The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1 percent of the U.S. population. Anxiety symptoms of GAD include persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things.
When a person suffers with generalized anxiety symptoms, it seems like anything in the world has the power to get you worrying. Often times, your worry does not make sense to you and you can even feel silly acknowledging that these things cause you to feel dread or keep you up at night, or nag at the back of your mind as you go about your day.
These worries are not silly. Your experience of dread is real, and the effects of losing sleep over worry can lead to irritability and even depression.
Often times this is where we begin to tell ourselves, “This is silly,” or “You shouldn’t be worrying about this.” What we don’t stop to consider is that, though those things may be true, our brain is looking for things to worry about against our control.
An anxious brain tends to automatically scan the environment or circumstance for things to worry about. It’s as if it just gets left on, running in the background. Once a source of worry can be found, the body reacts.
The way our bodies react varies, but worry and anxiety often make the body experience symptoms that would be similar to the low-grade fear one might feel when faced with a threat or possible dangerous situation.
Think about how you might feel watching a scary or intense movie. Your brain and senses are taking in all of the information and your body is beginning to respond to the chemicals released because of these stimuli. Your stomach may tighten or feel a pit begin, your hands may feel clammy, your breathing may quicken. This is often what happens to people experiencing constant worry or anxiety. And when there is no relief from that kind of physical experience, tension and stress become chronic.
I find it’s helpful to think of anxiety symptoms in three different groups, and thus control the symptoms in three different ways. The first group involves the physical arousal that often results in panic. The second group includes stress, tension, and dread. The third group involves ruminating worry.
This article will focus on using Body Management to fight the first group of symptoms of anxiety.
Body Management to Fight Uncomfortable Physical Arousal and Panic
Anxiety symptoms are what your body is feeling when anxiety hits. A panic attack arouses your physical body to experience shortness of breath, accelerated pulse, dizziness and tingling. They can come unexpectedly and can be both terrifying and frustrating when they are not understood. These symptoms are not limited to panic attacks, but also include tension in shoulders, neck, and jaws, as well as stomach pain or feeling a pit in your stomach.
Take care of your bodyThese physical symptoms need physical solutions. The first method to get anxiety under control is to get your body under control. There are several ways to do this. The first is simply to be taking care of your body and health. Exercise, diet and rest are important things to consider as you address anxiety. Over exposure to caffeine and alcohol can often trigger our bodies to shift into an anxious arousal state. The same goes for lack of sleep and exercise. This is a simple tool, but a powerful one in creating in your body an arousal state that feels healthy and in control.
Use diaphragmatic breathing
The second is to use diaphragmatic breathing. This deeper form of breathing has been proven to create calm and rest in your body. As you practice this type of breathing, your body becomes adjusted to being in this state. It is incredibly helpful when living with anxiety to know how to breathe deeply and to incorporate it into your everyday life. It is also helpful when the arousal symptoms of anxiety have begun, as breathing diaphragmatically can also shift or stop the stress response altogether. If you are in practice with it, then it become that much easier to use when anxiety hits.
Practice mindful awareness
Another way to get your body under control is to practice mindful awareness. Often times the physical symptoms are so attention-grabbing that you can only think about them, and that actually exacerbates them further. Mindful awareness helps you get your thoughts off of your body and onto your surroundings. It helps you experience control over your body.
You do this by first turning your attention away from the anxiety symptoms and onto the basic experiences of your body’s movements – the way the breath feels going in and out, how your heart is beating, what you feel in your stomach. You follow this by shifting your attention away from your body and onto what you can hear, smell, or feel through your skin, the sounds in the room, the feeling of your clothing on your skin, the breeze of the fan.
Doing this back and forth gives you the experience that you are in control of your body and symptoms, that you can be present in the moment, and not a slave to every feeling in your body or thought in your head. You are in control of those things, not the other way around.
My next article will cover the second group of anxiety symptoms: Tension, Stress and Dread.
“Anxiety,” courtesy of wokandapix, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Nervous,” courtesy of xusenru, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Run to Relax,” courtesy of sneeze, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License
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