Four Simple Exercises to Reduce Anxiety with Jane Pendry

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All talked out? Ready to move forward? Jane’s Solution Focused approach helps you transform …

Jane is the Founder of Sense-Ability which is an 
Online Solution Focused Therapy Resource. Helping you transform and resolve anxiety, complex phobias and traumas. 

Jane has helped numerous individuals who have resolved, healed and now flourish. 

Many of my clients ask me for simple exercises that can support them as they move towards becoming calm and in control through Sessions.

Here are four really useful simple exercises to help you calm your central nervous system and tone your vagus nerve so they help you manage other powerful emotions too, like fear and anger, and help reduce stress

Breathing Exercises to Calm the Central Nervous System

When you feel panic or anxiety rising, taking control of your breathing calms you quickly and helps you move out of your primitive fear-based mind more quickly.

The easiest breathing exercise for emergencies is box breathing through the nose with steady controlled counts. This one is easy to remember when you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

When we take control of our breathing, we take control of our physiological response to stress too. Combining breathing exercises with changing out thought processes is very powerful. 

1. Simple Box Breathing

  • Simply, breathe in to a steady slow count of four (that feels comfortable).

  • Hold for four

  • Breathe out for four through your mouth

  • Hold for four

  • Repeat for three to five rounds

This breathing pattern is conscious and steady and quite simple to do.

Benefits of breathing through your nose

Dr Weil recommends breathing in through your nose because:

  • Filtering out foreign particles. Nasal hairs filters out dust, allergens, and pollen, so they don’t enter your lungs.

  • Humidifying inhaled air. Your nose warms and moisturizes air you breathe in, bringing the air to body temperature, making it easier for your lungs to use.

  • Produces nitric oxide. During nasal breathing, your nose releases nitric oxide (NO), a vasodilator, which helps to widen blood vessels and helps improve oxygen circulation in your body.

Practise four rounds of Box Breathing in the evening, and four rounds at night to get the full benefit. Once mastered you might like to move on to 4-7-8 breathing below.

2. Dr Weil’s 4-7-8 Breathing

Dr Weil has researched all sorts of breathing techniques and he recommends 4-7-8 breathing as a regular practice above all others.

Although its a simple breathing technique, it’s harder to remember the order of the breathing when you feel distressed. However, it’s a fantastic breathing practice to do daily to help you stay calm and in control.

You can do the exercise in any position, however it’s ideal to sit with your back straight. Dr Weil says, “Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.”

Dr Weil recommends this daily practise to help reduce generalised anxiety and the impact of stress. I haven’t recommend this for an ‘emergency’ because if you feel panicky it’s hard to remember the order! But as daily practice, morning and night, it’s fantastic.

4-7-8 breathing should reduce your anxiety and really help you tone your vagus nerve - the main cranial nerve that runs from your head to your stomach - and calms your central nervous system. Here is how to do Dr Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing.

The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise

Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.

  • Close your mouth. Inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.

  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.

  • Exhale in one long breath completely through your mouth. Make a whoosh sound as you breathe out to a count of eight.

  • Inhale again.

  • Repeat the cycle three or four more times.

The 4-7-8 technique makes the mind and body focus on regulating the breath, rather than replaying anxieties as you lie down at night. By soothing a racing heart and calming nerves it helps to regulate sleep and reduces anxiety. The greatest benefits are seen when practising morning and night over several weeks.

3. Five Senses Mindfulness Exercise

During those times when you feel your emotions are tipping out of control, here’s an exercise to ground yourself quickly in the present moment.

First take a deep breath, exhaling slowly and then start the exercise. The order I prefer is: See; Hear; Feel; Smell; Taste

5. What can you see?

Firstly, focus your attention on 5 things you notice in the room. Really look at them one by one. The colour; texture; shape etc. Notice them as if you are Miss Marple looking at them for the first time.

4. What can you hear?

Notice four things you can hear. Traffic outside the house, footsteps, the hum of the computer or the fridge. Really listen and notice sounds that you may normally be unaware of.

3. What can you feel?

Now focus on three things you can feel. The feel of your clothes on your skin, the chair you are sitting on, a breeze, your feet on the floor or things you can pick up. Notice the texture and really feel the sensations fully.

2. What can you smell?

Notice two things you can smell. You may really have to focus. Smelling your clothes, wood, a perfumed candle or your coffee or water. Really focus on the smells and savour them.

1. What can you taste?

Notice one thing you can taste which could overlap with the smell (coffee or water). It could be toothpaste, or the air.

By really focusing on what’s around you, you should find yourself rooting yourself in the present and consequently calming right down. This helps you break any destructive or repetitive thinking patterns, ruminating or obsessing. It’s worth practising daily until you have your anxiety under control.

Keep practising, and keep noticing what’s been good, better, and challenging but you handled it better

4. The Sense-Ability Body Scan Relaxation

Typically, a mindfulness body scan practice aims to help you be aware of areas of your body, and draws your attention to how each part feels, without trying to change anything. Just being with what is there. A mindfulness body scan aims to help you let of overthinking and planning, ease your mind, and train attention and is often part of mindfulness training.

The Sense-Ability Body Scan is guided and is less about training the mind as it is about physical and mental relaxation. I ask you to focus on areas of you body - your neck, back etc - and suggest that muscles in these areas can soften and relax.

It aims simply to help you focus away from your busy flitting mind and towards bodily sensations and physical relaxation and it can really help return you to calm quickly.

Click on the button below to play my short body scan and grab five minutes of peace to reset your body and mind.

anxiety, phobias, traumas
and emetophobia and all anxiety related conditions

Wheatley, Oxford, OX33 1XJ
+44 (0)7843 813 883