrounded by electronic equipment and the latest technology, spending large amounts of time interacting digitally, being constantly bombarded with news feeds, text messages, television, You Tube, emails, Twitter etc.
So getting grounded is important for all and yet it can be unfamiliar and challenging. For this reason approaching getting grounded with compassion and curiosity rather than with an, ‘I must get grounded’ attitude works best. Here is one exercise to try.
In a private space, place your hand so it is gently covering your belly. Start by taking a normal breath in and then breathing out normally (not trying to do anything to the breath like extend it or deepen it). When you come to the end of the out-breath and are ready to breath in again, pause for five seconds without breathing. As you pause, push your lower belly out as far as it can go as if you had just eaten a meal that had made you feel bloated (this in itself can be difficult for those who are not comfortable with their body image). After five seconds relax your belly and breathe in. You will notice that you breathe in more deeply as you want to get more oxygen in after holding the breath. Continue doing this for three minutes and building up to ten minutes. Ideally you would do this twice a day. Clients sometimes report having tried breathing when they are feeling anxious and finding that it does nothing at all to help them in that moment. However the best way to benefit from these types of breathing exercises is to do them regularly as a way to keep general anxiety levels down. In that way we are less likely to get into a highly anxious state.
And the science shows that breathing exercises really do work. The reason being that anxiety has a direct effect on our physiology. As I am sure you are all familiar, when we are anxious our flight or flight system kicks in., our sympathetic nervous system. Our adrenal glands, located above our kidneys, start to produce more adrenaline and noradrenaline. Our heart rate increases and we experience physical symptoms of anxiety such as sweating or dizziness, amongst others. By belly breathing we activate the hypothalamus that transmits neurohormones, which cause the body to relax. Deep breathing also directly affects the kidney and adrenal area, also promoting relaxations. Deep breathing therefore activates the mechanisms that cause the body to slow down and relax, the parasympathetic nervous system. So why not give it a try? Set yourself a 30-day challenge of just three minutes a day and notice how much grounded you feel. It is also a useful exercise to do before a big moment such as a job interview or first date as it helps to counter the nervousness that can get in the way of performing your best. I’d be interested to hear what your experience with it is so drop me a line and let me know.