Coping With Anxiety
Question from a reader:
It really depends on the source of your anxiety. There’s situational anxiety and then there’s chronic anxiety.
“I have bad anxiety in my life and I know how to overcome it, it is just hard to do it when I feel down or just everything bad goes on, any tips?”
In my experience, the root of situational anxiety is always fear. The question is, fear of what? Fear of the unknown is one of the major causes of anxiety. Fear of failing. Fear of people leaving. All of the “What ifs?” that run through your head that haven’t happened and probably won’t, but you’re entertaining them anyway and letting your mind run away with all of the possible terrible things that could happen and how that would make you feel.
With this kind of anxiety, you’re not living in the present moment. You’re living in the future and not even the real future–your imagined future.
One of the possible way to quell this kind of anxiety is to bring yourself back into the present moment. Remember where you are right now, not where you’re afraid you’re going to be. Mindfulness is a great technique for this.
With mindfulness, your goal is to bring your awareness fully into your body and out of your head. You do this by shifting your awareness to various parts of our body and “feeling” them. You can try it right now: bring all of your awareness into your right hand. Feel it. Feel the blood running through your veins. Touch your palm with the fingers from your other hand. Flex your fingers and pay full attention to how it feels. Touch something near you and focus on what it feels like.
Take a long, slow, deep breath from your belly (not your chest), and feel the air flowing into and out of your lungs. Bring all of your awareness there. Breaths from the chest are more shallow and mimic the kinds of breaths one has during a fear response, therefore, this kind of breath would not be helpful during an anxiety attack. Belly breaths mimic a calm, meditative state and will help ease anxiety.
You can do this exercise with various parts of your body, shifting your awareness from your hands to your feet, your legs to your shoulders, and then your full body. By now, your attention should no longer be on the thing that’s causing you anxiety, but rather the present moment.
You can add a mantra to this exercise as well, and the more you practice it with the mantra, the more you will train your brain and your body to associate a calm state with the mantra, allowing you to fall into that state easier and easier.
Therapists will often ask you to name five things you can see, five things you can feel, five things you can hear, etc. to bring your awareness back into your body in the present moment.
Creating an emotional anchor is another way to bring yourself back into a calm state. Search your memory for a moment of joy – something that makes you smile and your heart sing. Perhaps it’s a song, a thought, a visual memory or a smell (you’ll probably resonate with one particular type over the others). Find it and then replay it over and over until you’ve memorized again every last detail, feeling and sensation. And when you find yourself feeling anxious, return to that moment.
Other types of anxiety are chronic and don’t necessarily always have a trigger or thoughts attached to them. Much of my own anxiety is like this. All of the tips I listed above can be helpful. Others that I also implement are heat and a weighted blanket. I like to surround myself with comfy pillows so I feel nice and snugged, put a heating pad on my chest (and maybe some kind of weight. I like my five pound rose quartz chunk) and cover myself with an electric blanket, and load up on thick blankets, including a 15 pound weighted blanket. The heat and the pressure help calm the vagus nerve, which is one of the main nerves that runs through your whole body in your nervous system and is responsible for a trauma response.
It’s important to understand that this type of anxiety comes from trauma, and while mindfulness is an excellent tool to help us manage our anxiety, it will not heal it.
Getting to the root of anxiety requires a lot of work and a trauma-informed therapist can help you navigate the experiences that are responsible for that anxiety in the first place. Regular energy work as well somatic experiencing can help you clear trauma out of your nervous system and start to increase your stress tolerance so that you don’t feel as anxious in the future.
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