Stress and Anxiety Secret Weapon – Breathe!

spinsight Counseling, Dr. Pam Wright, General Psychology, Stress ,
Breathing is the secret weapon to reducing stress and anxiety. Learn the techniques from Dr. Pam Wright and the therapists and counselors at The Life Change Group

The Secret Weapon

Do you know the stress and anxiety secret weapon? There are a lot of strategies and suggestions for how to reduce stress and overcome anxiety (the Anxiety & Depression Association of America has a great list), but one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated things you can do is breathe. The problem is that many people don't know how or take the time to breathe properly. 🌬️💆‍♂️💆‍♀️

There is a great scene in the movie "Everafter" (shout out to Drew Barrymore and her portrayal of Cinderella) where the main character walks into a giant ballroom filled with glaring and judging attendees. All eyes turn to look as she enters the room. She takes a moment, calms herself and says "breathe, just breathe". The scene didn't lock up any Oscars for Barrymore, but the concept is exactly on point. Intentional and mindful breathing are scientifically proven to have a profound impact on reducing stress and anxiety levels. Here's how breathing can be your secret weapon too.

How to breathe 🧘‍♂️

There's actually a specific way to breathe when you want to calm yourself. By focusing on your breath, you engage your body's relaxation response, calming the nervous system and promoting a sense of well-being. One of the most popular ways to do this is the use the 4-7-8 breathing technique, popularized by Dr. Andrew Weil. It's a simple yet effective method that anyone can follow using these simple steps:

  • First, let your lips part. Make a whooshing sound, exhaling completely through your mouth.
  • Next, close your lips, inhaling silently through your nose as you count to four in your head.
  • Then, for seven seconds, hold your breath.
  • Make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for eight seconds.
  • Repeat as necessary (you'll usually recognize a difference in your mental state after 5-7 breaths, but do what feels right for you)

Box breathing, where you inhale, hold, exhale, and pause for equal counts, is another popular technique. The key for both is purposefully taking measured beats to inhale, hold and exhale. Take a minute and try it. Or watch this breathing video for a quick example.

Why do the 4-7-8 and box breathing techniques work? 🤷‍♀️

According to the Harvard Business Review, "When we are in a highly stressed state, our prefrontal cortex — the part of our brain responsible for rational thinking — is impaired, so logic seldom helps to regain control. This can make it hard to think straight with your team. But with breathing techniques, it is possible to gain some mastery over your mind." Proper breathing helps regulate the autonomic nervous system, balancing the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) responses. This balance promotes relaxation, reduces stress hormones, and fosters a sense of calm. Studies have suggested that slow, deep breathing can lower cortisol levels. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, can be effectively managed by incorporating techniques that engage the diaphragm and promote relaxation.

How do I get started?Diaphragmatic breathing is a secret weapon against stress and anxiety

Here are a few steps to get started:

  • Pay attention to your breath. It sounds weird at first, but notice how it feels. Recognize what your body is doing - how your lungs fill with air, how your chest raises and then lowers when the air is exhaled.
  • Practice diaphragmatic breathing—inhaling deeply into your abdomen.
  • Really practice. Good breathing techniques don't come natural to us, so take the time figure out what works for you
  • Recognize when you're shallow breathing. Shallow breathing is when you inhale

What other secret weapons are there?

In addition to these breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation can be added to release tension. Either way, consistency is paramount to training your body to respond to stress. So be intentional with your breathing and practice. Our clients have found a lot of success by taking time each day - just a few minutes - to remove all distractions and focus on practicing their breathing. While deep breathing is beneficial for relaxation, it's not necessary to do it constantly. Incorporate deep breathing exercises into your routine, especially during stressful moments, to enjoy the calming effects.

Final Thoughts

With all the ways that you can reduce stress - and there are a ton of products, processes and ideas - one of the easiest and free ways is proper breathing. Remember, the journey to stress relief begins with each intentional breath. Experiment with different techniques to discover what works best for you, and embrace the power of mindful breathing on your path to a calmer, more centered life. 💙 #BreatheWell #StressReliefJourney


Teen Stress at an All-Time High

spinsight Counseling, Dr. Pam Wright, General Psychology, Group Therapy, Stress , ,
teen stress is at an all-time high. Dr. Pam Wright from The Life Change Group provide statistics and ways to help teens deal with stress more effectively

Teen Stress is at an All-Time High

Gen Z teens today are 30% more stressed out than millennials were at the same age. According a recent Gallup poll, "Gen Z members note 'thriving' at a 41% rate compared to a 60% rate from millennials. APA CEO, Arthur Evans thinks today's teens may just be more tuned into their mental health. That may be a part of it, but stats from a Zogby poll last year indicate that youth face a lot more stressors too.

The PYD (Positive Youth Development) framework illustrates that to achieve the vision of healthy, productive and engaged youth, kids must better use their assets, contribution, agency and enabling environments

  • 54% are “aware of someone who has been bullied because of their race, sexual orientation, or income level”
  • 58% “personally know someone who has considered self-harm or suicide
  • 40% of Gen Z students said they worried a lot or some about gun violence at their school

Even parents are seeing the spike. A RethinkFirst survey noted three-quarters of polled parents observed one or more of these emotions in their child during the last school year." This rate is more than double what was previously reported. Whatever the reason, teens are escalating their problems and letting it be known that stress and anxiety, and overall mental health, is a big concern. So what can be done?

There are several existing models - the 5A's and 5C's are good places to start from a broad level, but many psychologists and therapists gravitate towards variations of the PYD (Positive Youth Development) framework. Here's how it works:

  • Assets - help kids build stronger interpersonal skills (get them off their phones)
  • Contribution - encourage play and interaction with other teens
  • Enabling Environment - actively listen to your teen and create bonding opportunities
  • Agency - encourage them and give them a chance to use their voice (figuratively and literally)

We were all teens once. It's a confusing, chaotic and just a weird time of everyone's life. It can be stressful, but it doesn't have to be over-whelming and there are actions that we as friends, parents, teachers and community leaders can take to make a difference.

We All Want Stress Relief

Stress is Everywhere and We All Want Relief

Stress relief is one of the most discussed topics at psychology offices around the country. We all have stress and are looking for more and better ways to deal with it. A recent study by the American Psychological Association (APA) showed that nearly all major age groups report having more stress in 2023 compared to four years ago (pre-pandemic).

Life’s demands can be overwhelming, leaving us stressed and fatigued. It’s crucial to understand how stress affects us and adopt effective techniques recommended by psychologists to manage it.

Physical Stress Reliefs

You can start with these four physical ways to reduce stress:

  1. Get Regular Exercise: Regular exercise is a potent stress buster and often one of the easiest to initiate. Physical activity releases endorphins, the body’s natural mood lifters. Engaging in activities like walking, jogging, or yoga not only helps clear the mind but also promotes overall well-being. The key is making exercise consistent and regular. We all don’t have to become gym rats and do this everyday. Everyone’s level and intensity of exercise will be different, but the important aspect is that consistency.
  2. Eat Healthy, Regular Meals, and Stay Hydrated: Nutrition plays a vital role in managing stress and most Americans do not eat the right amount of healthy foods. According to a 2019 JAMA study, “42% of the American diet is still coming from low-quality carbs, and about 12% is coming from saturated fat.”  Most dieticians recommend a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Avoid excessive caffeine and sugar, as they can contribute to stress. Staying hydrated is equally important. The Mayo Clinic says that adults lose eight to 12 cups of water through breathing, perspiring, and going to the bathroom. In general, men need at least 12 cups of fluid daily, while women require a minimum of nine cups. Drinking water is very important.
  3. Make Sleep a Priority: Adequate sleep is essential for mental and physical health. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that we establish a consistent sleep routine, aiming for 7-9 hours per night. Quality sleep rejuvenates the body, enhances mood, and improves resilience to stress. In fact, the opposite is true too. A Northwestern University professor found that “sleep loss induces a potent antidepressant effect and rewires the brain. This is an important reminder of how our casual activities, such as a sleepless night, can fundamentally alter the brain in as little as a few hours.”
  4. Try a Relaxing Activity: Engaging in relaxing activities like reading, listening to music, or practicing mindfulness can calm the mind and reduce stress. Experiment with different activities to discover what works best for you.

Mental Stress Reliefs

After you've tackled those, try these next four steps to reduce stress and de-clutter your mind and re-focus your positive thoughts:

  1. Set Goals and Priorities: Setting realistic goals and priorities helps manage stress by providing a sense of direction and accomplishment. Break down tasks into manageable steps and celebrate achievements along the way.
  2. Practice Gratitude: Cultivating gratitude can shift focus from stressors to positive aspects of life. Regularly reflecting on and expressing gratitude for the good things can improve overall mental well-being.
  3. Focus on Positivity: Positive thinking can counteract stress. Instead of dwelling on challenges, focus on solutions and positive outcomes. Surround yourself with positive influences and practice self-compassion.
  4. Stay Connected: Maintaining social connections is crucial for emotional well-being. Share your thoughts and feelings with trusted friends or family members. Social support provides a safety net during challenging times.

Other Stress Management Techniques

While taking these eight steps will help to reduce stress in most people, there are also a few key stress management techniques and ways you can reduce stress that you can start today:

  • Mindfulness practices
  • Time management
  • Deep breathing
  • Spending time in nature
  • Engaging in laughter

Making Your Own Plan

Incorporating these stress relief techniques and self-care practices into your daily routine can significantly enhance your ability to manage stress and lead a more balanced and fulfilling life. Remember that it’s essential to find what works best for you and make self-care a priority in your journey toward well-being.