How ‘finger breathing’ could help calm anxiety and improve sleep

How finger breathing can help calm anxiety and restore sleep. (Getty Images)
How finger breathing can help calm anxiety and restore sleep. (Getty Images)

Life can be pretty stressful. From the work/life juggle to coping with a chaotic home life and worrying about stretched finances, it's little wonder that one in 14 UK adults (7%) feel stressed every single day.

This constant anxiety is having a knock-on impact on our sleep too with 40% of the population experiencing disrupted sleep patterns last year and 'I'm tired' emerging as the most frequently searched phrase on Google.

Recent surveys have identified financial concerns as the culprit behind sleep disturbances, making it increasingly challenging for many to quieten their anxious thoughts before bed.

But experts believe there is a simple technique that could help calm our anxious minds and get us back to getting a good night's rest - 'finger breathing'.

What is finger breathing?

'Finger breathing' is a form of self-hypnosis that can be used to bring you back into a calmer and more rational state of mind during times of anxiety or restlessness.

"It involves a combination of touch and controlled breathing, cycling through a series of finger holds and hand movements whilst focusing on inhaling and exhaling deeply," explains Clare Longstaffe, hypnotherapist at Cavendish Cancer Care, who has been working with MattressOnline.

While there are many misconceptions surrounding the term hypnotherapy and the effect it can have on the body, in reality, hypnotherapy is simply a way of allowing yourself to become more aware of how your thoughts and emotions have a physical effect on your body and breathing, and vice versa.

"We can use this heightened awareness to help our breathing guide our thoughts to a calmer and more rational state," Longstaffe continues. "Techniques such as finger breathing aid this process."

Longstaffe says the ability to bring yourself into a meditative state in times of overwhelming stress is a useful skill.

"Because it relies on someone controlling their own breathing, these techniques can be used in almost any environment to help you focus on the task at hand," she adds.

Finger breathing is a form of self-hypnosis. (Getty Images)
Finger breathing is a form of self-hypnosis. (Getty Images)

'Finger breathing': How to

Step 1

Start by lying or sitting down in a comfortable position. Relax your breathing by inhaling more deeply and slower than you would normally.

Step 2

Bring the fingers and thumb of one hand together in a relaxed pinched position. Using your other hand, cup and loosely rest your bunched fingertips in your palm. Count five relaxed breaths while keeping your hands in this position.

Step 3

Swap hands and count five breaths again.

Step 4

Next, make a thumbs up with one hand and then wrap the fingers of the other hand around the opposing thumb. Loosely hold your thumb while you count five relaxed breaths. Then swap hands and count five breaths again.

Step 5

Repeat this process on the rest of your fingers, i.e. wrap the fingers of one hand around your opposing index finger and hold for five relaxed breaths, before switching hands and repeating the process.

For a visual understanding on finger breathing, you can watch a how to video here.

How 'finger breathing' can help calm anxiety

According to wellbeing experts our innate fight, flight stress response can cause us to automatically speed up or hold our breath in times of stress or general ‘busyness’ and most of the time we do not notice until we start to feel tension.

"In times of stress, if we can become aware of our breath and focus on slowing down and relaxing into our breath it can be helpful in moving to rest and digest," explains Chloe Angus, corporate wellbeing manager at Cavendish.

"Creating the habit of giving our breath some attention at different times of day can help to manage emotions and stresses, and give us moments to pause and re-centre ourselves in the present moment."

Angus suggests practising finger breathing regularly when you are not stressed.

"If something is familiar to us, we are more likely to remember to use it when we need it most," she adds.

The finger breathing technique can also help with sleep. (Getty Images)
The finger breathing technique can also help with sleep. (Getty Images)

How 'finger breathing' can help reclaim sleep

When we feel stressed and anxious it is often harder to fall asleep, or fall back to sleep. This can quickly snowball; we can’t fall asleep so we start stressing about being unable to fall asleep or about the amount of sleep we’re losing. It’s a cycle that many of us have fallen victim to at some point in our lives.

For stress and overthinking in particular, finger breathing is a helpful tool that can support you during the night.

Studies have shown that effectively controlling your breathing can not only help you relax mentally, it also promotes the release of melatonin, the hormone produced by the pineal gland in your brain that is responsible for regulating your body’s circadian rhythm and managing your natural sleep cycle.

"Melatonin is the hormone that the body naturally produces as it winds down for sleep," explains Angus. "It is often a natural response to the day getting darker, helping to orient your body to your circadian rhythm (becoming sleepy at night and waking up when it’s light outside)."

Angus says the parasympathetic nervous system functions best in calmer conditions and is responsible for larger bodily functions such as resting and digesting.

"When we activate this nervous system, we can more easily control our emotions and gather ourselves to tackle the building anxiety," she explains. "This is opposed to the sympathetic nervous system (‘sympathetic brain’), which is the quickest to respond to stressful situations or any other trigger that it deems potentially ‘dangerous’."

According to Angus the act of breathing out helps us move to our parasympathetic nervous system, which is the more rational part of our brain that allows us to begin relaxing and therefore help us to fall asleep and stay asleep.

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