This post is written by Jessica Blanchard of StopFeelingCrappy.com
Despite your best intentions, it’s happening again.
Race day arrives, and you’re freaking out.
Then — out of nowhere — while waiting at the starting line, this nagging sense of doubt creeps in. “Am I prepared? Am I hydrated? Am I going to crash after the first few miles?”
Your heart starts to pound. You feel the knot of anxiety right between your ribs, and it makes you struggle to breathe without sucking in the air.
You know you’re prepared, so why is this happening?
It’s simple: you’re scared, and your body has turned on its fight-or-flight response. The downside of stress is elevated heart rate, suppressed immunity, anxiety, and shallow breath — all things that can sabotage your race.
You need to soothe your stress and turn on your relaxation response while holding onto your edge. And you have a remarkably simple method right under (or in) your nose.
By strategically manipulating your breath, you can use your lungs and heart to send feedback to your brain, convincing it that things are peaceful and calm. It’s easier than you think.
How to Soothe Pre-Race Anxiety with Your Breath
Use the following five techniques to soothe your race day anxiety so that you won’t miss a step:
1. Shut your mouth.
Breathing through your nose quells your body’s fight-or-flight response. The flow of your breath over your sinus cavities produces nitric oxide, related to laughing gas, which relaxes your body.
You also engage the diaphragm muscle because your lungs have to work a little harder to pull air through the nose. This deepens your breath.
More carbon dioxide is released, and more oxygen is brought to your cells.
Breathing through your nose gives you more control of your breath. My teacher used to say, “When breath control is correct, mind control is possible.”
Shut your mouth, take control of your breath, and you’ll quell your anxious mind.
2. Breathe like Darth Vader.
Ujjayi breath — a technique in which you make a soft aspirant sound when you breathe — is practiced in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga because it helps to lengthen the breathing cycle, creating a relaxed mental state.
Try it now: while you inhale and exhale with your mouth closed, gently spread the glottis at the back of your throat, so that when the the air passes over your vocal cords, it makes a soft aspirant sound. (Here’s a video demo.)
Some call it the sound of the sea. Some call it Darth Vader breathing. Some may say this one is better practiced in the car than at the crowded starting line.
Breathing with sound also calms our minds and brings us to a meditative state because it drowns anxiety-producing thoughts that grab our attention.
Focus on the sound of your breath, and imagine your anxiety crashing and disappearing like waves gently washing onto a shore.
3. Exhale (for a long time).
Inhale for a count of four, exhale for a count of eight. As you exhale, gently pull your abdominal muscles back to help the process. Repeat this at least ten times. If your feel strained, shorten your exhale and inhale a bit.
Think of the exhalation as a long steady wave that moves through your body. Then when you inhale, focus on filling your chest like a balloon, breathing through your nose.
Exhaling for longer than you inhale creates a vacuum effect and allows a better inhalation.
When we exhale for a longer time than we inhale, our hearts slow down just a bit.
This is a powerful way to calm your heart when it starts to race before you’ve taken your first stride.
4. Sync your breath with your stride.
What if you get nervous in the middle of the race?
No worries. Kidnap your attention away from your anxiety-producing thoughts, and bring it to your breath.
Count your exhale against your stride. Now do the same for your inhale. Exhaling for three strides, inhaling for three strides. If four feels better, use four counts.
This technique brings your focus to your breath and your pace. The result is deeper breath and razor-sharp focus.
A word of caution: don’t try to breathe too deeply by forcing long breaths. See what feels right for your pace.
And if you need to breathe through your mouth for a while, do so; just keep the focus on your stride and breath.
Before you realize it, your anxiety will evaporate.
5. Name that thought.
So you’re counting your breath with your stride, but then these thoughts smack you out of nowhere: you’re not fast enough, you’re losing steam, you didn’t prepare enough, you should have trained harder.
You keep breathing, but they keep coming.
Don’t panic. And don’t suppress these thoughts.
Instead, let the thought float in, then name it “negative gibberish.” Or “untrue,” or, “obsessing about the future,” or “wallowing in the past.”
Then come back to your breath.
Studies have shown that suppressing thoughts only makes them come back stronger. So let the thought in, but don’t believe or buy it.
If you name your thoughts, you won’t suppress them. When you acknowledge repetitive worries by labeling them, they tend to dissipate like clouds in a gentle breeze.
Now you’re ready to conquer your anxiety
Competing is tough, even if you know deep down winning isn’t your goal. But you shouldn’t let a bit of anxiety ruin months of training.
And with the right strategies you can soothe anxiety before it takes control. To make this easy, I’ve put together a free audio guide walking you through all five techniques.
Just imagine how Zen you’ll feel when you run those miles without worrying about things that you can’t change at that moment anyway.
So next time you feel that knot rising in your chest, close your mouth. Breathe like Darth Vader through your nose.
And before you know it, you’ll be in your zone.
So, ready to tackle your next race?