If you’re reading this, take a moment to breath.
I have always been anxious. Social conflict, romantic relationships and especially academic testing always caused me a little more stress than the average person. My anxiety can be debilitating. Not only do I struggle with the anxiety, but I’m diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. So every time a shock of fear and anxiousness shoots through my body, it is accompanied by intense stomach pain and nausea.
In sophomore year of high school I took the hardest class I have ever taken in my life. My anxiety spiked greatly during my sophomore year thanks to this class. Before each exam I couldn’t eat and often had to run the restroom before the exam started. I barely ever looked the teacher in the eye and had trouble breathing whenever I was in her class. My teacher noticed my immense discomfort and offered me a trick. She called it “square breathing”. It goes 6 seconds of breathing in, 6 seconds holding, 6 seconds of breathing out, 6 seconds of holding, and repeating until relaxed. I brushed off the comment originally, why listen to the one person who causes me the most anxiety?
Later in high school, my anxiety had become even worse. Due to a traumatic experience abroad, I was suffering from agoraphobia and hypochondria. I couldn’t drive my high school boyfriend to his friend’s house without suffering an anxiety attack about my fear of throwing up in the car. The increase of anxiety sent my IBS to new levels of pain. Due to the stomach pains, I began missing class, falling behind on my school work and spending less time with my friends. My mom reminded me of the suggestion my science teacher made about square breathing. At the time, I would have tried anything.
Square breathing helped me calm down, but not in the way I thought. Instead of using square breathing in order to bring my heart rate down, it helped me realize that things were going to be okay. If I was having a panic attack because I believed I was suffering from a stroke (something that was a common occurrence), square breathing led me to realize, simply, “if I haven’t died yet, maybe I’m not dying”. This breathing technique allowed me to take a moment and step back away from my anxiety. Square breathing gave me a more well rounded perspective on the situation. It lets me break free from the cage of my anxiety. In many ways, I no longer suffer from either hypochondria or agoraphobia due to the new perspectives this breathing exercises showed me.
Coming to UVA, one of the largest shocks I received was that there are a lot of people like me. In high school, I was always the most stressed, most anxious and most fearful. In college, I could connect to people that understood what I was going through. I no longer felt like I was so abnormal. Although I have grown so much since high school, I still utilize the square breathing technique often. I would suggest to you, even though it may sound stupid, to give square breathing a try. Let it help you, just like it helps me.
With Love, Sophie Ritt