You have made it far in this self-care programme. We hope that you have found exercises that suit you and established a routine for practising.
Before moving on to this week’s subject, take a moment to return to the previous week’s exercises. You can check in the monitoring form how much you practised last week.
Previous week’s exercises
How many times did you practise:
– finger breathing
– intense physical exercises: calf pump, sitting against a wall, plank, etc.
– eye movement exercises: drawing an X and a lying figure eight
– combining exercises?
What other exercises and things did you do over the past week to regulate your anxiety or take care of your wellbeing in general?
Return to the ‘Intensity of anxiety and selection of methods’ form. In what kind of an emotional state could the exercises help you?
Which exercise(s) are you planning to continue doing? How well do you find them to alleviate your anxiety symptoms or maintain your wellbeing?
Next, let us look at this week’s breathing exercise. Like last week’s finger exercise, this exercise also combines your eyes and movement with breathing. For the exercise, you will need a peaceful space and roughly five minutes.
Contemplate: How did it feel to do the exercise? What do you notice in how you are feeling now? In what kind of emotional states could you utilise this exercise?
What is body awareness?
Body awareness can be thought of as something that is generated by three observation systems. Interoception means a collection of various bodily sensation observations. These include sensations of pain, temperature, itching, muscle tension, oxygen deprivation, discomfort caused by stomach acidity, intestinal tension and skin touch. In turn, kinaesthesia means the ability to sense motions of the body and its parts without vision. Together with equilibrioception (the sense of balance), they paint a comprehensive picture of the physiological state of the body.
Interoceptive sensitivity – how sensitive we are to our body’s internal messages – is an individual and relatively permanent trait. People with high interoceptive sensitivity also have strong emotions. Our experience of emotions and our observations of the internal experiences of the body are conveyed through the same brain regions.
Interoceptive sensitivity alone does not lead to anxiety. But when it is combined with a tendency to interpret bodily sensations negatively or as being stronger than they actually are, it may make a person susceptible to anxiety.
You can increase your body awareness by practising observing your bodily sensations, discerning different sensations from one another and describing them verbally. A particularly useful tool is using different breathing exercises in which you focus your attention on your breathing and bodily sensations.
Such practising can influence your awareness of your bodily sensations, making them feel less threatening. It can also have a positive impact on how you perceive difficult emotions related to your bodily sensations. This can increase your motivation to keep practising self-regulation in the future and make you commit to taking care of yourself better than before.
You should practise to increase your body awareness when you are in an optimal state of alertness. At first, the practising may increase your anxiety. Sometimes, anxiety also entails elevated observation of bodily sensations and worrying about them. In such a case, you should bear in mind various physical exercises that you can use to calm yourself when needed and then continue observing your bodily sensations. In a sense, this observing can mean exposing themselves to anxiety-inducing bodily sensations for some people.
The body scan exercise is suitable for increasing body awareness. If you would like to do a shorter exercise, you can also try conscious leaning.
Body scan, long
Contemplate: How did the body scan or leaning exercise feel? Did the exercise affect your emotional state? What about your bodily sensations? How could continuing the exercise help you with regulating your anxiety or maintaining your wellbeing?
By relaxing your body, you can regulate anxiety, increase your sense of control and improve your body awareness. Relaxation can be very difficult when you are experiencing anxiety, which is why it is important that you practise it while feeling calm. Consciously relaxing your body will activate your parasympathetic nervous system and thus help you regulate your state of alertness.
Tension and release can help you relax your body and increase your body awareness. The exercise increases your sense of control as you yourself control the tension and release. In the video below, physiotherapist Sari Lamio talks about a tension and release exercise. Below is also an exercise that you can do to try it.
Tension and release
Tension and release exercise
You can use the exercise below to learn to consciously relax your body.
Contemplate: How did the tension and release exercise feel? Did it affect your emotional state? What about your bodily sensations? How could continuing the exercise help you with regulating your anxiety or maintaining your wellbeing?
Over the course of this self-care programme, you have done a variety of exercises involving the use of conscious breathing regulation for alleviating anxiety. Such exercises involve using your breathing as a tool for making you feel better. However, breathing exercises do not indicate what is the so-called right way to breathe.
We all start learning to breathe in the womb. In our early childhood, our way of breathing is influenced by our close interaction relationships and different life experiences. Breathing synchronises us with other people, and we regulate our breathing unconsciously in an effort to get through various challenging situations over the course of our life.
Getting to know your own natural way of breathing can open up possibilities in terms of influencing your wellbeing. You can familiarise yourself with your breathing with exercises in which you let your breathing flow naturally without trying to change it. Our breathing can tell us how we are in this moment or what kind of a burden we are carrying without knowing it.
You can start doing breathing exercises with a curious and gentle approach. Your breathing is allowed to be exactly how it is in that moment. You yourself are also allowed to be exactly as you are.
You can practise observing your breathing with the exercise below. Some may find that observing their breathing increases anxiety. If that is the case, you can stop to do the exercise just for a brief moment. Exercises that involve observing your breathing are not suited for an anxious state. Instead, you should practice them when feeling good and calm.
10-minute breathing exercise
Exercises for the week
Great, you are already past the halfway point in this self-care programme. This has required persistence and determination from you. This week’s exercises focus on increasing body awareness. Please note that the exercises are not suitable for situations in which you are experiencing severe anxiety. If you find that your anxiety increases during these exercises, you can do them in short bursts. Remember to have compassion for yourself.
- finger breathing 2
- body scan
- leaning exercise
- tension and release
- observing your breathing