Anxiety is characterised by a tension in the mind reflected in the body. There is a non-acceptance of self, circumstances or surroundings. This rejection is a form of self-protection that was created sometime previous and served well then. Now it is lingering perhaps without need and stands in the way of enjoying certain situations or even being able to relax.
Anxiety is often connected to trauma. If there was trauma in the past (as there is to some degree for most people, if not everyone) the mind created ways to defend against a recurrence. It alerts you to similar situations that could led to the same painful experience. It signals the body to ready itself, putting it into ‘fight or flight’ mode. This mode can affect perceptions, ability to judge a situation properly is affected. In a state of hyper-vigilance, the senses are heightened, adrenaline and cortisol levels rise accordingly. This experience is stressful for both body and mind, therefore, those suffering from anxiety can feel drained by basic daily interactions. Social engagements – even the thought of them can be exhausting because they put the body and mind into overdrive.
Some somatic (bodily) symptoms of anxiety are;
- Muscle tension
A heightened state of awareness where the body and mind are extra-sensitive to surrounding activity. This includes movement and noise and can be very stressful. Senses are desperately trying to determine any hidden dangers.
During spells of anxiety the body tightens up to ready itself for ‘fight or flight’. The experience of panic causes the body to stiffen as a way to defend itself. Muscle pain, back pain, tightness in the jaw and neck are possible results of the muscle tension that comes with anxiety. This discomfort can last long after the anxiety passes.
Breath is badly affected by anxiety. It shortens into the chest, becomes quicker which can cause hyperventilation. There is a vicious cycle here, lack of oxygen getting to organs compounds the somatic symptoms of anxiety. When breath is affected in this way the mind is scattered and perceiving the situation accurately is even more difficult.
Suggestions for alleviating anxiety and it’s symptoms:
- Find what calms you – nature images and sounds are great. Some find ocean sounds work well, others prefer birdsong or rainfall. Have these resources ready on your phone to use as needed.
- Breath work – practice belly breathing daily so you can engage it when anxiety hits. Getting outside automatically changes breath. The body responds to green and blue spaces by taking deep breaths of clean fresh air. This gets into the organs and blood, a great remedy for the body and mind after an experience of anxiety.
- Get to know triggers – what in your past has left you in defence? For example an experience of bullying in school may create social anxiety in adulthood. There is great effort put into avoiding the same painful experience. Knowing what can set off your anxiety helps observe better and catch it in the moment.
- Sending Compassion – instead of judging the anxious mind, send it compassion and acceptance. Embrace it if you can. This does not mean allowing to to take over, rather speaking to it from the observer point of view, telling it you understand its presence and re-assuring it there is no real danger.
- Loosen the body – before, during or after an experience that causes anxiety, make sure to ground the body to the Earth. Do so by walking on grass or sand. If you can’t access nature then imagine your feet becoming rooted into the Earth. Shake out your hands and roll the neck, if you are conscious of onlookers then simply close your eyes for a few seconds.
- Relax deeply – As much as you can, learn how to relax deeply. This may seem unproductive but is a vital part of recovery for a body and mind that experience anxiety. It is healing of the nervous system which in turn affects your immune system. To engage yourself in deeply relaxed yet awake state try using guided meditation or walks in nature.