- Posted Monday November 14, 2016
Continuing our month-long focus on the problem of stress in general practice, mindfulness teacher Rosie Riley discusses her battles with anxiety and the methods she uses to keep it in check. Following on from the Mindfulness Toolkit she created for FPM members, she also details the benefits of 7/11 breathing, a useful tool for staying calm in difficult situations.
Nothing felt real. I remember that moment so vividly. It was like I was being transported into a bubble of fear and panic, floating around the room but somehow also nailed to my chair so that my feet and arms felt like lead weights. I could not have got up even if £50 notes were falling from the ceiling.
I could hear the conversation around me and I managed to nod in the right places but inside I felt like I was completely disconnected from the room and all my lovely colleagues around me. What on Earth was happening? My heart was hammering so loudly I was convinced you could see its every beat from under my jacket and I seemed to have developed a tongue the size of the moon, I would never be able to speak again!
This was 2011 - it was a Monday morning in an NHS team meeting and there was a lot on the agenda! It was also my first introduction to anxiety. You may have heard of anxiety? That “perfectly harmless” condition that makes you feel like your life is stuck in a war zone of complete misunderstanding and total confusion. The only harmless thing about anxiety that I could figure out was that it begins with the letter A.
From that day on, anxiety was to become a part of my life and boy it was as unpredictable as some of the boyfriends I had the pleasure to date in my teens. It didn’t have much of a routine, it liked to turn up when I least expected it. On the train home to my mum’s, in the early hours of the morning when the world was at peace with sleep, or even when out at a pub (when you would have thought a lager and lime would have thrown itself round your neck and hugged you because it was the weekend, knocking the unpleasant visitor out of the way!). It wasn’t precious about when it swung by and my resistance to it only made it keener to stick around!
The one thing my anxiety loved most though was the team meetings. I eventually grew to accept my visitor on a Monday morning as an inevitable part of my working week. My beloved colleagues probably had no idea it was present with me as I was so good at “keeping it together”, but inside I was a mess and I just wanted to run away or hide under the table.
Fast forward to now. The question is, have me and anxiety parted ways on an “It’s not you, it’s me” understanding? No, not at all but things have changed. Like a cosy little marriage, this wild affair of ours has simmered down greatly and I now walk side by side with my mate A.
I have learned a vast number of techniques to help myself and this intriguing condition live in harmony, side by side. I’ll let you into a secret - anxiety has become slightly bored of me as I’m now not resisting it but welcoming it and accepting it through mindfulness - although that’s an article for another day.
For now, let us welcome – 7/11 breathing! One of the most rapid, effective and wonderful aids I have ever come across.
What is 7/11 breathing?
Back in the days when I was still fearful of anxiety, I was blessed to come across this proven technique to help me quickly calm down in times when it was most intense, such as in a team meeting. 7/11 breathing is an exercise that can be practiced as little or as often as necessary.
How does 7/11 breathing work?
It does its magic on the autonomic nervous system - when we breathe in we get a burst of adrenalin and when we breathe out we relax. So when we make the outwards breath last longer than the inwards breath, we automatically send signals to the brain that we are calming down. Then when we start to relax, our rational thinking comes back!
7/11 breathing has become my quick go-to solution when I feel I need it. It’s powerful, easy to do and I would highly recommend it in helping to quieten our “harmless” little pal.
Keep an eye on the FPM Blog for a forthcoming article from Rosie on the benefits of mindfulness. Plus, FPM members can access a variety of documents relating to workplace stress in the Policies and Procedures Library.