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Contrary to popular beliefs, anxiety isn’t something that positive thinking can cure. When dealing with anxiety, it may originate with a thought, but you can experience it throughout the body in very physical ways.

When you feel stressed, where do you feel it in your body?

Perhaps you start to get a headache. Maybe your stomach starts to feel butterflies. Your heart beats faster, and you notice that you don’t feel like you can slow your breathing.

Breathwork can help to target your respiratory system and those physical sensations associated with stress and anxiety, such as:

  • Tightness in your chest.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Hyperventilation.

  • And feeling like you’re suffocating.

Here are three of our favorite breathwork techniques to help soothe the physical reaction to stress and reduce your anxiety.

Slow down when you exhale.

Did you know that inhaling works with the part of your body that contains your sympathetic nervous system? It’s where your body controls fight or flight responses.

Exhalation works with your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us relax and calm down.

So, instead of calming down by gulping in big, slow breaths and possibly contributing to hyperventilation, try exhaling longer than you inhale.

You can try this technique in any way that feels comfortable - sitting, standing, or lying down. The idea is to focus on your breath as it leaves your body rather than entering it. Imagine taking a breath and then deliberately emptying your lungs of every bit of oxygen.

You can start by counting to three as you inhale, then count to five on the exhale. Try it for two minutes, then work on this technique for up to five minutes at a time.

Be mindful of your breathing.

Because you’re constantly breathing every day, it’s easy not to think about it as a process. Try becoming present with the sensations involved with breathing to slow down your anxiety symptoms.

Choose a quiet space without distractions to try this technique.

You can breathe in a seated position or lie down.

Please take a few normal breaths and notice what it feels like. Feel the air moving in through your nostrils. Put both hands on your stomach, feel it rise with your inhalation, and fall with your exhalation.

As you exhale, choose a word or sound to vocalize. A sound like “om” or phrases like “loved” or “safe” can help. Imagine taking in those words with each inhale and exhaling the anxious feelings.

When you notice other thoughts popping up, be gentle with yourself and refocus on your breath and your sound or word of the day. Practice for up to 20 minutes a day.

Try equal or 4-4-4 breathing.

Working on equal breathing means inhaling and exhaling for the same amount of time.

Again, start by putting yourself in a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down.

Notice your normal breathing for a few breaths. Then close your eyes.

Breathe in for a count of four, and then exhale for the exact count as you feel your lungs expand and retract. Your number can change as you count, but the key is to keep your breathing equal.

Ask for help when you need it.

Try any or all of these techniques when you start to feel the effects of anxiety to help slow your breathing and give you something in the present moment to focus on.

If you notice that daily stress triggers more anxiety and panic attacks, we’re here to help! Book a call with us, and we can work together to get you on the path to healing.

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As a survivor of sexual abuse, you need to know that what happened to you isn’t your entire identity. You are the ultimate author of your life. And although sexual abuse is a part of your story, many more chapters will be written about who you are and the life you can live as you move forward.

According to the CDC, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience sexual abuse in their lifetime. Survivors must understand that they aren’t alone on their journey to healing. There is no perfect timeline to healing that survivors should follow because every individual is different.

Below are four suggestions for survivors of sexual abuse to explore on their way to a healthy and happy life after abuse.

Start a meditation practice.

Sitting in silence can feel awkward at first. But with the help of many different apps, you can find guided meditations that can help.

You can find meditations for different mental health categories, such as anxiety and depression.

Guided meditation is a great way to begin your own practice because you can focus your attention on the words of the person leading the meditation rather than struggling to quiet your thoughts without a specific focus point.

Learning to slow down and focus on your breath and the voice in a guided meditation can strengthen your self-awareness.

And when you feel anxious feelings rising, you can take what you learned and begin to guide yourself back to slow, deep breaths and settle back into the present moment without spiraling into a complete panic attack.

Find an outlet for self-expression.

A racing mind continuously scanning the environment for possible threats is a challenging way to live. You can work on finding ways to slow down and be present by creating an expressive outlet.

Begin to notice what you’re feeling and keep those emotions separate from who you are. Feelings of confusion, anger, guilt, and shame are common in survivors. All feelings are valid, and you need to take the time to work through those feelings.

Rather than saying, “I am angry,” and taking on the identity of anger, reframe it by saying, “I feel angry.” The subtle difference will help you recognize the feeling and then release it rather than letting it occupy space as part of your personality indefinitely.

Purchasing a new notebook or a sketchbook to express your feelings as they arise during the day can help with the healing process. Journaling is a great way to release emotions you may have suppressed over time.

Whether painting, singing, acting, or playing an instrument, involvement in the arts can positively impact your wellbeing. It can move you in a direction that feels like an authentic way to begin the healing process.

Manage trauma triggers.

Survivors of sexual abuse have experienced a highly traumatic event. And as such, they can experience the symptoms of PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder. The amygdala, located at the brain’s base, becomes overactive to keep the survivor safe and out of harm’s way. Although it sounds like this is helpful, symptoms can cause people to enter the fight, flight, faint, or freeze reactions, making daily life more anxiety-ridden.

One way to help keep these instinctual reactions from appearing frequently is to understand possible triggers and manage the frequency of interacting with triggering events. Although every individual has different triggers, here are a few ways to help:

  • Take a break from the news or social media.

  • Avoid using drugs and alcohol to cope.

  • Don’t be afraid to seek help from professionals.

Consider working with a therapist.

Sometimes the best way to heal is to talk to a trained professional. Sharing your thoughts and feelings in a safe space without judgment, guilt, or shame can be just the environment you need to understand how the trauma of sexual abuse is affecting you.

A therapist can guide you through the process and give you the tools to become more aware of:

  • Triggers that most affect you

  • Beneficial expressive outlets and homework to practice with them

  • Behaviors that are trauma responses and how to remove them from your life

When you’re ready, we’re here for you!

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PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition that often goes undiagnosed and untreated. Many individuals who experience trauma are living with PTSD but may think the symptoms are just a part of their personality, especially if the traumatic events occurred during childhood.

What does PTSD do to your brain?

Your amygdala is the place where you sense a threat and move into a reactionary response. Those responses can fall into fight or flight. Without PTSD, a perceived threat triggers your brain, and that signal gets sent to your prefrontal cortex, where you store your logical reasoning, and you can quickly determine whether your life is in danger.

If you experienced one traumatic event or several over time, your brain goes into a protective mode with PTSD. It’s as though you build a wall down the middle of your skull, and when your amygdala fires at the back of your brain after experiencing a trigger that it interprets as a threat, that signal cannot get to the prefrontal cortex at the front of your brain for proper processing. So instead of the threat signal lessening, it keeps hitting that wall and bouncing back to your amygdala, saying, “this isn’t safe. I need to respond. Now.”

If you see yourself experiencing any or all of the following symptoms of PTSD, you may want to seek professional help.

What are the triggers?

Triggers can be anywhere, unfortunately, and they are different for different people based on your experiences. When you’re living with PTSD, you can react to triggers without fully understanding why.

Sometimes, they’re apparent. Maybe you’re driving, and there is a car accident that you go past. Other times, they could be something your subconscious picks up on that you may not even notice, but you start feeling “off.” This could be a song playing in the background at the grocery store or a particular smell that was present when something happened to you. Take a look at some of the symptoms below.

Do you startle easily?

Do you notice yourself jumping or flinching when someone walks into a room and starts talking? Do your arms shoot out seemingly involuntarily if you hear a loud noise? This annoying little trait may not be a personality trait but rather a symptom of your amygdala on overload.

Remember, PTSD is your brain’s way of trying to keep you safe in a way that you never have to experience the trauma ever again. In doing so, there is a part of your brain that is continuously scanning subconsciously for a reason for you to jump into fight or flight.

The jumpiness you’re experiencing is due to the inability to slow down and analyze the situation before reacting to the trigger. Whether life-threatening or not, your brain isn’t taking any chances.

Are you reliving the trauma?

If you have flashbacks or dreams that make you feel like you’re reliving the traumatic event(s), your brain is trying to process and work through what happened. But with PTSD, you haven’t consciously worked through what happened; therefore, it keeps coming back and putting you in the situation to relive it.

Another way people who experience PTSD is by having the same conversations about what happened with others. Instead of moving forward from the event(s), you’re trapped in the event itself, explaining it repeatedly.

This can also make it difficult to fall asleep at night because the brain is trying to make sense of something that traumatized you. Still, the emotions and the event are stuck in the amygdala and can’t get through to the part of your brain that can process and heal productively.

Do you have a short fuse?

People dealing with undiagnosed PTSD may consider themselves angry people by nature. But that isn’t the case. This is the fight part of the amygdala that is exaggerated and acts as the sole response to triggers.

For example, maybe you’re doing just fine at the grocery store. Suddenly you notice that a person with a full cart is in the ten items or less line, and you lose your temper and yell at them about it. Or you’re driving, and the driver in front of you is going slower than you want, and you start honking your horn and waving your arms at them to get them to go faster.

Neither of those triggers is life-threatening, but they put you right into fight mode. This can happen anywhere and at any time. After the fact, you may not remember why you were so angry.

Are you withdrawing?

Have your friends and family members asked why you don’t come around anymore? And when they ask, are you at a loss for an answer that makes sense? This could be the flight part of your amygdala acting out its idea of how to protect you.

Subconsciously, you may feel like being away from people makes you safer. You may notice that you feel more anxious or even start to sweat when you think about being in the middle of a social event with many people. If you weren’t an introvert before you experienced trauma, this could be another symptom of PTSD.

It’s okay to get help.

If you notice that you’re struggling with your mental health, we encourage you to make an appointment to chat with us. All consultations are virtual and confidential. We have years of specializing with others who struggle with PTSD and we would be honored to help you take the next steps towards a healthier and stress-free life.

It takes time and effort, but when you can fully understand what you’re dealing with and how to work through it, you’ll be amazed at how you feel when you get to the other side!

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