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Just Breathe. More Practices and Less Pills for Managing Holiday Anxiety

With step-by-step instructions for how to do it!

Reducing Anxiety and Stress

Look at our new therapist go! On 10/30/22 Sheila Connolly presented to about 100 doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and medical students at a conference entitled: A Closer Look at Addiction: A Pathophysiological Approach.The focus of the conference was to reduce self-harm (vis a vie addictive behaviors) by identifying physiological factors that contribute to client's care.

Hosted by Nova Southeastern University, Sheila presented "Breathing Techniques and Non Pharmaceutical Approaches to Reducing Anxiety and Stress: Self-care for Health Care Professionals & Patients." She taught breathing activities, mindfulness skill building and grounding techniques to reduce anxiety and regain a feeling of empowerment. Sheila led all participants in a mindfulness breathing exercise. (Now, sit back and imagine your doctor pushing out a loud "Lion's Breath" next time your doc starts poking and prodding on you. Go ahead. Imagine it. Get your laughs in where you can!)

Non-Pharmacological Treatments to Anxiety

Since two of the most common medical diagnoses include Substance Use Disorders and Mental Health Conditions (namely anxiety and depressive disorders), non-pharmacological treatment has never been more important. Sometimes we need more practices and less pills.

Sheila received very positive feedback that her presentation was very well received and generated quite a bit of interest.

Sheila Connolly's NSU Presentation Recap

So here's a little teaser of what she presented:

With the holidays closing in, there’s no better time to practice stress management. Every year I notice more people coming into therapy around, during, and directly after the holiday season. Although this has never seemed coincidental, what I am surprised by are the reports that people aren’t preparing themselves to deal with the stress during the other 9 (or so) months of the year. If we trained our biceps for three months out of the year, we wouldn’t expect significant muscle growth 9 months later. What if we trained our nervous systems all year, like some of us train our bodies? Might things feel different when the stress mess hits the fan? We can prepare our bodies to manage stress through practice. And I'd love to show you in person (wink wink!), but until then I encourage you to consider boning up on your "mental training" if you aren't doing that already. Deep belly breathing (Diaphragmatic breath) for example, reduces activity in your sympathetic nervous system. This system is activated when dangerous or stressful situations are experienced -- you know, the Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn responses. For some, this system can get activated even by a simple question being asked by their nosey aunt, “What’s been going on in your love life lately?” Of course trauma responses activate this system. For many of us, the holidays are themselves a reminder of past trauma. (Wynne calls it "Holiday PTSD"). If this is ringing any (jingle) bells, perhaps a daily breathing exercise can best support you to stay relaxed when the anticipated holiday nosey questions or triggering behaviors start flying. So here we go. Here's the "How To". Start practicing your training today with this simple activity. Begin by placing one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Breathe deeply into your belly, allowing your belly to push your hand out as it expands expands. Then, allow your mouth to open and release the breath while your belly retracts back towards your spine. Keep your breath slow and smooth. Start by practicing this for 5-10 minutes at nighttime before bed. You can increase your time as this becomes easier for you, or add in a second practice in the morning or afternoon. You can do this type of breathing anytime. When you're wondering how to get a project done at work. When your teenager borrows the car. And, you can sneak off to the restroom to do this during any and all stressful holiday gatherings. The more you practice, the easier it will be for you to use this skill when anxiety or stress increases. As always, treat yourself with kindness and if these become overwhelming at any point, pause the activity and resume your normal breathing pattern. So hey! Cue the Rocky Balboa victory music! Your self soothing breathing practice (hopefully) starts today.

It is such a gift to teach a practice that has personally transformed my life (see my story on my page). The overwhelming feedback I've received from those to whom I've taught these skills is a priceless joy.


Thank you so much to #teamsoulspring counselor Sheila Connolly for her contributions to the content of this article.


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