Has anyone ever told you that your anxiety is "all in your head"? I can't think of anything worse during the peak of an an anxiety attack than hearing that I'm imagining things, especially when my body is telling me something very different. Here's the thing: that statement is partially correct. Anxiety is sensation that is felt in the body, that feels overwhelming. It's sensation that is so big that often we don't know how to manage it, mitigate, or soothe it without medications or distracting practices. With body sensations that are so big the mind interprets and experiences them from a place of fear, panic, and this only serves to ramp up the body sensations more- it becomes a cycle of body and mind feeding into each other. The thing about anxiety is that we can't just manage it away with our thinking brains. we can do all the meditation, deep breathing, and healthy eating we want, but that isn't necessarily going to get to the core of what is happening. We need to get into our bodies and feel what is happening in the moment so we can learn to unwind our very tense and stressed out systems. Here are 5 steps that you can take to get out of your head and back into your body to start feeling what is actually happening, so you can start feeling better!
#1: Get to know your surroundings!
When we first notice the sensations of anxiety creeping in, maybe a tightness somewhere, or a flush of temperature radiating from the core outward, we tend to hyperfocus on those sensations which can send the mind into a tailspin. Instead of giving all the power to anxiety, get to know what is around you. This is called ORIENTING. Orienting is a simple yet important practice which engages your nervous system through your senses. Engage your senses to connect to your external environment. Look around, being sure to turn your neck. Don't intentionally stretch your neck muscles, but make slow and controlled movements. Notice sounds, smells, and taste. Feel sensation and temperature on your skin.
Scan your body for the most comfortable physical sensation and focus your attention there. Note as many qualities of the sensation as possible (location, depth, type of sensation, maybe there is a texture your can sense, or a colour, etc.)
Bring awareness to your entire physical state (sensations) in the present moment without judging or attempting to change the experience. Feel the parts of your body that are supported by the chair or the floor. Feel your breath without needing to change its rhythm or pace. Then bring awareness to your emotional state (feelings) in the same way, and lastly to your mental state (thoughts).
Bring your attention to a place of discomfort without judging or attempting to change the sensation. Note as many qualities of the sensation as possible, with compassion (location, temperature, texture or shape, colour, depth, type of sensation).
#5: Soothing Self Touch
One of my favourite ways to soothe my system is through a practice called The Butterfly Hug. This is a method developed by Lucina Artigas during her work with survivors of Hurricane Pauline in Acapulco, Mexico,1998. This is movement called bilateral stimulation (crossing over the midline of the body) which works to bring both halves of the brain into balance, thereby settling an agitated nervous system.
Lift both hands so your palms face your chest. Link your thumbs so your hands resemble a butterfly shape with palms facing your chest. Take your fingertips to the indent just below your collar bones and gently tap each side in an alternating manner.
Another practice I use, which is also soothing touch, is a bit like a self hug. It is from an ancient practice of self healing called Jin Shin Jyutsu. Begin by taking your right hand to the outside of your left upper rib cage, close to your heart. Bring your left hand to your right shoulder, or if you can't reach your shoulder, to your right arm. Hold yourself here without squeezing, and be with your body, be with yourself. Connect with yourself, create a container within which to listen and sense and feel. Notice if there are areas that are tight (belly muscles, buttocks muscles, etc.), that could soften.
No need to change your breath, simply be with your body, be with your sensations and notice if you begin to feel a shift in those anxiety sensations. You are welcome to use these self soothing touch practices anywhere from two to twenty minutes, and give your body what it deeply desires and craves- to be deeply listened and tended to.
Thank you so much friends, and take very good care!