3 Breathing Exercises to Relieve Stress & Anxiety

3 Breathing Exercises to Relieve Stress & Anxiety

Did you know that one of the best ways to relieve stress is completely free and everyone can do it?

That’s right – conscious breathing is one of the most effective ways in activating the body’s natural relaxation response. Deep, mindful breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Breathing techniques can help you feel connected to your body and quiet your mind.

The good news is that breathing exercises are easy to learn and can be done whenever you want, and you don’t need any special tools or equipment to do them. Also, it’s worth pointing out that if you have been a shallow breather, this might initially feel strange and even somewhat difficult. But just like anything, controlled breathing does take a bit of practice so be patient with yourself.

Here are a few exercises to try out, you can them out and see which work best for you.

  • 4-7-8 breathing

This exercise also uses belly breathing to help you relax and can be done either sitting or lying down. Taking a deep breath is actually linked to the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the fight-or-flight response. While exhaling is linked to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is in control of the rest and digest response. If you have ever experienced a panic attack you might be aware that taking too many deep breaths too quickly can cause you to hyperventilate. Hyperventilation decreases the amount of oxygen-rich blood that flows to your brain. Longer exhales help to signal to the brain that it’s time to relax.

How to do it: Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest as in the belly. Take a deep, slow breath from your belly, and silently count to 4 as you breathe in.
Hold your breath to a count of 7.

Breathe out completely as you silently count to 8. Try to get all the air out of your lungs by the time you count to 8.

The idea of this exercise is to lengthen the exhale. Repeat this four times or until you feel calm.

Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.

  • Abdominal breathing technique

The abdominal breathing technique can be particularly helpful before experiencing a stressful event like preparing for a job interview or giving a big presentation.

How to do it: Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a deep breath in through your nose, allowing diaphragm (not your chest) to inflate with enough air to create a slight stretching sensation in your lungs. Slowly exhale.

Taking 6–10 deep, slow breaths per minute for 10 minutes each day using this breathing technique can help reduce your heart rate and blood pressure. In effect, this will also reduce anxiety and stress.

Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.

  • Breath focus

This technique can be done sitting or lying down. If you are feeling particularly stressed at work, or at school, you can even do this quietly in a room full of people.

How to do it:
Start to inhale and exhale normally. Take a few moments to mentally scan your body for any tension. Take a slow, deep breath through your nose.

Notice your belly and upper body expanding.

Exhale slowly.

Do this for a few minutes, paying attention to the rise and fall of your belly.

To maintain focus on your breath, it can be helpful to choose a word to focus on and repeat in your mind during your exhale. Words like “calm” can be effective.
When you get distracted, gently bring your attention back to your breath and your words.

Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.

9 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health This Winter

9 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health This Winter

As the world emerges post-lock-down, the lingering effects of COVID still remain.

There has been an enormous pressure on families and couples, many now of which are seeking support. Not only that, but winter in general can be a difficult time. The nights are cold and the days are short, most of us are likely to retreat indoors and spend our time in front of the TV. In fact, the lack of sunlight and overall time spent outdoors can contribute to Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.). While this is more common in Northern Hemisphere countries where the temperature changes are much more extreme, people still do experience S.A.D. in Australia.

If you feel like your mental health is slipping, there are many things you can do to make sure you are staying mentally healthy.

First things first: What Is Mental Health?

There is so much talk out there about mental health, it’d become kind of a buzzword. But what exactly is it?

“Mental health refers to the state of our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we feel, think and behave.”

Many people are reluctant to talk about their mental health because it’s associated with a disorder. But having good mental health doesn’t always mean you live without a diagnosable condition. It means that you’re able to cope effectively with the curve balls of everyday life.

Our mental health impacts every single element of life, how you perform at work, how happy you are in relationships, how connected you are socially, and how you feel about your own self-worth. Let’s face it, being a human being is difficult. Life is a series of ups and downs, and so much is out of our control. Having good mental health is like having the tools to bounce back from whatever life inevitably throws at us.

Also, because mental health is still so stigmatised, people often don’t even know what signs to look out for.

Here are some warning signs that your mental health could be declining:

  • Feeling anxious or worried
  • Feeling depressed or unhappy
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight or appetite changes
  • Quiet or withdrawn
  • Substance abuse
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Changes in behaviour or feelings

If you feel like any of those signs are relevant to you, then here are some ways to improve your mental health.

1. Get the right amount of sleep.

Sleep is absolutely critical for mental health. It’s as important to our bodies as eating, drinking and breathing. Sleeping helps us to recover from mental as well as physical exertion. Not getting enough sleep per night not only makes you more tired and irritable, but it exacerbates any emotional and psychological problems. Unfortunately, it’s usually those emotional and psychological problems that tend to keep us awake.

If you’re struggling to sleep, try a meditation app. There are so many to choose from: Headspace, Sleep Cycle, Calm, Insight Timer, Noisli, Pzizz, Slumber – to name a few. Also, try to keep your bedroom dark and quiet, and refrain from using your phone just before bed. The blue light from your phone mimics daylight, tricking your brain to stay awake. Also, any emotionally charged content makes your brain work even harder to wind down.

If you continue to have sleep problems, it’s possible there may be an underlying issue and you may need to see a GP.

2. Connect with your friends and community.

As social animals, strong social networks are extremely important for our mental health. Sometimes when we feel our mental health declining, a common reaction is to withdraw from social events. But it’s when we stop interacting and isolate ourselves that our mental health plummets. It’s important then to build strong interpersonal connections with positive, supportive people.

Feeling like we’re part of a community gives our life meaning, a sense of belonging, and helps us feel accepted. If you don’t have supportive, positive people in your life then join activities, clubs or classes where you can meet new people.

3. Stay active

It can be difficult to motivate yourself when you’re feeling low but it’s so important that you do. Exercise increases your body’s production of endorphins (feel-good hormones) which helps to improve your mood, gives you better sleep, and makes you feel relaxed. All you need is 30 minutes of walking each day to improve your mood and reduce stress.

Yoga is great for reducing stress, increasing muscle tone and balance. If you aren’t into yoga then try out other forms of exercise. It might take a bit of time to figure out what you like best, but it’s important to find something. Exercising for mental health is about sustainability, not about short-term results.

4. Eat nutritious meals.

We’ve always known that eating well is good for our physical health, but now we are seeing that a healthy diet can actually improve mental health. Eating high-quality foods with lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes and protects the brain. Sugar and processed foods have been proven to lead to inflammation throughout the body and brain, which may contribute to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Probiotics, on the other hand, help to maintain a normal microbiome, and therefore can potentially play a role in the treatment and prevention of anxiety and depression.

To boost your mental health, focus on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables along with foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Try to avoid processed foods or sugar-filled snacks. Consume plenty of healthy fats, such as olive oil and coconut to support brain function.

5. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is simply being aware and present to the current moment you are in.

It can be done anywhere, anytime; during a meeting at work, on the bus, washing dishes. All it requires is being fully engaged in the here and now. Most people go about their daily lives with their minds jumping around to the future or past, worrying about what ifs, rarely ever engaged in the present moment. While meditation is usually practiced for a specific amount of time in a specific place, mindfulness can be applied to any situation throughout the day.

6. Try some Meditation

Unlike Mindfulness, Meditation is an intentional practice where you sit or lie down, close your eyes and focus inward. Meditation is not the absence of thought, and there is no such thing as being bad at meditation. It’s essentially training your brain.

During a meditation, you might practice noticing stray thoughts, and then bringing it back to your breath. Or you noticing your emotions, and learning how to be non-reactive to them. All of this helps in real life, when an anxious thought grips us, meditation brings us back to the moment and helps us respond rather than react.

7. Keep alcohol to a minimum and avoid drugs.

This one goes without saying. In times of increased stress, it’s best to keep alcohol use to a minimum and avoid drugs. Often people use alcohol and other drugs to self-medicate but in this only aggravates the problem. Try your best to replace the urge to self-medicate by going for healthier options mentioned above.

8. Don’t be afraid to seek help.

If you have done all of the above and still don’t feel better, then it’s time to get professional help. This is nothing to feel embarrassed about. It can be as simple as having a chat with someone outside of your group of friends to gain some perspective on a situation. Have you ever noticed how it’s so much harder to see the bigger picture when you’re entangled in something?

A counsellor will not only help you make sense of what you’re going through, but will help build your emotional toolkit to bounce back easier. People see a counsellor for so many different reasons, there is nothing too trivial or silly.

9. Be kind to yourself.

Last but not least, treat yourself with kindness and respect. This can be difficult to do, it’s often so much easier to love and forgive other people. But we tend to be most critical and judgemental of ourselves. Pay attention to the voice in your head, is it the sort of stuff you would say to a friend?

Also, make time for the things that make you feel happy, even more so if you are struggling. This is the time to pamper yourself however that looks to you.

6 tips for managing ‘return anxiety’

6 tips for managing ‘return anxiety’

For many of us, the return to ‘normal’ brings about a new layer of stress and anxiety.

During the lockdown, life everywhere around the world was forced to slow down. The streets were left bare while everyone hibernated in their homes. For once, all of us were forced to take time away from our busy schedules and hectic workdays. Eventually, we found our own rhythm. Maybe we learned to find peace in our new routine; replacing work commutes spending more time with our children, or trying out new recipes.

But now the rules are loosening and the thought of transitioning back to a full-time job, commute and traffic can be overwhelming.

Life has been forever changed and unfortunately the virus very much still there. Understandably, there’s still a lot of fear around contracting the virus and how to manage ourselves under these unusual circumstances.

Here are few ideas on easing the transition back into the world.

  1. Give yourself time to adjust

    It will be normal to feel equally disoriented, frustrated (now by the traffic) stressed and suffocated by “old” routines and start to long for a simpler life again. Getting your head around it starts now, as small steps are allowed: the limited visits to friends, staged school returns and so on.

  2. Reflect on your old life priorities

    What are the things you learned about yourself during this time? What should stay and what might you choose to discard? Many people are talking about having more appreciation and gratitude for new elements of their lives and relationships and want to preserve more home investment. Rather than assume this is a pipe dream, start to ponder how you could make this happen.

  3. Decide how you want to live

    Perhaps you now are aware that you didn’t see friends, or don’t have enough of them. Maybe you now appreciate quiet time or getting out into the sunshine. Perhaps you now worry about your elderly relatives when before it was hard to find time to even give them a call. You should seize this new information and make some decisions about how you want to live from here. How might you now distribute your time and other resources on the home and work fronts?

  4. Be kind to yourself

    This is a truly difficult and confusing time. The entire world felt the shockwaves of this so be kind to yourself as you adjust. Show yourself compassion, a global health pandemic is an unbelievable time to live through.

  5. Take it day by day

    Life will not return to normal overnight and it may never be the same. Try not to plan ahead too much or get caught up in the details of it all. Simply treat each day as a new day and do what you can. This is all we can do.

If you need to talk to someone call Time 2 Talk on 1300 022 966 for a chat.

9 Tips For Supporting a Friend On Their Mental Health Journey

9 Tips For Supporting a Friend On Their Mental Health Journey

For someone struggling with mental illness, support from a friend or loved one can make all the difference.
If you’re concerned about someone in your life, but not sure how to go about asking if they need a hand, you can follow our 9 tips to help ensure the conversation is as open, effective and supportive as possible.

1. Find a private place.

If you’re initiating the conversation take the time to think about the time and place. It’s best to choose somewhere you can talk openly, and a time when you can listen actively, without rushing or checking your watch.

2. Be prepared for any resistance.

The person you’re reaching out to might not be ready to talk, and that’s okay. If you reach out and they dodge conversation or say it’s not something they want to talk about, it doesn’t mean the conversation is a failure. You’ve still let your friend or loved one know you’re concerned, and you’re there for them if they need you.

3. Ask gentle questions.

Do ask gentle questions to help your friend or loved one explore their options. You might ask how long they’ve been feeling this way, or if they need support to see a GP or to contact a mental health professional.

4. Recognise your own level of expertise – or where your ability to help is limited. 

Do know your own boundaries. It’s great for you to reach out and offer support, but it’s also important to keep yourself physically and emotionally secure and to remember to take some time out for your own self care. Be mindful of where your expertise or capacity to help is limited. You might need to refer someone on to a professional or other support services.

5. Make sure you have an emergency plan.

If someone is at risk of hurting themselves or someone else, you need to call 000 or to reach out to a trusted person, like a parent, teacher, or health professional immediately.

6. Allow them to express themselves fully.

Try not to use language like “don’t worry”, “cheer up”, or “it’ll be better tomorrow” – language like this can make someone feel as though you’re minimising or trivialising their experience.Instead allow them to express themselves freely without interruptions.

9 Tips For Supporting a Friend On Their Mental Health Journey | Radiant Mental Health

7. Do not diagnose, or analyse.

It’s important not to offer your own diagnosis of what they’re going through, or debating the facts of their experience.

8. Avoid trying to ‘fix’ the problem.

Though it is incredibly hard to see a friend or loved one hurting, it’s important to understand that mental illness is complex, requires patience, and won’t just disappear over night. Instead listen actively, practice patience, ask gentle questions, and suggest different ways for your loved one to seek support.

9. Listen non judgementally. 

Try not to judge, analyse or question experiences you can’t relate to, or can’t quite wrap your head around. Experiences of mental illness are unique to each individual and can manifest in very different symptoms, behaviours and feelings. Try to listen without judgment, and to respond calmly, without exhibiting shock or alarm.

If a friend or loved ones need professional support you have a range of options.If someone is at risk of hurting themselves or someone else, call 000 immediately, even if they ask you not to. 

For a friend or loved one who isn’t sure what they’re experiencing, or needs immediate support, it’s best to go straight to a GP. If you’re friend or loved one is ready to talk to someone and seek support, they might use a service like Radiant to find and connect to a counsellor or mental health professional that feels right for them.

10 signs of burnout and how to treat it

10 signs of burnout and how to treat it

This article was contributed by Gemma Cribb, founder of Equilibrium Psychology.

We all have days when we are less than our best. We all have mornings when we’d rather be doing almost anything else than going into work. And if we can deduce anything from the proliferation of terms like “hump day” and “Friyay” we are not alone in feeling like this!

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It happens when we feel overwhelmed, lacking in energy, and helpless to meet the constant demands placed on us. Burnout often stems from our work whether it be our paid job or the labour we do at home and caring for children or ageing parents.

Burnout is a gradual process that can creep up on us. We may dismiss our feelings of burnout as a “bad week” at first, but they can become worse over time. Burnout reduces our productivity and saps our energy. It makes us vulnerable to illness and has a negative effect on our relationships and mood. It leaves us feeling exhausted, cynical, and inadequate.

Here are 10 signs of burnout to be on the look out for:

  1. You are getting stuck on work thoughts when you are home
  2. You are drinking to switch off from work
  3. You are finding it difficult to go to sleep because of work thoughts
  4. You are having difficulty remembering things
  5. You are having more days of work due to sickness or just not feeling able to face it
  6. You are getting neck pain or headaches
  7. You are finding yourself more prone to colds and tummy bugs
  8. You find you are making silly mistakes
  9. You find you are caring less about your work
  10. You have thought about quitting and finding a new job or new career

Because of its many consequences, it’s important to deal with burnout as soon as possible. Think of the symptoms above as warning signs and try to change things for yourself as soon as possible. Trying to push through will only worsen the situation and could lead to break down.

Once you have recognised signs of burnout in yourself it’s important to seek support and try to minimise your stress in whatever way you can. Seeking out the help of a psychologist or attending an anti-burnout workshop (such as this one we are running) can teach you essential recovery skills.

One intervention that most people suffering with burnout find useful is “job crafting.” Job crafting involves redesigning aspects your role (at work or home) in ways that lead to satisfaction, engagement, resilience and thriving.

Job crafting can occur in three main domains: we can reduce the stressors in our roles (the boring or frustrating tasks); we can increase the healthy challenges in our roles (the meaningful and interesting tasks) and we can increase the resources available to us in our roles.  This can include gaining more feedback, more social support, automating a tedious process, or learning a new skill.  Job crafting can change the way we think about our work, improve our working relationships, foster positive experiences and, best of all, prevent burnout! 

Finding the right counsellor, therapist, or support for you is one of the most powerful steps you can take towards mental wellbeing. Start your search for the right mental health professional for you by clicking here.

Tackling Loneliness In the Workplace

Tackling Loneliness In the Workplace

Being at work can be a lonely experience.

With less job security, flexible work hours and more emphasis being placed on employees needing to meet key performance targets, the social connections we once expected to make at work are no longer there.

Feeling lonely is when someone’s social needs are not being met by their current social relationships. So people can feel alone at work, even if they are surrounded by colleagues, especially if they are not getting the right kind of support.

We know that loneliness can affect our physical and mental health – put simply, we suffer when we are lonely for too long.

We all – young or old – experience loneliness at some point in our lives, but many of us feel awkward about discussing it with others or even admitting it to ourselves.

Perhaps we feel no-one will understand or we believe that there is a stigma attached to loneliness, yet it is prevalent in society. Indeed, one in four Australians say they feel lonely every week and research at Relationships Australia has found nearly 30 per cent of us don’t feel part of a group of friends.

It’s sometimes hard to spot that a team member at work might be lonely. Have you ever suspected it and wanted to reach out, but didn’t quite know how to go about it?

One way is to participate in Neighbour Day on March 31. This annual event is focusing on loneliness and what people can do to form those meaningful social connections. Ask your work team to take part and organise some relaxed and friendly activities that will allow everyone to get to know each other better.

Here is what your work team needs to know about tackling loneliness:

  • Be open about loneliness on and talk about it among your team. Work towards identifying loneliness in your own team rather than across teams.
  • Be aware of team members who don’t join in to office chats, tend to eat lunch alone, often work alone or are not very well known by others. Is there anything colleagues can do on Neighbour Day and thereafter to make those members feel more included?
  • Be aware of circumstances that might make it difficult for staff to join in work social gatherings such as being a carer at home, having a disability, or English being their second language.
  • And keep in mind those team members who work different shifts to others, contractors or casuals, or those who work a lot of overtime. What can the team do to make it easier for them to join in?
  • Be especially aware of the recently bereaved, newcomers to Australia and Sydney, those new to the workforce and those who are older than most other team members as these can all be triggers for loneliness in the workplace.
  • Last but by no means least, when your team returns to work, allow small talk in the office to occur as this can help give them a sense of connection and belonging.

Finding the right counsellor, therapist, or support for you is one of the most powerful steps you can take towards mental wellbeing. Start your search for the right mental health professional for you by clicking here.