So, I’ve been doing all of this talking about anxiety, but I haven’t provided a whole lot of solutions. There is one in particular that has an immediate impact and can do the trick for me. It’s not a long-term solution until you get used to it and practice. Use your new-found focus knowledge on a short-term focus task: to remember to breathe.
I know. It sounds way too easy, and it is. Breathing is autonomic. However, when your body is under stress, your breathing becomes erratic. You notice it when you are having extreme feelings like extreme sadness or anger, but it’s harder to notice it when you’re hypomanic or distracted in some way. This is part of why Bipolar II diagnoses are often missed. The symptoms are present, but not right in front of your face. It doesn’t feel like an asthma attack or a panic attack. Most of the time, I don’t notice I’m not breathing.
When I’m in a hypomanic cycle, I have to frequently remind myself that I need to be mindful of my symptoms. In addition to anxiety, I have trouble sleeping. I’m forgetful. I’m disorganized. My mind races. My heart races. My blood pressure goes up. Basically, I feel like a big mess. For me, being mindful sometimes means I have to step out of my mind to get out of the cycle of negativity. The first part of that is taking a breath.
Breathing lowers your heart rate and your blood pressure. When your breathing is erratic, oxygen doesn’t get into your bloodstream. Your body needs oxygen to function. It’s silly, I know, but it’s true. In addition to the heart, the brain is affected by the level of oxygen in your blood. Your organs may be able to spend a little time without optimal oxygen levels, but brain function is interrupted almost immediately. That’s why you feel light-headed after you hold your breath too long.
With BPD, your brain functions differently anyway and we have to be careful and aware of that. Without proper oxygen levels, it gets exacerbated.
What I’m trying to get across is: YOU NEED TO BREATHE! (This is where you take a deep breath.)
Taking several deep breaths will give you the positive effects I’ve already mentioned. I notice when I’m overly-anxious and forgetting to breathe properly, I yawn more. You don’t just yawn when you’re tired, so yawning is often a trigger for me to be more aware of how I’m feeling. Taking a few deep breaths works in the short-term, as I’ve mentioned, but with hypomania and chronic stress, it takes more focus and more effort. You can add to the benefits of breathing by taking a time-out.
With anxiety, your nervous system is being tried and it needs to rest. A good way to do this is to eliminate excessive stimuli, like noise and light, and sit for a moment to take those deep breaths. It’s almost meditation. To a lesser extent, it is medication. Meditation is actually quite helpful in situations like these.
I like to sit in a smaller room or a corner. It’s easier to calm down when there is no fear of threat. “Threat” may seem like a strong word, but that’s how our brains process it. We have to watch over our shoulder to make sure we’re not being stalked or stared at. We have to sift through the extra noise to get to the important things. What if my boss calls my name and I don’t hear? What if she walks by and catches me in that ten seconds I was not working? You have to leave that situation before you can even start calming down.
Now, I’m going to give you an example on what you can do next, but the most important thing is that you find something that works best for you. First, do what I said previously and isolate yourself from stimuli and distractions. Second, sit on the floor or a chair on with your eyes closed. I prefer to sit on the floor, but you do whatever is most comfortable. Third, start your breathing. Deep breaths should come through the nose. Inhale all the way down to your diaphragm, don’t just try to fill your lungs. Your belly will actually stick out at this point. Hold for a couple of seconds. When you exhale, do it in the same way, all the way from your gut until there’s nothing left. Then exhale some more. Repeat this a couple of times. Be careful. You may get light-headed. Fourth, and this is the most important, take account of all that you are feeling in that moment. Start with your toes and work all the way up to the top of your head. Don’t judge what is happening. It’s not “I need to relax my muscles.” It’s “My muscles are tense.” Keep doing this until you naturally begin to relax. Fifth, take a few moments, then slowly begin to open your eyes.
Feel better? I hope so.
As a bonus: Here are some Tibetan healing sounds to get you going.