Julia Flood, LCSW
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Are You a Worrier? 3 Tricks to Help You Stop

Do you believe worry is preparation? Then welcome to the club! Worriers get a lot of unsolicited advice from non-worriers: just relax, it’s going to be fine, or my favorite: don’t worry. Some of the advice is more clever than others. Dean Hawkes of Columbia University once famously said, "Half the worry in the world is caused by people trying to make decisions before they have sufficient knowledge on which to base a decision." Or, as Charlie Brown put it more amusingly, "I've developed a new philosophy... I only dread one day at a time. "

But apart from cognitive tricks and internal pep talks, is there anything concrete you can try? What some people don’t realize is that worry and stress is more than a cognitive phenomenon. It’s a physiological one as well. One key to warding off unwanted anxiety symptoms is deep diaphragmatic breathing. What that means is, how you breathe has a direct impact on how you feel. There’s a lot you can do with diaphragmatic breathing, but here are 3 easy exercises to get you started.

1. "Huh-huh-huh"

Next time your mother asks you without warning, "So, when am I going to get those grandkids? " go straight to the bathroom before you explode. Run cold water over your hands and breathe in deeply to the count of 5. Then, blow out the air in 5 or 6 quick huffs (huh-huh-huh-huh-huh) as you shake the water off your wet hands. Repeat until you feel better!

2. Alternate Nostril Breathing

You can do this anywhere: in line at the cash register, in a traffic jam, on the phone... Push one nostril closed with your finger. Take one long breath in through the open nostril, for about 5 seconds, then pinch that one and let go of the other, breathing out slowly. Repeat alternately. Try to breathe out for as long as possible. Which nostril you pinch when is less important than remembering to do it next time you feel anxious!

3. Sing or Yawn

Worriers often have access energy. Try to capitalize on that energy for breathing. Singing is an excellent way of breathing as well as effective for distracting yourself. Pick a song that is fun to sing and has an upbeat message. Too tired to sing? Make yourself yawn by opening your mouth as wide as you can. Do 10 yawns in a row. A great one-minute relaxer!

These simple exercises are only meant to give you a taste of the benefits of deep breathing. They are a step in the right direction of taking better care of yourself, and of course can’t replace mental health treatment for a serious anxiety disorder. The more you practice them, the more natural these exercises will feel, and the more mindful you will become of your stress level. Try them out and let me know what you think!