Healing From Anxiety
For the past twenty minutes you have been sitting at your desk, a blank computer screen staring back at you. The cursor at the top of your open word document flashes rhythmically. Thump… thump… thump.
You become aware of your heartbeat and notice it steadily increasing. You feel it becoming stronger and you feel it in your stomach, travelling upward into your chest. Your palms are sweating.
You take your hands off your desk and try to dry them by rubbing them along the top of your thighs– a temporary relief. You begin to set them back down, only this time you try to steady your shaking hands by firmly gripping the edge of your desk.
The thumping increases in speed. You are feeling the overwhelm of your racing heart in your chest now; as if it’s trying to plunge forward out of your body.
“What’s wrong with me?” you think to yourself. As you try to reason with yourself, you remember you didn’t sleep well last night. Then again, you can’t remember the last time you slept well at all. The thought of this makes you immediately feel nauseated. You’ve been feeling nauseous often.
“Why is this happening to me?” you ask yourself again. “Why can’t I get this under control?”
If you have not already figured it out – yes. You are experiencing many, if not all, of the symptoms of anxiety.
Let’s focus on that last thought you had – “why can’t I get this under control?”.
Control has both everything and yet nothing to do with anxiety.
Let me explain.
What Happens to Our Bodies When We Experience Anxiety?
Anxiety only occurs in situations perceived as uncontrollable or inevitable, but which are not actually so. Fear, on the other hand, is an appropriate emotional and physical response to a noticed threat or danger.
You must be asking yourself, does this mean that we can control our fears but we cannot control our anxieties?
The answer is – yes – and no.
When we experience anxiety, our body responds by going into what is called “fight-or- flight” mode.
When we’re in fight or flight mode, we’re having a psychological reaction to a future event that we feel may be harmful to ourselves. This psychological reaction is known as the threat – we feel unsafe. Once our brain identifies this threat, it processes signals; beginning in the brain: specifically the amygdala and then the hypothalamus.
Next, a cascade of hormonal reactions occur. Your pituitary gland secretes the ACTH hormone, followed by the release of two primary stress hormones: cortisol and adrenaline. This triggers the physical effects of anxiety, such as increased heart rate, bladder relaxation, tunnel vision, shaking, dilated pupils, flushed face, dry mouth, slowed digestion and hearing loss.
All of these symptoms cause us to feel uncomfortable, and ultimately affect our ability to manage our everyday lives – work, family, relationships, emotions and ordinary, daily activities.
How Do You Get Rid of Anxiety?
The most common remedy to the physical symptoms of anxiety is to take prescription medication. Pharmaceuticals usually have a tranquilizing effect. And while they almost always help (at least, to a certain degree) relieve us of our physical symptoms, pharmaceutical drugs do not prevent our fixed habit of mind which causes us to respond with anxiety in the first place.
And when we only treat the symptom but fail to address the root cause of anxiety, we’ll never be able to be truly free from anxiety.
Overcoming Anxiety Naturally
This is why it is also important to practice natural forms of stress relief, alongside other treatments. Our mind-body system cannot adapt to anxiety, and so we need to practice forms of self-care into order to find relief and bring more mindfulness into the present moment we’re in.
Self-care teaches us that there are tools we can use to help us to become more in tune with our body’s biological responses. For example, if the body becomes aware that we are feeling unsafe, there are ways of slowing it down before it goes into the mind and triggers physical symptoms.
Here are a few ways to practice self-care each day, that will help reduce and prevent symptoms of anxiety.
The first tool we can use to heal us of anxiety is physical activity. Robust physical activity helps us flush anxiety out of our systems. For example, yoga asanas, or postures, can train our brains to relax as they help us form a conscious connection between our breath and our bodies – which almost immediately relieves anxious thoughts.
Getting a great deal of exercise and fresh air by going for walks in nature can also help us develop a deep appreciation for beauty and peacefulness and ground our mental energies.
2. Breathing Exercises
The second tool recommended for relief of anxiety are breathing exercises. In Sanskrit, breathing exercises are known as pranayama, which means “control of breath”. Pranayama is the life-force associated to our breath and plays an important role in connecting our mind and body and facilitating the experience of silent awareness.
Practicing 5 to 10 minutes of alternate nostril breathing before we meditate will help us detach from the primitive areas of our brains, which is where we fixate on anxious thoughts. Which leads me to our next self care tool..
Meditation is a self care tool should all practice, regardless of what degree we do or do not experience anxiety in our lives. When we meditate, we quiet our overanxious minds and focus on the silence that exists between every mental action.
Meditation helps us realize that we are greater than our thoughts and feelings. When we detach in this way and become more mindful, our brains forge new pathways and experiences itself without anxious thoughts.
4. A Healthy Diet
Diet also comes into play when looking for relief from anxiety. Our stomachs contain more neurons than our brains do; meaning whatever it is we decide to put in them, will have a direct impact on our conscious mind.
Natural organic foods and the removal of additives and refined sugar, balances our metabolism. Many of us will also agree that removing alcohol from our diet greatly contributes to relieving anxious thoughts. Unfortunately, today’s society encourages us to consume alcohol in order to enjoy a happier life.
In our modern world where pervasive social media creates constant pressure to communicate with others, we must find the time to connect our minds and bodies in order to find some space where pressures and anxieties do not exist.
Allow yourself time in your daily schedule to do this – give yourself permission. When our body recognizes we’re in a safe place, it may communicate more clearly and answer the question: “What do I need to resolve this anxiety?”.
We’re all unique and have different requirements on our path to healing. You may want to work with trained professionals to address and integrate experiences when you first felt fear, so the waves do not continue to come toward you in the form of anxiety. You may also need to further develop your support network so your body and mind feel supported. You are not alone.
Sadly, we all know anxiety to some varying degree but we also should know that we all can heal from it and deserve to do so.