If you have children and can remember when you were getting ready to bring your first- born home from the hospital, a nurse might have shown you how to take a blanket and swaddle your baby. You were told that this keeps the baby from flaying their arms and legs; calms them down and makes it easier for you to lay the baby on his/her back for sleep. Keeping a baby tucked in a blanket seems to help keep the baby calm.
In a time when our entire society seems to be flaying, a pandemic, racial unrest, financial burdens, a lot of people find themselves riddled with anxiety. Our lives are filled with the unknown and so many of our question have no answers. Oh, to go back to the days of being swaddled. There are some things that can be done that borrow from the idea of the swaddling blanket.
For clients who are filled with anxiety, I will sometimes tell them about weighted blankets. The blankets are designed to weigh 10percent of a person’s body weight. The equal distribution of the pressure across the body has a calming effect on the nervous system. How does this work?
First some science. The autonomic nervous system is divided in to two groups: first, the sympathetic nervous system that controls the “flight and fight” impulses when the body perceives danger and second the parasympathetic nervous system that calms those impulses down. When the body is feeling anxiety because of perceived danger the sympathetic nervous system is activated. Using a tool such as a weighted blanket activates the parasympathetic nervous system that can calm the heart rate and blood pressure and creates an equilibrium between the two systems.
When working with anxiety clients, I am always looking for activities or techniques that can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Deep breaths are one of the essential tools. If you have ever been overtly anxious about something and someone said, “Breathe. Just breathe.” You know what I am talking about. It is a physiological truth if someone is hyperventilating and you can get them to breath slow regular breaths the body will calm itself.
Taking the idea of deep breath and deep touch I have come up with another calming technique that is called the “Hand on Heart” deep breathing exercise. First, I have the client put one hand on their sternum and then place their other hand on top of it. Hugging the elbows into the body, I then have the client take a deep breath through the nose and a slow exhale through the mouth. I have the client do this 4 times asking them to inhale deeper and exhale slower each time. Words can be said for the inhale and exhale such as…”I breath in peace and exhale worry.” Or “I am safe (inhale) and no one can harm me. (exhale)”
Calming techniques won’t cure a pandemic or give us peace in our streets but can calm your heart rate and ease your anxiety.