Thankfully, relief is possible...
Anxiety is not something that is simply in your head. It causes very real physical changes. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase, your breathing becomes faster and shallower, and your survival mode of “fight or flight” response is activated. When anxious you may experience all sorts of physical symptoms. The list is long and these are just a few: chest pain, shortness of breath, restlessness, tension in your neck or shoulders, nausea, headaches, heart palpitations or racing heart, insomnia, numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, trembling, pulsing or electrical sensations, lightheadedness and shooting pain. Your mental and emotional state changes. You may experience uneasiness, apprehension, confusion, an urge to escape, feel threatened, and have ruminating thoughts, feelings of despair, dread, depression or of being overwhelmed and out of control. It feels like you are on a Runaway Train that is about to go off the tracks. You just want it to Stop.
We are all aware that remaining in a state of stress has negative long-term effects on the body. It reduces our immune response, which lowers our ability to fight off illness. Continual pressure on our heart, vascular system and organs takes a toll on our health. Did you know that it might lead to personality and behavioral changes? Relief is what we want, so we do our best to find it. We may use alcohol or drugs to “take the edge off.” We may increase risky behaviors to find pleasure. We may withdraw, shut down or become suicidal. We may relieve the constant pressure by taking it out on others through venting, blame and anger. Our relationships suffer.
I Just Want to Get Off this Train
I Hear You…Natural Relief is Found within Your Body
Just as your body has a natural process to activate a heightened response to intense situations, it also has a natural process to calm that response. Our sympathetic nervous system turns on the “fight or flight” response and the parasympathetic nervous system turns it off. With continual anxiety and stress, your system never has a chance to calm down and let the soothing response kick in and do its job. What can you do?
Step 1: Breathe Deeply and Evenly through your Heart with Loving-Kindness
The Remarkable ability of Your Breath to Soothe
Breathing not only supplies your body and brain with oxygen, it also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. Taking long, natural rhythmic breaths immediately begins to turn off the upward spiral of anxiousness. You receive more oxygen, your breathing slows down, your heart beats slower, your blood pressure decreases, and your muscles relax. Just by breathing, you have already taken a major step toward reducing the anxiety and calming your body.
The Powerful effect of Breathing through Your Heart Center with Loving-Kindness
When you perceive your safety and well-being are threatened, the “fight or flight” response is triggered. Next, a cascade of thoughts pounds you with doomsday negativity. You may start to believe judgmental and critical, demeaning thoughts about life, people, and yourself. You don’t feel safe within your own body. Breathing in and out through your heart center with feelings of loving-kindness toward yourself is nurturing and helps you to feel safe. A feeling of love, kindness, and compassion for yourself in this situation stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin in your body, which promotes feelings of connection and bonding. You begin to calm down, trust and feel safe in your body. Oxytocin further decreases stress hormones, blood pressure and heart rate while increasing positive thoughts and your outlook on life.
Step 2: Focus Awareness on the Sensations in Your Body
Stopping the Critical Thoughts
Our tendency is to pay attention to thoughts and push away the unpleasant physical sensations. Anxiety increases catastrophizing thoughts, which intensifies the anxiety loop. Believing these thoughts, you may think all sorts of nasty things about yourself. You may feel guilty or weak for not being able to control your thoughts or sensations. In an attempt to control anxiety, your attention becomes hyper-vigilant, which magnifies your reaction to sensations actually intensifying their strength and duration and as a consequence reinforcing the anxiety. The ensuing physical effects may beget a deeper sense of shame, despair, and helplessness. It becomes a habitual response to push away sensation. If you have experienced trauma, you become extra sensitive with a deep fear and distrust of the body. You become numb, shutting down your awareness and connection to your emotions and sensations. You no longer feel anything, no pain or pleasure.
The Way Back is Going Within
It may seem counter-intuitive, yet turning toward and touching the sensations with conscious awareness is restorative. First, it gives your mind something to do besides bombarding you with confusing thoughts. Second, touch is healing. We have already talked about how loving-kindness and compassion is nourishing, bonding and connecting. It opens and expands your perceptions. It reconnects you to the full range of your senses and emotions especially the pleasurable ones. When you touch the sensations with your attention, your body receives the message that you are listening. Your body is designed to bring you into harmony and equilibrium.
Touching the Sensations
Go within, at your own pace, gently touch the sensations. While you continue to breathe through your heart, notice the sensations arising in the body. With curiosity and inquiry, observe the movement and location of the energy. Where is it primarily located? Does it move or encompass several areas of the body? What is the temperature? Is it tight and contracting or expanding? Is it heavy or light? Is there pressure or pain? If you could give it a color, what would it be? Does it have a texture? Is it rough, smooth, bumpy, sticky? Notice as many different aspects of the sensations as you are able. As you continue to observe the sensations they will change, calm down, and dissipate.
1. Breathe deeply and evenly through your Heart while feeling Loving-Kindness
2. Focus your awareness on the Sensations
Do this process whenever anxious thoughts and sensations arise. It gets easier and easier as you practice. Your body will remember and the Soothing reflex will become stronger and quicker. You are absolutely worthy of love and nurturing.
If Anxiety and Stress are more than a passing phase, there is help for that too. You may be ready to dig into those underlying issues. I am here to help you.
In Loving Service,