Feeling anxious is so much part of our daily lives that we almost forget how limiting it can be. Let’s face it, we live in stressful times!
We spend most of our days racing from one thing to another, constantly thinking about the next to-do or focusing on what we didn’t do right in the past. Our daily demands have us multi-tasking family, work, and personal priorities that leave us feeling like there is never enough time in the day to get it all done. We worry about making ends meet. We keep our phones close by so we don’t miss a thing and we feel the need to respond immediately. Never mind the things we don’t know how to fix but we worry about anyway – political turmoil, global warming, economic concerns, etc.
I’m exhausted just thinking about all of it.
So how can we disconnect from the frantic activity of daily life and let your speedometer return to 0 mph? First, let’s talk about the difference between fear and anxiety.
Fear is the physical response to an external threat. It’s an instinctual reaction to preserve your life from immediate danger. When you feel threatened, your “flight or fight” response is triggered and your body kicks into action! Nerve cells start firing and chemicals like adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released into your bloodstream. Your respiratory rate increases. Blood rushes from your digestive tract to the muscles in your arms and legs to prepare you to run or fight. Your awareness intensifies and your pupils dilate to see more clearly. We share this process with our animal friends. Think of a deer in a field being stalked by a lion. The deer instinctively knows to freeze and then run as fast as it can to save it’s own life. When we feel fear, our bodies prepare in the same way as the deer.
Anxiety, however, is not a response to immediate danger. It’s brought on by the memories of fear or the anticipation of fear. Your mind thinks you are unsafe and those same nerve cells that trigger the flight or fight response interpret your present moment to be more dangerous than it actually is. Here’s the thing – the part of your brain that processes fear can’t tell whether that fear is from an immediate threat or a thought. Basically, your body reacts the same way regardless if the fear is real or imagined. So you are left with a revved up body that fuels the mind to continue thinking it’s unsafe, which revs up the body even more. You feel completely distressed even when there is no immediate threat.
And, since we aren’t a deer that runs and runs until all those fear-induced chemicals are burned way, they build up in our muscles and our joints and we’re left in chronic pain and emotional turmoil.
No wonder why we can’t sleep, or why we suffer from headaches, digestive issues and have difficulty concentrating. Just to name a few symptoms!
So what can we do about it?
We can BREATHE.
Focused, deep breathing brings us back to the present moment. In the moment, we are not worried about the future or concerned about the past. We anchor our awareness by simply watching a breath go into the body and watching it release out. When you notice your shoulders hiking up to your ears or your blood pressure increasing, close your eyes (if possible), take a slow, deep inhale through the nose and then slowly and completely release it out the nose. Do that 3 times. You will notice an immediate shift in how you feel.
Another way to anchor our awareness is through movement with breath. A simple flow will help quiet your thoughts, ground your body and slow down your heart rate.
Practice this mini-sun salute whenever you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious.
- Stand with your feet under your hips and head over your shoulders. Bring you hands to your heart.
- Inhale, reach up, look up.
- Exhale, fold forward, relax your head and neck
- Inhale, press your hands into your shines to lengthen your spine
- Exhale, fold forward
- Inhale, bend the knees and reach overhead
- Exhale, return your hands to your heart
Repeat 3 times. Notice how different you feel from when you started.