Last night I was laying in bed tired, but also wide awake with anxiety. It was one of those things where I was falling asleep on the couch, but as soon as I got into bed my mind started racing.
When this happens, I usually take sleep supporting herbs and supplements such as my California Poppy Tincture, melatonin, or valerian root, which all work great. But, last night I decided that I wanted to take control of my own thoughts to relax my mind and fall asleep, without the help of supplements.
I noticed my breath was short and shallow, and decided to do some intentional breathing. There are various breathing exercises you can do which turn your parasympathetic nervous system up, and your sympathetic nervous system down.
The sympathetic nervous system commands your fight-or-flight response. When it fires, your heart rate and breathing speed up and stress hormones like cortisol start pumping through your bloodstream, preparing your body to face a threat. This was helpful to our ancestors who encountered life threatening situations like being hunted by wild animals.
But, today, we experience these situations almost every day, except they are not life or death. Our body releases the same chemicals whenever we become stressed. So, this can happen when we get an email from our boss, make a mistake, or sit in traffic. When cortisol is elevated too frequently or for too long, it disturbs the body's hormone production, disturbs digestion, and leads to chronic stress/anxiety.
When the stressor leaves, our body is able to calm down shortly after.
I could feel the cortisol in my body and had to relax. I used breathing exercises to calm my heart rate, put my body in a more parasympathetic state, and I was asleep in 10 minutes.
Here is what I did:
Close your eyes and being breathing through your nose.
Inhale for a count of 2. Pause at the top of your inhale for a count of 1.
Exhale gently, for a count of 4. Pause at the bottom of your exhale for a count of 1.
Keep your breathing even and smooth.
The most important thing is that the exhale is longer than the inhale.