Anxiety is a beast. It complicates even the simplest of tasks. Having said that, anxiety wants our bodies to keep up with our racing minds, and as a result, our bodies can be in “go mode.” Anxiety wants us to overthink, over-plan, overachieve, overdo, over-worry, and over-everything. The downside is that we get tired out and we can dive into a low because sometimes the thought processes are too overwhelming to execute tasks. So many people with anxiety have learned to channel it into their work, school, housework, parenting, etc. But again, we almost always burn out.
Here’s one of the most common analogies I use in therapy to try to help bring it full circle for clients:
Anxiety is like an overpacked suitcase. We pack this suitcase full of all kinds of things because we’re worried. We’re worried that we will need something, and we don’t want to imagine what it will feel like if we don’t have it. So, right before we leave the house, we throw everything but the kitchen sink in that suitcase- “but wait, will there be a sink where we’re going?!” Fast forward to when you get there, you forgot something-the sunscreen. You quickly look up the nearest Pharmacy and go grab the sunscreen-vacation proceeds and there is ‘no harm no foul.’ I always like to ask clients how confident they are in their problem-solving skills because, in reality, we almost always forget something, and we can’t over plan or avoid having to live life at the moment. Anxiety wants that. It wants us to try to make sure nothing bad happens, as if it will soothe our worries somehow. This brings us to the last part of the suitcase analogy-you get home. At home, you start to unpack everything, and it hits you- “I only used about 25% of this stuff!”
One of the best quick-fix coping strategies I have been teaching clients is bringing in amazing results for their anxiety reduction. The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique can calm the body and mind to alleviate anxiety symptoms. Here’s the formula to try:
- First, exhale all of your breath with a pursed lip and tongue at the roof of your mouth making a “WHOOSH.”
- Next, take a deep breath in through your nose for FOUR seconds- really feel your lungs expand.
- Then, hold your breath for SEVEN seconds.
Lastly, exhale your breath slowly for EIGHT seconds through a pursed lip (tongue relaxed touching the roof of your mouth).
Practice 4-5+ repetitions 2x daily. Practicing regularly will make it easier to do before anxiety peaks. 4-7-8 breathing can calm your heart rate and trick the brain into following. The counting is also a welcome distraction to combat overthinking and racing thoughts. If done properly, this breathing technique can induce calm quickly. As an added bonus, it can also assist with getting to sleep quickly. So, the next time you’re packing that suitcase and you feel the anxiety taking over, take a second to try 4-7-8 breathing developed by Dr. Andrew Weil- and leave the kitchen sink at home! Citations: Ma X, Yue ZQ, Gong ZQ, Zhang H, Duan NY, Shi YT, Wei GX, Li YF. The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Front Psychol. 2017 Jun 6;8:874. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874. PMID: 28626434; PMCID: PMC5455070. https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/breathing-exercises-4-7-8-breath/
Kelly Rad LLMSW is a therapist with Refresh Mental Health and is employed at Oakland Psychological Clinic in Milford, MI. She has worked with clients to increase and achieve mental wellness through integrative treatment modalities. Kelly follows a mental wellness journey of her own and has adopted some of these strategies into her practice to assist clients with their mental wellness.