In a blog post about stress management, I suggested that often stress is like ‘Going on a Bear Hunt’, The famous poem by Michael Rosen. Whilst we can manage stress better (here’s how), and we deserve help to do so, I usually find that:
“we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, oh no we’ll have to go through it”.Michael Rosen
Once I hit on this idea I was surprised by how much it started to resonate with me. Love it or hate it, it works for me. At periods of high stress or anxiety in my life, I have often reminded myself “this too shall pass”. And here lies the crux. Often the sad truth in hard times is that the only way is through. We have to hold tight, keep calm and carry on. Or any other epithets you choose to apply.
Another well-known mantra, thanks to Finding Nemo, is ‘just keep swimming’ . To me ‘just keep swimming’ implies plain sailing. Blue skies. Calm seas. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always loved swimming. It’s something I associate with relaxation and holidays. A sense of liberty in the water. Weightlessness.
This is not how I experience stress or anxiety. My anxiety is turbulent. More like a whirlpool or storm. I feel buffeted by torrents of thoughts particularly the pernicious ‘what ifs’ which seem to delight in plaguing me. Getting through these times is nothing like I interpret ‘just keep swimming’.
Take it Back to the Breath
The one thing that does get me through; more often than not, is a reminder to myself to just keep breathing. Sometimes focusing on my breath can quiet the overthinking I am prone to. It brings me out of my head. The counting gives me a sense of time passing and something to focus on too. Often I experience anxiety as a varying severity of nausea or stomach cramps (more here on how to beat nausea). Breathing helps calm the sickness and gets me through the pain and discomfort.
Sometimes I forget to breathe when my anxiety is particularly bad. As the rising tide of panic comes I remind myself to breathe. Or often, someone needs to remind me to do that. I tell myself that breathing is the the only thing I need to do in that moment, the most important thing. As my yoga teacher consistently reminds us, take it back to the breath.
How to Practice Deep Breathing
There are loads of different breathing techniques out there. So, I encourage you to find the right one for you. My personal favourite is 7/11 breathing. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 7 and out through your mouth for a count of 11. Easy to remember. Easy to do. And incredibly relaxing. But whether this sounds like your thing. Or you prefer 3,4,5 breathing, box breathing (in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4, hold for 4), alternate nostril breathing or breath of fire – both popular in yoga. It doesn’t really matter. Provided it helps stem the tide of thoughts, feelings of anxiety or worries. For some of us, it may be as simple as pausing and taking in a big inhale and exhale. Working to really exercise our lungs.
Is your stress like going on a bear hunt? What gets your through these hard times?