It's only January and it’s already been a scary first few days into the Donald Trump's America. I know every time I get a breaking news alert on my phone I’m already dreading what I’m about to read. If you’ve been feeling some post-inauguration anxiety, don’t feel like you’re alone because you most definitely are not.
“As a psychologist, it has been an extraordinarily humbling experience to witness the extent of fear and anxiety that has been elicited in response to the election and Trump's rhetoric of hate towards specific groups of people,” neuropsychologist, Dr. Jennifer Wolkin, PhD. tells Bustle.
While anxiety may stem from obvious fears of being stripped of rights, Wolkin also says much of the anxiety she’s seen in her practice during this time relates to a sense of disempowerment and feeling stuck. Many people have a desire to take action, but they just don’t know how or what to do. Unfortunately, turning on the news or seeing your social media feed may only serve to heighten the anxiety many are already feeling. So, how should one cope with President Trump?
"The power of the breath cannot be overstated."
"I don't purport to think that taking a mindful, deliberate, and conscious inhale and exhale will make someone's deeper pain go away," Wolkin says. "But I do know, and have seen personally and professionally, that the power of the breath cannot be overstated."
Numerous studies have found the importance of breathing in response to stress. Engaging your breath provides an opportunity to help lower your heart rate so that the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, which elicits the relaxation response, can kick in. "Even further, the breath can remind us that we are alive and that we can make the conscious choice to choose to focus on controlling the sensation of the inhale and the exhale," she says.
With that said, here are some breathing techniques to try when you feel like the news is giving you anxiety.
As Dr. Stephen Graef, a psychologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center tells Bustle, “The breath is powerful in that it clears the mind so you’re only focused on one thing, slows it down (i.e. the hamster finally takes a break) and it relaxes you physically.” So if the news is the cause of your anxious thoughts, Dr. Graef offers up this easy-to-remember technique:
- Nose: Breathe in through the nose and slowly take in the air.
- Expand: Expand the stomach by filling the lungs from the bottom up in order to get a full breath.
- Wait: Wait for a brief moment after inhaling to let the breath flow through your entire body.
- Slowly: Slowly exhale out through the mouth and release all that built up tension. Allow yourself to let your mind clear.
2Exhale At Least Twice As Long As You Inhale
One of the simplest breathing techniques licensed clinical psychologist and registered yoga teacher, Dr. Jo Eckler, Psy.D., RYT tells Bustle is to be mindful of the inhale to exhale ratio. It makes a difference.
"See if you can exhale for at least twice as long as you inhale. For example, if you inhale for a count of three, exhale for a count of six," she says. "Make the breath as smooth as possible, like you're blowing on a spoonful of hot soup and you don't want to spill it. The smoother the breath, the more it tells our body to slow down."
3Sit Up Straight With Both Feet Planted
When it comes to anxiety reducing breathing techniques, posture matters. "As a cognitive behavioral therapist, I teach clients breathing techniques to help with anxiety and panic by sitting up straight with both feet on the ground, allowing their gaze to fall to the floor," Kelley Kitley, LCSW, owner of Serendipitous Psychotherapy, LLC tells Bustle. From there, take a deep inhale through your nose, allow your belly to fill with air like a balloon and blow out through your mouth.
"It has been scientifically proven that this exercise can help lower the heart rate," she says.
4Practice "Heart-Focused Breathing"
This breathing technique is meant to balance your thoughts and emotions so you can quickly replace anxiety with feelings of ease. As Harley Sears, consulting hypnotist tells Bustle, this technique happens in three steps:
- Heart Focus: Focus your attention on the area around your heart. If you want, you can try placing your hand over the center of your chest to help keep your attention on the heart area.
- Heart Breathing: Breathe deeply, but normally. Imagine that your breath is going in and out through your heart area. Continue to breath with ease until you find a natural inner rhythm.
- Heart Feeling: While you're focusing on your heart, remember a positive feeling or a time when you felt really good inside and try to re-experience that. By focusing on your heart, you have the power to take energy away from negative emotions and replace them with a positive attitude or feeling.
"This exercise allows you to change your heart rhythm and calm your autonomic nervous system," he says.
5Breathe Like A Baby (Or A Puppy!)
"A baby breathes with their whole belly. So do animals," corporate mindfulness teacher, Corinne Zupko, Ed.S., LPC tells Bustle. According to her, when we get stressed, we automatically breathe from high up in the chest and we tighten up the abdomen. You can actually notice this by placing one hand on your chest and another on your belly. If you're a shallow breather, your chest will be doing most of the moving and your belly will be tight. In order to ease your anxiety, Zupko suggests to practice softening your abdominal muscles so the breath can flow in and out of your belly. That way your belly will be doing just as much moving as your chest.
An easy way to do that is to...
6Focus On How You're Breathing
There are two main aspects about breath that can help you relax or "down regulate." One is the inhale to exhale ratio, which was previously discussed. The other, is how you're breathing. When you're trying to relax, "it's important to be utilizing the diaphragm with an abdominal-thoracic breath," Kate Hamm, a yoga teacher, wellness retreat leader and owner of AnamBliss tells Bustle.
In order to do so, lay down on the floor with one hand on your belly and one on your heart. Just breathe and pay attention to how your body is moving and where. After about five or so breaths, on an inhale, try to have your abdomen rise first, then your chest. Exhale naturally, then repeat.
"Once it feels natural, you can do it standing or seated easily. Or go for a walk for some added stress reduction," Hamm says. "Our stress level should be like a yo-yo, it goes up and down throughout the day," she says. "When we spend too much time stressed out and up-regulated, our health is impacted. The breathing exercises assist with down regulating. Initially, it can take quite a bit of time to de-stress, but with practice it can happen faster. The ability to move up and down quicker increases our vagal tone and is significantly better for our overall health."
Sometimes incorporating props can make things better. "A fun way to breathe is to use bubbles," Dr. Stacy Haynes, author and blogger at Parentingtips2go.com tells Bustle. "I think laughter and breathing go hand-in-hand when blowing bubbles. Doing something that makes you laugh might help you feel less stressed out, or hopefully not at all, while you're watching the news."
8Slow Your Breath Down To Five Breaths Per Minute
"I'm working with many people who have had to disconnect from the news because of its anxiety-provoking result these days," Alena Gerst, LCSW, RYT, a New York City-based psychotherapist specializing in the mind-body connection tells Bustle. "But for those who want to stay plugged into the current and rapidly changing events but need to manage their anxiety, here is a breath technique: If you can slow your breath down to five breaths per minute, that's roughly six seconds-in and six seconds-out for five minutes, you will have already taken steps to alleviate the physiological response to anxiety."
As a bonus, if you can continue to do that for about 20 minutes, you'll significantly increase the likelihood of making positive changes to your body's stress level.
9Shake It Off
"Mental STDs, or stressfully transmitted diseases, as I call them in RETOX, are at a high right now," Lauren Imparato, author of RETOX: Healthy Solutions for Real Life and founder of I.AM.YOU Studio tells Bustle. "The thing is, anxiety is concern about the future, which you cannot control, and stress and worry are concerns about the present, which are also out of your hands."
In order to help fight those "mental STDs", Imparato suggests to try the RETOX Lions breath method. Inhale through your nose. Exhale out your mouth, sticking your tongue out, and even shaking your head if it feels good. "Repeat one to five times as your natural chill pill," she says. "And always remember that this too will pass."
10Try Alternate Nostril Breathing
"I love to do alternate nostril breathing when I’m feeling stressed or anxious," Kelsey Patel, meditation teacher and spiritual empowerment coach tells Bustle. "The exercise is quite simple and it’s the perfect way to calm yourself if the news is giving you anxiety. Before you begin, I recommend taking three deep breaths. Keep your lips closed on the inhale and then open your mouth on the exhale and really feel yourself letting go and opening up to calm the central nervous system from anxiety. Then begin the alternate nostril breathing and set a timer for three minutes."
In order to do the technique, take the ring finger of your right hand and close your left nostril, leaving your right nostril open. Exhale through your right nostril completely, then inhale through your right nostril. Then, close your right nostril with your right thumb and release the air by exhaling through your left nostril. Keep your finger in place and inhale through your left nostril. Close your left nostril with your ring finger again and exhale through your right nostril. Then repeat.
Once finished, Patel says, "Keep your eyes soft or closed and just allow the fullness of breath to be in your body. Feel yourself filling up with peace on every inhale and letting go of stress with every exhale. You may even set an intention, a prayer, or a moment of gratitude for yourself for the rest of the day or evening."
11Try The Balance Breath Technique
"To keep your center in a world of polarizing news, the Balance Breath (or square breath) can be helpful," certified meditation coach and founder of the OMG. I Can Meditate! app, Lynne Goldberg tells Bustle. The way you do this is to breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, breathe out for a count of four, and hold for a count of four.
"You can do this sitting with your eyes closed or with your eyes open while you’re going about daily life," she says. "This is also a great breathing technique to do while your walking, as your footsteps help with the count."
12Try The Power Breath Technique
"For those moments when you need a bit more energy to deal with life, the Power Breath (or Breath of Fire) is another great one to try," Goldberg says. For this technique, do rapid exhales through the nose in a way that's similar to snorting. Don’t worry about the inhales as take care of themselves. But be sure to pull your abdomen in with each one.
"This is one you probably want to be sitting for in a fairly private place," she says.
13Try The STOP Practice
“Stress is often held in the body, so it’s important that a few times a day, you just pause, scan your body and soften any areas that seem tense," Elisha Goldstein, a flagship instructor of the Meditation Studio App and co-founder of the Center for Mindful Living in LA tells Bustle. “Breathing into each area will help soften the body.”
Goldstein suggests trying the STOP method when you’re feeling anxious. Here’s how to do it:
- S: Stop what you’re doing. Put everything down.
- T: Take a breath. Breathe normally and naturally. Follow your breath as you breath in and out.
- O: Observe your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Reflect on what's on your mind and notice that your thoughts and emotions come and go. Sometimes even naming your emotions out loud as you notice them can have a calming effect.
- P: Proceed with something that will support you in the moment. Do something positive for yourself like exercise, go for a walk, or talk to a friend.
She also suggests trying the Mountain Breath Meditation below:
As you can see, there are so many different breathing techniques to try when you're feeling like the current state of the country is bringing you down. But if you take moment to step back, take a deep breath, and center yourself, it just may help you to keep moving forward.