Rates of anxiety and depression are on the rise. Parents need effective, low cost strategies that work! Diaphragmatic breathing, mental distraction, and grounding exercises are three highly-effective strategies for combating anxiety and panic attacks. They are each backed by research, and can be used anywhere…anytime. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting at your premature baby’s bedside, or driving to the hospital for the 80th day in a row. Learn the HOW and WHY for each of these techniques and see if one helps calm your mind today.
If you’re a NICU mama, there’s a wide range of emotions you are processing on top of becoming a mom!
The sounds, sights, and role shift (among a million other things) that come with the NICU experience can leave you anxious, traumatized, and emotionally burdened.
Hold onto hope today!
Today is all about 3 evidence-based techniques proven to decrease your anxiety and stress responses.
Can I get a hallelujah?!
As moms, we need low-cost, self-administered interventions that reduce our stress and anxiety and that actually work!
Maybe you need something today—right now.
Each of these techniques is backed by tons of research and approved by counselors and psychologists around the world.
I hope one works for you.
Also called “belly-breathing, or abdominal breathing—diaphragmatic breathing works to:
You guys, most of us have terrible breathing patterns (I am one of the worst—my physical therapy husband can attest to that!).
Diaphragmatic breathing is all about leveling out your breathing and slowing…it…down.
The diaphragm is a big muscle under our lungs…it tightens and moves downward when we breathe in (leaving more room for our chest to expand), and relaxes and moves upwards when we breathe out.
Diaphragmatic breathing focuses on expanding the lungs down into the diaphragm instead of taking “chest breaths” using our ribcage.
If you have anxiety, you’re likely “chest breathing”, which can lead to a lot of muscle pain and tightness in your chest, back, shoulders, and neck. You definitely don’t need that!
By practicing diaphragmatic breathing exercises several times a day, you’re decreasing the effort and energy needed to breath.
It takes the effort off your chest and neck muscles during breathing to promote muscle relaxation.
You don’t need any equipment, and you can do it anywhere, anytime!
When starting out, it can be easier to learn this breathing pattern while lying on your back. But you can perform this exercise in sitting or standing, depending on where you are, and what’s available to you.
4. Exhale (breathe out)
5. Repeat inhale and exhale for 1-2 minutes when starting out and work your way up to 5 to 10 minutes.
Your chest should remain still throughout the entire exercise, both the inhale and exhale.
**Please note, this type of breathing pattern may lead to lightheadedness as you’re starting out. If you begin to feel lightheaded, be sure to lie down until it goes away.
There are a lot of benefits related to controlled, diaphragmatic breathing!
Some benefits are:
Feeling panicked, stressed, or anxious? Having trouble calming your body and your mind?
I hope you’ll give this a try!
You can even help your baby learn coping skills!
See my post on 5 WAYS TO HELP YOUR BABY LEARN COPING SKILLS IN THE NICU.
You guys, distraction is definitely not a long-term solution, because too much of it can lead to straight up avoidance.
BUT, distraction can be very effective in providing some temporary relief from uncomfortable symptoms related to panic or anxiety—until it passes.
Distract yourself by focusing on something challenging and close-ended…meaning the activity has an end to it. It can’t just continue until you choose to stop (like Netflix or scrolling Instagram).
This is something you can do the second you feel panic or anxiety bubble up—no matter where you are.
At your baby’s bedside in the NICU waiting to hold your baby? Keep your mind busy with an online sudoku or crossword puzzle.
Unable to focus because you’re swimming in thoughts related to your baby‘s weight or feeding or sleep? Count backwards from 100 by 7.
Feeling panicked for a reason you can’t even identify? Say your times tables…2×1=2; 2×2=4; 2×3=6; 2×4=8, and so on.
The goal is to find a mental activity that is somewhat difficult to complete, so you are so focused on figuring out the right answer, or solving the puzzle that you temporarily forget or lose focus on the uncomfortable symptoms you’re having related to anxiety or fear.
There are tons of websites that offer free sudoku puzzles or word searches.
Also, if you join our email list in the sidebar above, you’ll get some fun brain activities sent to you each month, plus other feel-good goodies.
Let’s equip ourselves to fight that anxiety and stress!
This technique can be incredibly effective for moms with postpartum anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, or panic disorders.
Grounding techniques are used to help turn your focus away from thoughts, memories, or worries and refocus your mind on the here and now.
It is all about focusing on the present environment and stepping back from negative thoughts.
Refocusing your attention can lead to a more calm, relaxed, and balanced mind.
Sound too good to be true… so, how do you do it?
There are actually quite a few grounding techniques out there, but I’m going to share the 54321 method, because it’s effective and easy to remember.
You can do this exercise in your head or verbalize things out loud.
The overall goal is to identify things in the world around you.
There are five steps that take you through all 5 senses:
**Screenshot or save this image to Pinterest as a reminder!
Are any of these strategies the golden ticket to managing stress, anxiety, or fear?
BUT, each of these exercises can be extremely effective in helping you manage the uncomfortable physical and mental symptoms associated with stress, panic, and anxiety.
Add one (or ALL) of them to your mama toolbox.
Personally, I’ve been working to be more conscious about breathing with my diaphragm instead of my chest. It has seriously helped with my neck pain and headaches. Woo hoo!
Also, please do not get discouraged, if these strategies aren’t your answer. These are simply tools for your toolbox.
Sometimes trauma and anxiety are so intense it goes beyond a simple exercise. If you are having persistent feelings of worry, loss of interest, difficulty sleeping, panic attacks, or traumatic flashbacks…please contact your primary care doctor or OBGYN to talk about counseling or managing those feelings with medication.
Mama, I don’t know what today holds for you, but lets take it one day at a time.
And if one day is too much to think about…aim for one hour, one minute, even one second at a time.
Life can be a lot sometimes…I’m here for you.
If you have anything specific you want or need prayer— go ahead and send me an e-mail through the contact me page.
I would be humbled to provide you with prayer, encouragement, and hope during this season of life.
You can do this!
Interested in learning more? Check out some other popular posts.
Alkozei, A., McMahon, E., & Lahav, A. (2014). Stress levels and depressive symptoms in NICU mothers in the early postpartum period. The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, 27(17), 1738-1743.
Chen, Y. F., Huang, X. Y., Chien, C. H., & Cheng, J. F. (2017). The effectiveness of diaphragmatic breathing relaxation training for reducing anxiety. Perspectives in psychiatric care, 53(4), 329-336.
Hopper, S. I., Murray, S. L., Ferrara, L. R., & Singleton, J. K. (2019). Effectiveness of diaphragmatic breathing for reducing physiological and psychological stress in adults: a quantitative systematic review. JBI Evidence Synthesis, 17(9), 1855-1876.
Janet SK, Mangala Gowri P. Effectiveness of deep breathing exercise on blood pressure among patients with hypertension. Int J Pharma Bio Sci 2017; 8 (1):B256–B260.
Katarzyna (Kate) Rygiel (September 18th 2019). Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing: A “Portable Intervention” for Stress Reduction among University Students, Effects of Stress on Human Health, Hülya Çakmur, IntechOpen, DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.86731.
Perepelkin, J., Antunes, K., Boechler, L., Remillard, A. J., & Mildenberger, L. (2019). Providing mindfulness meditation for patients with depression and anxiety in a community pharmacy: A pilot study. Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, 59(2), 258-264.