Do you already know what you need to do to manage your anxiety, but you struggle to actually DO it? Congrats! You’re normal! This is a complaint of almost all my clients as they are work on behavior change, especially when it involves something as seemingly simple as breathing. In my last blog post, I wrote about why, as a counselor for eating disorders in Plano, I teach breathing exercises to my clients. I also introduced several simple and effective breathing techniques. In this post, I share helpful tips for making these fit into your everyday life.
But first, allow me to remind everyone why I care about this. Anxiety is now the most common mental health disorder in America. For those who struggle with an eating disorder (Anorexia, Bulimia, or Binge Eating Disorder), as many as 80% also experience anxiety disorders. Eating disorders are notoriously stubborn illnesses to treat, and recovery is typically long and slow.
It’s hard to change behaviors, but beating yourself up for perceived failure at practicing new skills will make things worse, particularly for an already anxious person. So load up on self-compassion and consider the following as you delve into using breathing to manage your anxiety and eating disorder.
Tips for breathing to manage anxiety in eating disorder recovery
- As you breathe, lengthen your exhale for added calming effect.
- Talk to your anxious self or to the anxious part of you! Out loud or in your head, you can say “Oh, hey anxiety. Thanks for letting me know I have a lot to think about. Thanks for trying to keep me safe by staying alert, but I got this. Right now calming things down is the best thing for me, so I can let those thoughts go.”
- Use counting to keep your focus on your breath if you’re feeling really distracted. You can use one of the techniques I shared in my last post, or you can make it up. Count breaths in, count breaths out, or count as you pause your breath gently. Practice counting as slowly as you can.
- Use visual anchors to keep you focused on your breath. You can stare at a candle, a spot on the floor or wall, a favorite piece of art, or something in nature as you sit outside or look out a window.
- Use verbal anchors to keep you focused on your breath, such as saying “IN” and “OUT” as you breathe. You can also say (or think) calming words such as “breathe in calm… breathe out stress.”
- Add calming imagery to enhance the positive effects of breathing. Try imagining a balloon filling and emptying as you breathe in and out. Imagine a healing stream of light entering your body as you inhale, and your anxious thoughts flowing out as you exhale. Visualize sitting on a beach or by a stream, or any other scenery (real or imaginary) that evokes feelings of calm.
- Listen to music while you focus on your breath. I like to listen to instrumental music with headphones so I can pay attention to each instrument or to the notes. Sometimes I choose music with lyrics that are soothing. I also like songs with slow rhythm that’s calming.
- You can use one of the many apps available to practice breathing exercises. Many even allow you to set reminders to practice and enable you to track your mood. Some of my favorites are: Insight Timer, Breathe2Relax, Calm, Headspace.
- Youtube, Amazon Prime Video, and other streaming services have guided breathing exercises you can check out.
Tips for fitting breathing exercises into your schedule
- Pair your breathing exercises with other activities to keep you present and focused. For example, practice breathing slowly and mindfully while you shower, on your drive to work, or watering your flowers.
- Set aside time in your day for breathing practice, or even enter it into your calendar. Wake up a few minutes early to do it before everyone else is awake. Or stay in bed and spend a few minutes breathing slowly before you get out of bed.
- You don’t have to schedule a breathing practice that’s an hour long! you can fit in into your everyday activities, especially on busy days. Slow down your breathing as you walk your kids to school. Stop on the way into your office and take 10 deep diaphragmatic breaths. Do it on your bathroom break!
- When you do have more time in your schedule, do a longer practice, maybe as part of a yoga class, a guided exercise, or even on your own.
Tips for managing expectations for breathing practice
- Don’t quit trying to find a technique that works for you. Try out several to see what works best for you. For example, I have some clients who get annoyed by guided exercises and find this distracting. I have others who prefer complete silence. Find what works for you, and let expectations go.
- What works for you may change with moods, level of stress, or surroundings. Sometimes guided practices work best for me for parenting stress, but not so great for work stress. Learn several breathing techniques that work, and pick the one that fits you best in the moment.
- It may take a while to see the benefits of practicing breathing techniques. Be patient and give yourself grace when you aren’t.
- If your mind wanders during breath practice, that’s ok! Simply notice that your mind is busy and maybe anxious, and let those thoughts go. Remind yourself that this is normal and expected. Gently bring your attention back to the breath. Over and over again.
- Remember that practicing these techniques when you’re feeling relaxed and calm is important, so that they come more easily to you when you’re feeling extremely distressed or having a panic attack. It’s fine to use them during a time of increased stress, but you’ll feel more mastery over the skills if you’ve practiced when you were calm.
Hopefully these tips gave you some ideas to make breathing exercises fit into your daily life, and you can be on your way to recovery from anxiety and eating disorders! If you’d like more help from an eating disorder counselor or anxiety therapist, let’s chat.
If you need help creating a plan for managing your anxiety or eating disorder, I’d love to help. I OFFER VIDEO COUNSELING FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE!! If you’re looking for counseling in Plano, Texas contact me here or at 469-850-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org for a free 15-minute phone consultation. My name is Danesa, and we can see if we’re a good fit! I’m also happy to connect you to another great therapist in the area.
My specialties include anxiety, depression, eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating; overeating or compulsive eating, and body image issues. My counseling office is in Plano, Texas, and conveniently located near Frisco, Allen, and McKinney.