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Anxiety is Not Our Enemy

Anxiety is not our enemy. I understand that you may feel like your mind and body is failing you but they're not. Your body is trying to help you. It’s just being a bit overactive. Our mind must always be aware of what our body is trying to tell us. It’s just like when we need to eat our stomach growls. When we are in danger our body shoots out adrenaline signaling a fight, flight or freeze response so that you can protect yourself from what’s being perceived as danger. Our anxiety is there to protect us. It’s just being a little overprotective and we have to re-train it. If you fight against your anxiety you’re only fighting against yourself. This causes an internal conflict because our mind knows rationally that we’re not in danger but our body is trapped in the past. Our body holds our symptoms.

This conflict is a lose/lose situation so stop fighting it. Accept that you have anxiety. It’s ok! It’s ok to have anxiety. Once you’re able to understand and accept the anxiety you can work on managing it. The goal is to balance being accepting of our current circumstances while also trying to improve. We can’t work on what we don’t, first, accept. Acceptance does not mean giving in or giving up. It means having kindness and compassion for our body that, for whatever reason, it’s sensing danger and trying to warn us.

Symptoms of anxiety can be easily triggered by any big life changes both good and bad: marriage/divorce; a birth/a death; or buying a house/selling a house. In these circumstances, experiencing some level of anxiety is completely normal. Most of us don’t like or adapt well to change so our body alerts us of danger. Anxiety is a fear of the unknown. Because we don’t know what’s going to happen or if we’re making the right decision it makes our future uncertain which causes us to worry and become anxious.

Most of the time there’s a rational, logical reason to be fearful and sometimes that fear only lives in our imagination. Now some people might not like that word “imagination” but, ironically, that’s reality! Our symptoms are real but what’s triggering our symptoms is conjured up our imagination from fear, anger, guilt, etc… Examples of this is when we get anxious about something that happened in the past and is now over, when we worry or catastrophize about something in the future that hasn’t happened yet; or when we become anxious for seemingly no good reason.

When we start to feel anxiety we must never ignore it. If we deny or repress it we are just packing it away in the already overfilled baggage that will eventually explode. We must be aware of our body and what it’s trying to tell us. Know what signals your body gives you before reaching the point of no return when full blown anxiety hits. We all feel stress differently. Pay attention to the gradual buildup of physiological changes in the body: heart racing or beating heavily, sweaty palms, flushed face, mind starting to wander, clinched jaw, fidgeting, etc... The sooner you identify the stress the sooner you can intervene and calm yourself back down. If you ignore these signs you’ll be like an unsupervised boiling pot of water on the stove just waiting to boil over.

This is when we need support the most. Be good to your mind and body and take care of yourself. Acknowledge that your body is doing its job. Instead of getting angry, which causes anxiety over our anxiety, do things that will send a message to it that you’re ok and safe: exercise, listen to music, get a massage, pray, do something fun, etc… These coping skills are part of our self-care and self-love. One of the most important coping skills is positive self-talk because we say and hear enough we eventually believe. We’re often more compassionate to strangers passing us on the street than we are to ourselves.

A great way to check our self-talk is to think about how you would react to a friend that was anxious to start a new job, put themselves out there to date again or address a problem with a loved one. Hopefully, you wouldn’t laugh or yell at them and tell them how stupid they are for feeling that way. You would instead, of course, be nurturing and supportive. This is the same way we must treat ourselves. A great coping technique, and one of my favorites, allows us to connect our mind, body and spirit, check in with our heart and send it that love and encouragement we need most.

Heart-Centered Exercise

  • Engage in proper breathing by slowly breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Put one hand on your belly and the other hand on your heart. As you breathe in the hand on your belly should be sticking out more than the hand on your heart. As you breathe out the hand on your belly will go back down. Your belly should be moving in and out more than any other part of your body.

  • Keep one hand on your heart and turn your focus inwards so that you can feel the beating of your heart. It helps to close your eyes. If you can’t feel it right away don’t panic. You’re not dead! This just shows how disconnected your mind may be from your body, which means this is a great exercise for you. Keep breathing g and focus on your heart until you feel the beat.

  • Choose one or more statements to say to yourself either out loud or in your head (out loud is more powerful): I am calm. I am peaceful. I am loved. I am confident. I am strong. I can do this. I am safe. I am good. I am capable. I am worth it. I matter.

  • Repeat these statements until your anxiety decreases and you feel more calm.

For more help managing anxiety check out these resources on the free app Insight Timer:

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