Today I’m going to address a topic that is out of my usual realm. You might ask what qualifies me to talk about anxiety, and my answer is absolutely nothing. I feel some form of anxiety on a daily basis, but nothing like the debilitating panic attacks I’ve observed in my husband. I studied anxiety as part of my training as a massage therapist many years ago, have taken a course in mental health first aid, and as a yoga instructor I teach people to be present in their bodies and breathe. I have done extensive self study on managing thoughts, emotions and directing actions. But, I’m not a doctor or psychologist, and anxiety is a medical condition that may require treatment to address a chemical imbalance in the brain.
So, before we go any further, I want you to take 10 breaths. Observe each inhale and exhale, how it moves your body. Count them as you move through each breath cycle. Now intuitively answer this question: “Do I need medical attention for my anxiety?” Go with the first thing that comes to your mind. If your answer was yes, get your phone and make that phone call now. There is no shame in getting treatment for a medical condition. If your arm was broken, would you be arguing with me about booking an appointment?
Still with me? Let’s drive on then. I just want to clarify that this is an opinion that I have about anxiety. Please feel free to disagree, and stop reading if you wish. But, this post was keeping me up last night, asking me to give it a voice. I usually try to honor this type of urge to create, so I’m coming to you from a sincere place, but like I said, not my usual thang. I’m going to cycle back to my own experience with anxiety. I think I got my version of anxiety from observing my parents anxiety. I would describe it as low to mid level. It is a generalized feeling of doom, dread, insecurity and fear. I have had times in my life where I barely slept more than 3 hours a night if that. I never stop jittering, and can be oversensitive to physical and non physical stimulus. In short, garden variety anxiety, except for the sleep thing, but that is resolved for the most part. Common, unremarkable, annoying anxiety. But, not uncontrollable. I just choose to give it its head most of the time, but I’d never admit that out loud if you know what I mean.
Let’s contrast this with my husband’s experience. He would be offended that I call what I experience anxiety. Panic attacks, severe sleep disturbances, uncontrollable thoughts about death/illness, nausea and vomiting and whole bunch of other unpleasant sensations are part of his daily experience. So I want everyone to understand that anxiety falls on a spectrum, and what I have to say may not help everyone. I have been binging Brook Castillo’s podcast lately. I didn’t even know she existed until about a month ago, and let me tell you: Life changing. Much of what I’m going to talk about relies heavily on her and Byron Katie’s work, so if you want more after this, check out those 2 sources.
So, ask yourself this. What is the worst that can happen? Anxiety takes the worst case scenario, and plays it out in your mind. Using those scenarios (that have not yet, and probably will never happen, or thought cycling around a problem from your past) to torture yourself with. Imaginary scenario, amped up by emotion creating a physical response. Garden variety anxiety at its best. Short of bodily injury and death, the worst that can happen is an emotion. And when was the last time anxiety caused you bodily harm or death? Just sayin’
If thoughts create our emotions, which stimulate our actions that create our results, where in this cycle can we manage our anxiety? The level of thought. Circumstances can trigger our thoughts, but in and of themselves the only thing that gives circumstances power is our thoughts about them. If you examine any circumstance, it is neither positive nor negative until our thoughts get involved to qualify it.
In the case of anxiety, I’m usually thinking about circumstances that have never, and realistically will never happen. Even at my worst circumstances, I have never been homeless, hungry and alone. But, that’s what I worry about. Its what I fear will happen. It is the thought of this that causes anxiety. So what? None of this helps you when your brain has whipped you into a fight or flight frenzy. If you’re there, or next time you get there, take a moment of pause. Experience the emotions that are stewing in your body. Emotions create physical sensations. Scan your body for the first thing you feel. Is it in your head, belly, chest? Now exhale. Count 3 more exhales. Begin to describe the sensation in your mind. Is it vibrating? Hot? Empty? Tight? Give the sensation a quality. Describe it in your mind as fully as you can then move on to the next sensation and do the same. Now consider this. Does that sensation have any power to harm you? It is just a physical reaction. Even in the midst of it, it is just a vibration in the body.
Kind of takes the wind out of your sails doesn’t it? I’m going to stop there for today because I think that’s enough, but I will be posting part 2 very shortly. To summarize: anxiety is a feeling in the body. It can be described and located as a sensation. Doing this can help you come back from the edge of the sensation of anxiety. I’m going to do a second post on how to lay the groundwork for gaining some control over anxious thoughts when not in the thick of it. So, stay tuned.