Thoughts from the Therapy Chair with Joe Martino: Use This Simple Technique to Reduce Anxiety in Your Life

The following, including the graphic was submitted by Joe Martino.

Summer is almost here. We are in one of my favorite seasons where at 10 in the morning they can be cold and snowy and yet by one in the afternoon it might be hot and humid.

I remember with something akin to great affection just a few years ago when I walked into a store, it was hot. It was so hot my windows were all down my truck while I was driving to it. When I came out of the store a mirror 20 minutes later, there was snow and hail.

In so many ways, with the weather changing and moving toward summer, it feels like… dare I say normal? And yet, of course, we are nowhere near normal. Government lockdowns. COVID-19. Competing information at every turn. Shouting matches and name-calling on social media and, sadly, in real life.

We have all the necessary ingredients for anxiety and depression to be on the rise. And yet, how do we handle this reality that seems to be creating anxiety and us at record rates? I want to teach you something today they can help lower your anxiety in the moment. This is not a “cure “for anxiety. This is a means to find mild to moderate relief from anxiety in the moment. First, we have to understand how anxiety works. Anxiety is our body’s reaction to our thought process regarding something that is happening to us or around us.

Once the process starts, a chemical reaction in our body begins. By the time we feel the physical manifestation of our anxiety, the chemical reaction is already started and is well on its way to completion. If you think about the face of the clock, the twelve represents something that happened to us or around us. The three represents our habits of thinking and interpretation of those things that happen to us or around us. The six represents our internal response to three, which is our habits of thinking and beliefs. The nine represents the physical manifestations of our beliefs and thoughts.

Often, people feel trapped because they try to change their thinking in the moment. This is like saying, “don’t think about the white door, whatever you do, don’t think about the white door, stop thinking about the white, don’t think about the white door. Just stop thinking about the white door. Why can’t you stop thinking about the white door?” What are you thinking about? Probably the white door.

Instead, I want to teach you to control your physical response first to find some immediate relief from the anxiety. I’ve never done this through the written word alone. So, I’m hoping you will be gracious to me, please. One of the physical reactions that often happens for people who experience anxiety is increased rapid breathing. This rapid breathing often causes more physical responses to occur. Many people report feeling like they can’t catch their breath.

The inability to breathe often increases their anxiety, which can then increase their inability to breathe. It becomes a vicious cycle. With this technique, what we want to do is attempt to control our physical responses first and work our way back around to the potential causes of our anxiety. By telling ourselves that we have to stop thinking about the white door, or in this case, our anxiety, what we’re actually doing is increasing our anxiety. Very few people can just turn their anxiety off.

What we need to do is first take control of our breathing. As our breathing increases, we often start to engage in more physical responses with our bodies. These physical responses often work against us in the mitigation of anxiety. Two facts work against us; First, we cannot control the bodies internal chemical responses, and many of the physical implications of our response are beyond our control.

That leaves us three potential places to respond. We could attempt to control the things that happen around us. Many people take this approach. The problem is that this approach itself is limited and often decreases a person’s quality of life over time. This leaves us two final choices.

We can either start at 9 with our physical responses, or we can start at 3 with our reactions to the events going on around us. The problem with trying to start at 3 o’clock is that the physical response is going on at 9 o’clock or actually causing I still have very little control at 3 o’clock. You see, as our body reacts to anxiety, our ability to reason is actually diminished. There’s not a lot of need to engage in logical reasoning when you were in a fight, flight, or freeze mode. We just need to survive. This causes issues for us in today’s world when most of the time, the things that are causing us anxiety are not issues of survival.

The technique I hope you learn today is called for box breathing. It is really quite simple.

  • First of all, I want you to take a deep breath slowly so that it lasts about four seconds.
  • Now I want you to hold that breath for four seconds or thereabouts.
  • Now I want you to release that breath slowly so that it lasts close to four seconds.
  • Now I want you to sit in silence for four seconds.

That’s it. This technique has been used by special forces soldiers, Olympians, and countless others.

Joe Martino is a counselor with Joe Martino Counseling Network.  He has locations in Lowell, Grand Rapids, Greenville, and Grandville.  For more information about Joe and his business, check their website or Facebook page.  He and the rest of the counselors and staff are eager to help those in need.  

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