by Yevgenia Kirnos, M.A., AMFT

As a therapist, I often work with people who feel stressed, overwhelmed and anxious. In addition to understanding the root causes of these uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings and sensations, I have found that there are many methods, many of which involve our body and self-awareness, that can help us to calm down and restore internal balance. Some of these methods are ancient and have been used for thousands of years.  Other methods are more recent and have been developed through cutting-edge neuroscience research. I’d like to share with you some of the methods I use with my clients in our sessions. While many of the methods can be practiced easily and safely on your own, it is important that you listen to and respect your own personal preferences and needs in the process of finding the self-calming methods that best work for you.

Breath – One of humanity’s simplest methods of calming stress, overwhelm and anxiety is in the breath. Breathing practices have been a part of many of the world’s oldest traditions. Variations of how we breathe can be used to change the inner state of our thoughts and feelings. Here are some breathing methods I use with my clients: 

  • Square Breath
    • Inhale to a count of four seconds.
    • Pause the breath to a count of four seconds.
    • Exhale to a count of four seconds.
    • Pause the breath to a count of four seconds.
    • Repeat as many times as feels good.
  • Slow and Long Exhale
    • Slowly Inhale to the count of 5 seconds.
    • Exhale to the count of 7.
    • Repeat as many times as feels good.
    • Longer exhales signal our nervous systems that it’s safe to relax.

Attention – As human beings, we have the innate ability to observe our internal and external environments and deliberately choose where to place our attention. Where we choose to place our attention can help us shift from one emotional state to another. These are some of the methods I use with clients to bring more clarity and calm to our bodies:

  • Mindfulness Meditation
    • Mindfulness meditation is a type of meditation that centers on non-judgmental attention (awareness). Self-kindness, curiosity and compassion can be cultivated through the repetition of bringing attention to the body. One of the simplest forms of mindfulness meditation is to keep your attention on the breath, without changing what is happening. Can you remain curious about the breath, as if it’s the first time you’ve ever noticed it?
  • Senses and Attention
    • This simple exercise uses your different senses to consciously shift your awareness.  
    • First, notice three objects that you can see and name them out loud.
    • Now, notice three objects you can touch and name them out loud.
    • Finally notice three objects you can smell or taste and name them out loud.
    • Notice the effect this shift in your awareness has on you.

Movement – Our physical body was designed for movement. Choosing physical exercises that are enjoyable and increase your heart rate have been scientifically proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.  Combining movement with breath and awareness can increase a sense of control, strength, and ease.  Some of these forms of movement are:

  • Dance
  • Yoga
  • Rio Abierto
  • Continuum movement
  • Authentic movement
  • Progressive muscle relaxation – tensing and relaxing groups of muscles

Touch – From infancy into adulthood, touch is one of our most basic methods of regulation.  I teach and utilize several different ways in which we can learn to use touch on ourselves and others to regulate our nervous systems. Though self-touch is usually safe, when it comes to touching or being touched by yourself or another person, it is important to make sure that you feel safe and good during the process.  It is important to know that it is your right to say no to touch at any point. A few ways of incorporating touch into your life are:

  • Giving yourself a big hug and staying in this position for as long as it feels good.   
  • Getting a massage from a professional massage therapist or a self-massage.
  • Holding an object in your hand and paying attention to how it feels to hold and touch it. 

There are numerous other methods that could help you find your inner peace and emotional balance. I invite you to stay curious and actively search what works best for you!