Feeling Anxious? You're Not Alone. Some Tips For Managing Yourself...(Part 2 of 2)
Updated: Nov 3, 2019
As I mentioned in part I of this blog, from a somatic psychology perspective, feelings are experienced in the body as charge; like a current firing off in your body. Anxiety is a felt, bodily experience. When the charge builds, it requires discharging. In part 1, I discussed ways to begin working with thoughts that you've identified that amplify your anxiety. I discussed figuring out your warning signs and your triggers and how to work with that information.
In this blog, part 2, I will explain ways to discharge through the upper and lower body using various processes and also share a research-based method of working with the breath to activate the relaxation response.
When involving the body, it is impossible to ignore the senses. The senses are always 'on' and if we tend to them, we enter, by definition, the present moment. The body, unlike the mind, exists only in present time. We don't breathe a breath for tomorrow or from two weeks ago. We can think about tomorrow or what happened two weeks ago. The body, however, is only here. All that we see, hear, touch, smell, feel internally; ALL of this is occurring in present time and as such, it anchors us in the present moment. In managing anxiety, we use this to our benefit. Below are five processes you can engage when you want to discharge the energy that builds up internally in our emotional experience.
1. NAMING SENSES-I'll begin with one that is fairly well-known and I know many people who use this and find it helpful:
Look around and name five things you can see
then, four things you can touch
three things you can hear
two things you can smell
one thing you can taste
Simple enough, yes. But in a state of heightened anxiety, even this can be challenging to access. So use it whenever you think of it; when you might need to calm yourself or connect with yourself. If you get used to doing this just as a matter of practice and self-connection, it will be more accessible to you when you really need it. Combine with conscious attention to breath to enhance your skill. (See #5 below)
These next ones discharge energy through the upper body:
2. TOWEL TWISTING- Fold and roll up a hand towel tightly enough so that twisting it doesn't require a contortion of your wrists in an uncomfortable way. The size of your hands will, in part, determine the circumference of the roll. You want to be able to get a good hold of it so you can create a decent level of resistance when you twist. Roll it. Hold. Twist. Hold the twist and feel the upper body and arms as the charge in your upper body moves into the towel. Hold. Release it slowly. Feel yourself. Repeat. (You can combine this with the breath work described below; # 5)
3. LEANING AND PUSHING AGAINST A WALL- There are specifics for getting into position and getting out of it so read to the end here. Face the wall, standing far enough away from it that when you extend your arms out in front of you with your palms out, you still have about 10 inches or so between your palms and the wall. Feet just over hip width apart. Arms extending just over shoulder width apart. Lean into the wall so that your nose almost touches it. Hold. The point is not to get the positioning exact in terms of my description so adjust as necessary. What you're looking for is that your feel activation in your arms and upper body. Find the position that works for you to feel that activation and hold it. Allow the arms to tremble some; this is okay--it's the charge releasing. It doesn't always happen but it can. When you've had enough-and do push yourself a bit; not far, just don't release at the first sign of discomfort. Hold a few more seconds and then release. Do not just push off the wall and be done with it. S-L-O-W-L-Y press against the wall as you release the posture. Come to freely standing. Let arms drop to your sides and feel what's happening. Repeat, repeat, repeat for as long as you self-observe a need to. (Combine with breath practice-#5 below.)
To discharge energy through the lower body:
4. STANDING AND BENDING KNEES- Stand without locking your knees; feet hip width apart. Allow knees to bend so that you lower toward the ground (not TO the ground. Just have your knees bent so that your thighs can get activated.) Hold until thighs begin to feel a burn or your legs tremble. When you can't take anymore of this posture, just like with number 3, press S-L-O-W-L-Y against the floor and your body will rise, of course. Without locking your knees, stand and feel yourself. Notice changes, effects. Do this again and again; slowly, with focused attention. Stay with your breath. This discharges energy through the lower body.
A variation of this one can be used if seated or when you might need to be discreet. While sitting, press feet against the floor. Same process as above from here. Feel your legs 'heat up' as the muscles activate. Hold the pressing down action. Breathe consciously. Release slowly and notice. Repeat several times until you feel a shift in your anxiety. (Combine with breath practices-#5 below.)
5. BREATHING CONSCIOUSLY
**6 breaths/minute (that's 5 seconds on breath in; 5 seconds on breath out.) Research has shown that this technique activates the parasympathetic nervous system which governs the relaxation response in the body. Watch a clock when you start using this one to get a sense of just how long 5 seconds is. 5 in; 5 out, for as long as you wish. I use this one a lot of the time throughout my day. Why not activate the relaxation response in my body whenever I think of it?
**Square breathing-This one also requires counting and sometimes, it's the counting that helps the mind focus away from anxious thoughts. There are variations to counting (different rhythms, I mean) so if you've found one you like, keep at it! This one involves a rhythm of: inhale, hold, exhale, hold, inhale, hold, exhale hold, repetitively. Count to four for each. With 4 being the operative number, we refer to this as 'square' breathing as an easy way to remember the count and the rhythm!
**Lengthen exhale/focus on exhale--with all of the breathing processes we can use, to minimize anxiety, the focus is often on the exhale. The exhale, quite literally, is a letting go process as we let go of the breath. When we exhale, we can also invite the body to 'let go'. Allow the tension in the body to follow the releasing action that is the exhale.
So now, with these two blogs on anxiety, you have a few tools to play around with that will build your skill in managing yourself when you are feeling anxious. Working with the mind and the body together is a winning combination so give it your best and experiment. See what works for you and use what you learn! Anxiety is manageable. Again, if you find that you are just too activated and need help, don't hesitate to find a therapist who works with trauma recovery and emotional regulation. You have to work at it but you can gain mastery over these processes that get a hold of you.