Many people believe that being in counseling means you are supposed to feel badly, and yes, sometimes it does if you are working on issues related to some painful experiences in your life. But that doesn't mean you have to stay stuck in those feelings, nor does it mean that you have to put your life on hold in order to do counseling. A friend of mine, a psychologist, described it this way: He said that years ago when his kids were little, they only had one bathroom in their house, and when the tile started coming off the wall, he discovered there was a leak somewhere in the wall surrounding the shower. That necessitated tearing down the wall to fix the leak, but then that left them showerless. Definitely not convenient with a family and young kids! So, he worked on fixing the problem a little at a time, but each day when he was done, he would tape a piece of plastic up over the hole so they could still use the shower. That meant they could go on with their daily routine because the plastic covered the hole in the wall. Once the problem was completely fixed, there was no need for the plastic anymore. Wise man that my friend was, he told me, "This is what needs to happen in therapy. If people are working on painful issues, they still need to be able to live their life. So, you have to find something to cover over the hole so that they can live their everyday life, doing their job, parenting, taking care of whatever they need to take care of, until it is finally all fixed and the covering is no longer needed."
There are many such tools that can act as the "plastic covering" while you are in counseling. Here are five simple tools I teach that focus on breathing correctly, which is the first step in getting calmer. Any of them may help you feel better, whether you are in counseling, or even if you are simply going through a difficult time in your life right now. They aren't meant to solve any problems in your life, but they can help you lift your mood and feel better. They also can lower your blood pressure, your heart rate, and can reduce the Cortisol and Adrenaline levels in your body.
Diaphragmatic Breathing: Many people are confused about what it means to take a deep breath, and sometimes will breathe in such a way that actually increases anxiety. Here is a way to tell if you are breathing correctly. Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly, then take a deep breath. If the hand that is on your chest moves first or the most, then you are breathing in a way that can induce a panic attack or make you hyperventilate. How you need to breathe in order to decrease anxiety is to use your Diaphragm, which is a muscular partition between your chest and your abdomen. Think of it as breathing into your belly, even though you are not literally doing that. Since it is almost impossible to breathe incorrectly when you are lying down, try doing this kind of breath from a flat-on-your-back position. Usually you will notice that the hand on your belly is now the hand that moves first and the most. Now, as you inhale through your nose, slowly count up from one to four. Hold your breath briefly, then count backwards from four to one as you exhale through your mouth with a "Sssss" sound. Breathing in this way for 3 - 5 minutes can help your body and mind to feel calmer and more at peace. I once worked with a woman who had panic attacks, but once she learned to breathe in this manner and used it regularly, she never had another panic attack. On very rare occasions, I have worked with someone for whom Diaphragmatic Breathing actually increased their anxiety, so if that happens to you, discontinue using it for now.
Beauty Breathing: While you use slow, deep Diaphragmatic Breathing, take 3 - 5 minutes to intentionally look for beauty, at the same time, putting your worries and irritabilities aside for the moment. Notice the emotional lift you likely will receive at the end of the time.
Color Breathing: Is there a color that represent peacefulness and calmness to you? If so, imagine you are surrounded by a cloud of that color. Begin to do Diaphragmatic Breathing while imagining inhaling that color of peacefulness. Take 3 - 5 minutes to allow your body to "fill up" with that color.
Nurture Breathing: Place the palm of one hand on your forehead. Place the palm of your other hand at the back of your head where your skull meets your neck. Hold that position for 3 - 5 minutes while you do slow, deep Diaphragmatic Breathing.
Cleansing Breathing: Take a slow, deep breath, inhaling in the same manner as described above. Then release the air quickly, exhaling through your mouth with a quick, forceful, "Shhhhhh," until all the air has been released from your lungs.
When people try these simple exercises, often they are surprised at what a difference the exercises can make in how they feel mentally, emotionally, as well as physically. If there is any exercise that does not bring about the desired affect, try a different one. These are just a few of the tools that I teach people in order to help them gain a greater sense of control over how they feel.
Call me at 847-781-1407 or email me at [email protected] to learn more ways of feeling better.