You know that feeling of dread, wanting a way out of a situation as your body begins to feel panic. You’re aware of it in the pit of your stomach, the twisting and churning – that deep, dark dread.
Anxiety is primal response as an instant method of protection. When in danger, the body immediately reacts and makes a decision to ‘run’, ‘fight’ or ‘freeze’. It’s a program that’s built within our nervous system.
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Our nervous system is like a complex software program that can be split into:
1. The ‘sympathetic nervous system’. This controls our body’s physical responses and is known as ‘fight, flight or freeze’.
2. The second part is the ‘parasympathetic nervous system’. This does the exact opposite in relaxing the body and slowing down numerous high energy tasks.
Many of us are dedicated to resisting anxiety until it overloads. Like a pressure cooker, anxiety keeps building up until there is an eruption of some kind. This is where anxiety becomes our foe – it begins to consume us. The sympathetic nervous system becomes overloaded and can stay locked in a switched on mode without a having down time to recharge.
The feeling of dread is what I’m calling ‘resistance’. Wanting to push that feeling or pretend that it’s not there at all. It keeps sneaking back in at a constant pace with more frequency. The more we resist, the stronger it comes back.
Intentionally or unintentionally what we focus on is what we enlarge in our life. Times this type of resistance by four or five different circumstances and we’re cranking up the heat under the pressure cooker without a release strategy = explosion.
How do you make anxiety your friend?
Creating a friendship takes time and effort. Usually we enter into these friendship opportunities with gusto and intrigue. We’re opening ourselves up to connect to another with interest. We spend time with them, listen and acknowledge what they’re sharing and hopefully it’s reciprocated. This is how we create a bonding friendship.
Let’s break this down into 4 steps
Make time to stop and connect with your body.
We want to interrupt and disrupt this habit of continuously activating the sympathetic nervous system, revving up adrenaline and cortisol in the body. So with some clients, I will encourage an action that does this. For example do a loud and intense clap in front of your face or stamping your feet on the ground. I’ve always loved watching how children bring their energy back into their body when they’re not getting what they want. They have a way of stamping their feet, hands on hips and appearing to grow in stature!
Any action that interrupts and disrupts this habit to create a momentary pause and then just breathe deep and long. Come back into your body fully and centre yourself.
Observe all the sensations in the body.
Slowly bring your focus to your breath, bring your awareness inwards. Just take note of what’s going on within you.
a. What are the sensations within your body – tight, rigid, gentle, strained, fluid
b. What feelings are moving in and out of you – frustration, anger, overload, clashes, calm
c. What thoughts are occurring – why, how, should have, no
All that’s needed is to listen to these three areas individually and with curiosity. We want a friendly mind rather then a judgemental mind.
You may also want pen and paper to write notes down initially.
Let your body feel supported by your attention.
Once you’ve really listened, that pressure cooker feeling starts to dissipate. You know what it’s like when you’ve been able to get things off your chest and felt heard and acknowledged. It takes the edge off all situations around you. That pressure in your chest, your head and your stomach seems to have magically disappeared.
4. PRACTICE DAILY
Make time for your body.
Spend two – fifteen minutes everyday in a comfortable place focusing on your breath. Expanding your focus to the sensations in the body, then your feelings as well as your thoughts.
Taking the time to create this habit and investing in your own well being, is crucial to befriending and working with anxiety. We’re actually increasing the stamina of the parasympathetic nervous system in reminding the body how to unwind and relax every time we do this. The more familiar you become with this new friend, the quicker you’ll pick up messages of concern and joy from the start.
So instead of going into panic stations and resisting anxiety when it appears, you can Pause and welcome it. Listen in a more centred state to what it wants to show you. Then Acknowledge it’s message and decide what course of action would be best suited for you and your friend.
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