Breaking the Cycle of Anxiety
Fear is rooted in the body, which has a natural way of dealing with it, as it does with every feeling. First there is a trigger that causes the body to react with fear. Once the cause is gone, the body clears away the fear response. Finally, it calms down, returning to its normal state of balance. The body knows how to get out of fear, a knowledge it has possessed for millions of years. So why don't we let it?
People who suffer from anxiety bypass their bodies because they get trapped in their panicky thoughts. The voice of fear paints scenarios of disaster that seem believable. Panicky thoughts quickly become obsessive, running through one fearful outcome after another. Anxiety makes it all but impossible to make rational decisions; therefore, the voice of fear becomes ever more believable even when the disasters it foresees are not reasonable at all. For example, a phobic feels that he will die if he climbs a ladder, goes out of the house, touches a spider or whatever the phobia happens to be, yet in these cases the voice of fear is talking nonsense when viewed rationally. Rationality is not what matters here. It's what you believe that matters, always.
If you suffer from anxiety, your mind has gotten into the habit of holding on to fear instead of letting the response follow its natural cycle. What you need to do is to get it back into its normal rhythm. Your body wants to respond naturally but is being held back. Left to itself, the fear response isn't mental; it's physical. There are three steps to get the body accustomed to being in charge of fear again.
1. Get out of your mind and back into your body.
2. Clear the fear response.
3. Calm the body into its natural state of relaxation.
These steps must proceed in the order above. You can't use simple relaxation until the fear response has run its course, and the response won't end as long as the mind keeps fueling it with new reasons to be afraid. If you perform each step thoroughly, anxiety will subside and go away.
Step 1: Get Out of the Mind and Back into the Body
It is best to notice if you're having anxious thoughts early on, before the spiral of anxiety fully takes hold. To get out of the mind, sit or lie down in a quiet place. Close your eyes, and feel your body. The sensations won't be nice, because fear is cold, contracted, stiff, empty and trembling. Those are the basic sensations your body will be feeling. There may also be muscle weakness like when your knees turn to jelly or an ache around the heart. A sick feeling in the pit of the stomach is common. Even though these sensations aren't pleasant, rest assured, they want to go out. Your body always tries to discharge discomfort, but it can't do that while you are living in your head and blocking the release that needs to happen.
Take a few minutes and let yourself settle into the feeling of being in your body before you go on to step 2. For many anxious people even a few seconds feeling the body is too long. The mind jumps back in to take control. Before they know it, they are caught up in anxious thinking. Here are some tips on how to stay with your body instead of jumping back into your thoughts:
- Take deep breaths. Draw the air down into the pit of your stomach, then easily and slowly release it again.
- Follow your breath as it goes in and out, feeling it pass through your nose.
- Lower your shoulders, a very relaxing movement. Letting your head nod until your chin rests on your chest is also very relaxing.
- Sigh or yawn.
- Accompany your sighs or deep breathing with a low moan of relaxation.
Step 2: What you feel and what to do about anxiety