It’s been an isolating time for this introvert. Due to another lockdown & some other stressors, I’ve been completely overwhelmed with everything, and I can feel my anxiety palpitating.

I tend to distract myself with other projects during these times, but this is only considered a band-aid solution. It is highly suggested that relaxation is the way to help anxiety (or depression, insomnia, pain, etc.). Everyone is different in how they relax, but I did want to share two useful techniques that have helped me over the years.

Box Breathing

This is the simplest one that I continuously use and have shared videos of throughout the years. Whenever I am stressed, I tend to breathe fast and shallow from my upper chest. It’s not hyperventilation, but it is considered close and could increase my anxiety if not fixed immediately.

Box breathing has four equal parts: inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds and pause for four seconds

Practising this breathing resets your respiratory system and promotes feelings of relaxation and calm. It’s helped me from various panic attacks, sleepless nights and painful procedures.

If you’ve never done this before, I highly recommend trying it in a seated position, feet flat against the floor, with one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. From where is your breathing coming? Shift your breathing so that the hand on your stomach is moving more than the hand on your chest. Meaning you’re breathing more from your diaphragm. Notice how your belly moves as you inhale deeply: does it feel jagged or smooth? Keep repeating the breathing exercise until your hand moves in a fluid motion

If you find yourself dizzy or short of breath, stop the exercise. Don’t get frustrated; you can restart in a minute. This does take time to achieve, but you can do this almost anywhere once you get the hang of it.

PMR: Progressive Muscle Relaxation

PMR is a series of exercises when you tense and relax specific muscles. This exercise will help you lower your overall tension and stress levels and help you relax when you feel anxious.

If you’ve never done this before, you’ll need a script to get started. Find a place where you won’t be disturbed, and set aside around 15-20 minutes to complete.

There are many scripts available online, but here’s a good start: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihO02wUzgkc

You’ll initially start with a large group of muscles, but eventually, you can break it down into four sections. To find a full list on how to get started, you can visit Anxiety Canada

 For each group, tense your muscle for five seconds while breathing in, and then release for five seconds while breathing out. Repeat this two to three times. It’s important to FEEL the tension and release as you do this. Notice the difference between tension and relaxation. If you feel an area cramping or hurting, don’t repeat and move on to the next.

This is a little harder to achieve, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do this immediately. You may tense other surrounding muscles, and that’s ok! It took me almost a month to get it down because I felt uncomfortable focusing on my body. Sometimes I still use a script if it feels like my head is too cloudy; there’s no shame!

I hope that these two techniques can help you as they’ve helped me over the years.
If you have any other techniques that you would like to share with others, please leave them in the comments below!

I first learned about intrusive thoughts when I took a postpartum class a month after giving birth. It’s a common issue that many women can have intrusive thoughts about their baby, like: “What if I threw my baby down the stairs?”. It’s terrifying to think of something awful happening to your child, and these thoughts can be disturbing and isolating.

These thoughts can materialize out of nowhere, banging down the door to the party and cause such an uproar that it can induce more anxiety. Most of these thoughts focus on sexual, violent or socially unacceptable images. The people who experience these are afraid that they might commit these specific acts. It’s terrifying and confusing.

Your thoughts don’t equate to actionable items

The thing is, unwanted intrusive thoughts don’t just fall under pregnancy-related mood disorders. It can affect most people with Anxiety, OCD or PTSD. It’s estimated that 6 million Americans experience these thoughts. Still, most are ashamed and worried about them and therefore keep it a secret. They believe that something is deeply wrong with them, which causes them to fixate, blame and criticize themselves (Which causes more anxiety). This is not true; none of these are red flags, signals or warnings, despite how they feel.

Here are some other examples:

  • Dropping an excessive amount of money out of your wallet
  • Yelling obscenities in a Church/Mosque/Temple
  • Shouting RAPE/FIRE in a crowd with no imminent danger
  • Switching lanes and driving into oncoming traffic
  • Hitting, causing harm or murdering someone you love
  • Having a sexual encounter (violent or non) with a stranger, co-worker or family member.

There are so many more that I can layout, but I think you can get an idea.

Why do they feel so threatening and debilitating? Anxious thinking takes hold of them and twists them into something they are not. The harder you try to get rid of these thoughts fuels their intensity.
If you have a hidden desire to do ANY of these things, this is a different story. What you need to know is that these thoughts are standard. If you are bothered by these thoughts, you need to learn a new relationship with them to make it irrelevant and unimportant. Even though you can’t control when an intrusive thought pops into your head, you CAN control how you react to them.

How to Deal with Intrusive Thoughts

  • Acknowledge the thought as being intrusive
  • Remind yourself: the thought can’t hurt you and is not actionable
  • Do not engage or fixate on it; accept it and allow it to flow through.  
  • Continue doing what you were presently doing before this thought appeared and focus on that task. If you cannot, try to ground yourself.
  • Know that you are in control, and this thought is just a curiosity.
  • If these thoughts persist and you feel like you aren’t in control or you can’t discern between an idea or an action, talk to your doctor immediately.

This approach will be difficult to apply since you’re trying to react to automatic thoughts. If you continue to do so, you may see a chance that they will decrease in frequency and intensity. If you need help in this approach, CBT is the answer.
As always, I highly suggest meditation and regularly exercising to keep yourself calm, present and centre.

The AADA suggests viewing these thoughts as if they’re clouds. As quickly as one will come, it’ll also float away.

For more information/resources, please find the following:
a free e-newsletter that answers questions about intrusive thoughts
Check out this video by professional graphic designer and animator J. Nordby on how he overcame his struggles with intrusive thoughts. 
This article from Martin Seif Ph.D. ABPP & Sally Winston Psy.D.