What is anxiety? Why do I feel this way? How do I alleviate it?
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a prevalent experience for many, and is a common talking point with friends, family, clients and acquaintances.
Anxiety is our body’s natural inbuilt alarm, designed to keep us safe in times of perceived threat or danger. Particularly useful in times when we may have been out hunting for food or were required to potentially run from a sabretooth tiger. However, in modern society, many people are navigating feelings & symptoms of anxiety without the threat or danger. The pace and demands of modern society can have us in a perpetual stress state, and the body feels overwhelmed or threatened.
Ultimately, anxiety is a warning, an alarm state of the bodymind.
Anxiety may also be described as:
The gap between expectation and reality
False evidence appearing real (F.E.A.R)
A misalignment of values, behaviours + choices
Underlying fear or worry about an event in the future that has not yet occurred (and often, may not).
An attempt to control an outcome that is out of our control
A manifestation/reaction of/from unresolved trauma within bodymind
Dr Gordon Neufeld states anxiety is ultimately separation anxiety, we are separated from our Self. It is our younger inner child asking for attention, for love and for compassion.
Why do I feel this way?
We have arguably, as a species, become somewhat disconnected from the way humans are designed to live in the natural world. Big cities, high pressure office jobs, artificial environments, significant financial burdens, rushing between myriad obligations, 18+ hour days, disrupted circadian rhythms and so on. This can all contribute to a perpetual stress state, a constant perceived threat to our wellbeing, and consequently anxiety may arise.
Our brain does not know the difference between a real and perceived event. Therefore an anxious thought to the bodymind is perceived as a real event. As a result, the stress response & related cascade of physiological effects can be triggered.
As an example, this could occur when we are in a relatively safe environment & simply standing in line for our morning coffee at the local cafe, but the mind is thinking of the busy & stressful day ahead. This triggers the cascade of physiological events in the bodymind, preparing you to run from or fight the perceived threat/danger. Hence the wide variety of physical symptoms that may come with anxiety.
We can benefit if we may take the view that anxiety is also a beautiful messenger or guide, it is the body’s way of asking for our attention and letting us know that something may require change.
You may lean into the physical sensations of anxiety. Where do you feel it in your body? What may have been the trigger for this sensation to arise at this moment? This can be a beautiful guide that leads you on the path of incremental change and healing.
How to alleviate anxiety?
As mentioned above, it’s important to note, anxiety is a healthy and natural response from the body, designed to keep us safe. We will never fully eradicate anxiety, and we don’t want to because ultimately, it is keeping us safe. However it is most certainly possible to alleviate the additional angst & anxiety we may experience from our modern living & lifestyle choices, and revert back to the natural and healthy anxiety levels the body was designed to experience & recover from.
Alleviating anxiety can often require a multi faceted approach due to the different reasons that anxiety can arise & manifest in a person. No two people have the same triggers or underlying reasons for feeling this way.
Considerations such as past trauma, current life events or recent trauma, lifestyle choices, nutrition quality, gut health, brain health, state of nervous system, general bodymind health, work, family dynamics past and present, finances, birth control choices, hormones, personality types and underlying beliefs can all contribute.
Incredibly common feedback that I tend to hear and certainly from my own lived experience is regarding talk therapy: while it can be an incredible support, it may not help a person with unresolved trauma within the bodymind (fascia, cellular memory etc) to alleviate their physiological symptoms of anxiety. People may spend years in talk therapy, come to understand what anxiety is from a cognitive perspective, yet without feeling any change in the physiological symptoms. Talk therapy certainly has its place and is brilliant for so many reasons, however when it comes to anxiety, in many cases, somatic experiencing, practices to nurture the nervous system & body work can be what is required to ultimately facilitate a deeper whole bodymind healing.
Good news is, there are so many things we can do to help alleviate the additional anxiety, nurture & regulate our nervous system and effectively rebalance the bodymind.
Grounding 5 senses.
Identify 3 things you can hear, see, touch, taste and smell.
Challenging unhelpful thoughts - Utilising the below line of questioning:
Is it happening now?
Is it realistic?
Will it matter in 5 years?
Is it within my control?
Managing what is within your control, and letting go/accepting of that which is not in your control.
The old saying rings true "If you can change a situation, then there is no need to worry. If you cannot change a situation then worrying will do no good."
Breathwork - deep diaphragmatic breathing practices, stimulating the vagus nerve.
Regular movement - to help express and release the anxious energy from the bodymind
Connect with the earth, barefoot
Anti inflammatory nutrition
Reduce, or cut out entirely, alcohol
Review expectations of a situation
Consider if you are connecting with a person, job or event that does not align with your core personal values and beliefs.
A simple example would be if you were working for an organisation that was of detriment to something you personally value, or you were hanging around a person who was consistently intentionally deceitful, yet you valued and embodied integrity.
Connect with people you trust and feel safe with
Talk therapy, in conjunction with physiological practices.
Engaging in a combination of the above suggestions can have a multitude of benefits for the bodymind. You may notice other benefits in addition to alleviating feelings of anxiety. These a holistic approaches, so they will naturally impact the bodymind as a whole, no bodily system operates in isolation.
Keep in mind, it can take time to implement sustainable change. Go slow & show yourself compassion and kindness.
If you’re navigating anxiety and feel like there is no way out, please reach out. You’re not alone, and it can certainly get better.
Personal context & anecdote
I had previously navigated debilitating anxiety for what was well over a decade, closer to 15 years or so. Eventually navigating a disease diagnosis which was the evolutionary catalyst that led me to seek change and commence a path of Self healing.
In the months leading up to that diagnosis, I was literally thinking to myself, this is rock bottom. My mental health was in a fragile way, to say the least.
On the outside though, to most people who didn’t know me intimately, I was achieving goals and was relatively happy & outgoing. However, internally and in privacy, I struggled to leave the house most days, I found it too overwhelming to go to the grocery store, I did everything possible to avoid people and social situations and I felt the anxiety deeply within my physical body (primarily in the gut/solar plexus and chest/heart space).
I was physically tense, I had gut issues, hormone imbalances, breathing dysfunction, inflammation throughout the body, skin flare ups and so on.
That health diagnosis did well to stop me in my tracks, and to very quickly overhaul my lifestyle in every single way.
As a result, I have been able to alleviate anxiety and bodymind ailments with a holistic & multi faceted approach - through all of the suggestions in this post, combined, consistently over days, months and years. And I can honestly say that I feel the best I have ever felt in my life in this present moment. I feel a beautiful vitality in bodymind and an unshakeable gratitude to be able to now share this information with others to assist them in their own journey.