How I Overcame Anxiety & Depression | Deep Breathing & The 4 Pillars of Wellness
When it comes to anxiety and depression, my struggles showed up in many different ways over the years (nail biting, obsessive compulsive disorder, binge drinking, self-degradation, stress, panic attacks, PTSD etc.). I still have my days…BUT I’ve improved greatly over the years and this is how…
I’m going to discuss the foundation of being at PEACE which is the BREATH and then what I call the 4 Pillars of Wellness: Physical, Emotional, Social, and Spiritual.
The foundation of being at peace is deep breathing. I know that sounds cliche but it really is true. I honestly didn’t know the “correct” way to breathe until very recently! Many times when my mind was racing with thoughts, I would try to focus on my breath to anchor myself to the present moment - but many times it didn’t work. Now I know why! I had been breathing the wrong way my whole life! Let me explain...
There are 2 types of breathing: diaphragmatic (deep belly or abdominal) and costal (meaning “of the ribs” or chest). As young children we breathe deeply to our diaphragm, but for some reason, as we become adults we take shallow breaths using only the top part of our lungs (chest breathing). HOW we breathe matters because this is what tells our bodies which central nervous state to be in.
There are 2 types of central nervous system states. When we are deep belly breathing, we are in parasympathetic nervous system state which is the “rest and digest” response that tells the body to rest. When we take shallow breaths, the sympathetic nervous system or “fight or flight” response takes over. With our normal adult breathing, this is the state that we are normally in. This is why in the past when I tried to focus on my breath it did not help me when my mind was racing. The way I was breathing was keeping my body in the “fight or flight” state.
How you breathe will make a huge impact on how you feel. I explain in words the difference between the 2 types of breathing, but honestly it took me some practice to figure it out. I’m going to make an IGTV to demonstrate.
I recommend practicing deep belly breathing every morning and evening for 10 minutes. If throughout the day you start to feel anxious, stop what you are doing, close your eyes, and practice the deep belly breathing. You will start to feel better in 3-10 minutes. That is about how long it takes for your body to start to process the adrenaline that has been released while in “fight or flight”.
The breath is the FOUNDATION to overall wellness. Breathing is truly what gives us LIFE. We are lucky that the key to life is something we do without even thinking! Practicing how to change my breathing from chest breathing to deep belly breathing has truly been life changing for me. Nowadays when I get anxious, I remember that anxiety is simply a natural response in our body that releases adrenaline to prepare us to fight or run away for survival.
Now, let’s discuss the 4 Pillars of Wellness: Physical, Emotional, Social, and Spiritual. I believe we need to work on all 4 of these areas of our life to achieve our best, happiest, and most fulfilling life. Picture a building with the foundation (Breath) and a pillar in each corner (Physical, Emotional, Social, and Spiritual). Without one of these pillars, you no longer have a sturdy building. This is why all 4 are important.
*Below are examples of what each Pillar can look like. Each individual is different and has different needs. You can cater this list to your specific needs.*
Physical Pillar Example:
I get outside everyday for fresh air and sunshine
I eat at least 1 warm meal a day
I consume substances that are good for my mind and body
I get at least 7 hours of sleep
I exercise daily
I regularly see my doctor and dentist
Emotional Pillar Example:
I accept that I am not perfect. I do not judge or criticize myself for mistakes.
When something good happens, I magnify it in a positive way.
When something bad happens, I learn to forgive. Resentment is not helpful.
I only entertain thoughts that add value to my life.
I do an activity that I enjoy daily.
Social Pillar Example:
I belong to a group (such as book club, running club, or place of worship)
I spend time with family and friends who lift me up
I only surround myself with people who support me and make me feel good about myself
I have firm boundaries regarding the types of people I surround myself with
I limit my time on social media to __ per day
Spiritual Pillar Example:
I spend time in nature a couple times a week
I do deep breathing exercises daily
It is a daily practice of mine to think and speak about what I am grateful for
I practice being in the PRESENT, which is a gift ;) (get it?)
I believe I have a purpose
I love myself unconditionally
Stress, anxiety, depression are made worse by focusing on fear, anger, resentment etc. Practicing mindfulness is extremely helpful. Meaning, when you have thoughts, try to calmly be an observer of your thoughts. You don't have to feel your thoughts or choose to believe them. When you notice unproductive thoughts, choose to change them to something positive. We have the power to change our thoughts at any moment. It’s easier said than done but with practice it gets easier. Implementing the 4 Pillars of Wellness into your lifestyle is what will give you strong, solid structure and routine in your life. If there is a particular pillar(s) that you need more focus, then I challenge you to work on it!
Bye bye anxiety and depression!