Sigh Away Stress
“Take a breath.”
That’s the first thing people suggest when someone seems anxious or agitated. It’s not only good instinct, it’s solid science.
Andrew Huberman, PhD, a Stanford University neurobiologist, offers a calming breathing technique called the physiological sigh: Breath in through the nose, then breathe in a little more. Then take a long exhalation through the mouth. Repeat three times.
His research found that this technique can noticeably slow a racing heart in as little as 40 seconds.
This practice seems to be hardwired in all of us, Huberman says. We often do it in our sleep or unconsciously throughout the day as a form of self-calming. It’s the body’s way of addressing the imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs and bloodstream, caused by stress.
Hang On to Your Calm
To maintain a sense of equilibrium, our experts recommend these anti-anxiety habits.
Don’t Just Sit There
If you experience an anxiety overload, silent meditation or an extended Savasana (Corpse Pose) may be agitating. “For a lot of people I work with, sitting down on the meditation cushion, even for five minutes, can cause tension,” says Ling Beisecker, E-RYT 500, a clinical mental health counselor. Instead, try a gentle yoga flow that allows you to move and stretch.
Watch Your Posture
Experts aren’t sure if mental health challenges cause us to have poor posture or if having poor posture affects our mental health. Either way, poses such as Salabhasana (Locust Pose), Ustrasana (Camel Pose), and Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose), can help reduce tension in the neck, open the shoulders, and strengthen the back.
Do One Thing
Our society likes to maximize and multitask, says Beisecker. But that leads to overstimulation, which leads to anxiety. Instead, focus on one task at a time. “If you’re going to walk your dog, just walk the dog,” she said. “You don’t have to listen to a podcast or do anything else while you’re walking.”
Get Some Sleep
Sleep deprivation exacerbates anxiety, according to multiple studies. And if you’re not sleeping at night, you’re more likely to oversleep in the morning, which can make you feel worse. Prioritize a bedtime that allows you to get 7–8 hours of sleep, and wake up early so you don’t have to rush into your day.
Addressing the Fear Factor
Everyone’s anxiety threshold is different. Something you can brush off may be traumatic for someone else. Still, these tips can help you tackle common worries.
The Fear: “My partner has started lashing out at me. I’m walking on eggshells every day.”
The Fix: If you feel like you’re in danger, the urge to escape or defend yourself is an appropriate response, Johnette Walser says. Your priority: getting to safety. Seek counseling in addition to mindful-awareness practices if you experience post-traumatic stress symptoms. Silent meditation isn’t always the best option for trauma survivors; asana or another moving meditation might be better.
The Fear: “As a person of color, I’m afraid to go into certain neighborhoods or stores. I don’t even feel safe in church these days.”
The Fix: “That fear and anxiety is rooted in the knowledge that, as a person of color, something bad may actually happen to you,” Walser says. A culturally aware counselor can help you untangle your fears. “Don’t allow anyone to gaslight you—tell you these things don’t happen—or invalidate you by saying you shouldn’t feel that way,” she says. For extra support, find a yoga or meditation group for people of color.
The Fear: “I’m healthy and safe; everything is fine. But I wake up with anxiety for no reason.”
The Fix: There’s always a reason for our anxiety, though it may be buried. Work with a counselor on cognitive restructuring techniques: “That’s a fancy way of saying that we can help people become aware of negative thoughts that are on auto-repeat,” Diane Malaspina says. Write your anxious thoughts in a journal, then consciously replace them with positive or neutral ones. This can help uproot the buried worries and retrain the brain to focus on other things.
This story is part of Yoga Journal’s Special Report: How Yoga Can Improve Your Mental Health