What brings anxiety on for you?
I noticed that even while I typed the title of this article, I felt a twinge of anxiety in my chest. Funny. For those of us that have lived with anxiety from the beginning of our time on this earth, it is a part of life and it has affected pretty much every part of it.
I have lived with anxiety for most of my life. The shortness of breath, the tightening of my chest, the racing and cyclic thoughts in my mind, and more. I now have a lot less anxiety since I have learned many different techniques to alleviate anxiety and created a lifestyle to deal with it.
I know people who go much of their life with these feelings and never even realize it’s anxiety.
First, anxiety is defined as a “feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.”
Or, a “nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.”
However, I define it a bit differently. It is the nervous system taking charge to make sure you are safe in any and all circumstances.
Wow. Now that makes a lot more sense to me. Because whenever it shows up in the form of a tight chest, shallow breathing, a bit of sweating, muscle tightening or muscle cramps, brain racing, or a blanking out of my thoughts, I feel like I’m not the one in control.
Again, whenever it shows upit seems as if another part of me somewhere is controlling my muscles and my mind.
When my heart is racing and my hands are sweating, it’s not usually because I’m repelling down the mountain or on a rollercoaster. I’m not having fun. I’m in fear or anxious about something. In those moments, it becomes very difficult to stop the anxiety when it has reached a specific physical level.
In my life, it has become very important to me to learn how to catch the anxiety before it reaches that level. Both for myself and for the many clients I help who suffer with anxiety.
Becoming aware of your body is the most important thing you can do to naturally stop the anxious feelings and reactions you experience. This is likely the most difficult thing to do when you are in the middle of an anxiety attack, or lost in the sea of “sensory reactions.” Sensory reactions are when the reflexes of the body make you sweat, tighten your muscles, spin your thoughts, etc.
Becoming aware, or an observer of your life, is a daily task. It could also become a chore if you view observing as a burden. I recommend changing that view by creating a daily discovery and daily action.
“How do I do that?”
Breathe and Move
Every morning I wake up and do between two and five minutes of body movement, stretching, breathing and recognition. This has become a habit for me. I get out of bed to do my routine because if I don’t, well, then I don’t do it. And eventually, anxiety takes over.
After those few moments of body movement and intentional breathing, I watch, listen, and feel my body, my thoughts, and my emotions. I simply take a mental note. This is being an observer and becoming aware. I acknowledge any upset or emotions left over from the previous day. I acknowledge any fatigue, sore muscles, sniffles, etc.
Next, I hydrate myself with some water. I drink it slowly and methodically. I feel the water move throughout my body. The substance you put in your body first is the most important. Water replenishes, wakes up the cells, moves toxins, and gives energy. Among many other benefits. I picture it absorbing and flowing through all the parts of my body.
But let’s not make what we ingest the only important thing that goes into our bodies first thing. Like water flowing through and absorbing into your cells, the thoughts you have in the morning penetrate and become the filter for all other thoughts and input you receive throughout the rest of the day. These early morning thoughts are also extremely important to be aware of!
For example, if you are rushing around the house, getting ready without a positive or calm thought, the energy of the day starts with that filter.
I think of it this way: Scattered Mind, Scattered Day.
Here’s another good example. If you wake up in the morning and you think, “Today is going to be a no-good, very-bad, terrible kind of day. Lions, tigers, and bears are going to be everywhere. They are going to growl at me and chase me. They will criticize me and it will never end.”
Really? Who are those lions? You may think they are those you are afraid of. But your own internal words and anxious thoughts are the real lions. They are eating you alive.
I know this by personal experience. But read the neurology. Affective neuroscience shows that our brainstem and primal emotions changes the physiology of our body.
So, I look, and I listen. If I can, I catch those anxious words with my mental net and honor that there is some part of my inner self that is scared or angry that day. I say, “For the next 10 minutes, I will respect myself and trust that I am safe. There are no tigers or bears nearby and I am okay.” I breathe an interval breath as taught in one of the Live By Heart Breathing Programs The common one I like to use is 7 long breaths, 2 short breaths, and then 7 normal breaths.
After I have honored my body with physical movement, honored my mind with listening, acknowledging, and guiding, I go and sit for breakfast. I take it easy. I take a quiet moment and eat in a calm way. When I rush, that “rushing” feeling becomes a priority to the brain and digestion is low on the priority list.
So, I sit with my food that was slow-cooked and prepared with calm intentions. I eat without any external distractions. When internal distractions come, I catch them quickly and come back to focusing on the moment and the eating experience.
Remember your gut is intelligent. And if you rush and feel scattered, your digestion will match that experience. You won’t digest and assimilate as well as you could. The cells of your gut will change based on your attitude and mindset. Your food will poorly digest and be laden with a filter of stress if that is how you spend your time preparing and eating your food.
So how do I eat? Like I said, I sit. I know that might sound like a no brainer and very simple, but think about it. How often do you actually sitto eat? How many people do you see eating while they’re working, driving, getting kids ready, playing on their phone, watching TV, and many, many other activities?
The body works hard to digest and assimilate the food that we eat. Likewise, different activities require different muscles and functions of the body. So, distracting the body and mind with all of these other activities, as well as trying to digest the food we’re eating, overwhelms the body. This puts a lot of stress on the body’s ability to properly digest and absorb the nutrients it’s trying to give to you in order to function.
The difference I feel when eating with a focus helps me relax and feel at peace. I feel connected to my food. I don’t eat the volume of food that I was accustomed to when I was so distracted. My body is calm and digests the food with ease.
A surprising side benefit of this sacred meal practice is that it is teaching me to do this at other times when I feel anxiety rising in the chest. I have a choice, but it does take time and practice. And one of the easiest ways of doing this is with focused way of eating. (In my book, Life Centering, I call it Centered Eating).
Now I’m ready for my day. Sound complicated? It’s not. I accomplished this beautifully calming morning routine inside of 20 minutes. And the benefits? I accomplish more in a day than those days that the morning is started with scattered thoughts and actions. Now my day is clear sailing.
Happy Sailing, Anxiety-Free!