Anxiety. The monkey that sits atop our shoulder, wriggling and jiggling, weighing down and informing thoughts, which become our actions…or fear of action…
The thing about anxiety is that inherently it’s a protective, positive thing to experience. You feel anxiety to prepare you for danger, to alert you to hazards, to protect you from harm. And yet in our modern life we no longer have to fight for survival and dodge sabre toothed tigers in the same way that we used to, unless perhaps playing a video game slouched on our sofa. But our brain and stress responses are triggered in exactly the same way as if we were that caveman who relied on the physical response of anxiety in order to survive.
Anxiety tends to manifest itself in several ways: with mental responses and with physical. You may not even be aware that you’re physically responding to stress and just think that your constant neck tension is something you have to live with, rather than a direct response to your thought processes. If not kept in check, negative thought processes can begin to dominate, as if you’ve allowed an uninvited house guest to simply take up residence in your spare room and have no idea how to make them leave. How can we rein in intense feelings of anxiety in our lives, if it’s become something that is out of balance and affecting our ability to live our lives in a calm and fluid way?
Firstly, it all comes down to the breath. Everything. It begins and ends with our breath, life. And yet it’s something we forget about and take for granted. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, when your child is pushing your buttons or your boss is being a f*ckwit, instead of mirroring the snarkiness and the tantrum vibes, tune into your breathing. Close your eyes (unless you’re trying to wrestle your toddler across a road safely in which case, keep the eyes on the prize…), and take a long deep inhalation in through the nose. Consciously draw the breath into the back of the ribs, wide into the back of your body. Sigh the breath out through the mouth if you can, allowing your exhalation to be longer than your inhalation. Soften your jaw, your cheeks, your forehead.
Next, if you have more time. Do a body scan. Preferably sitting or lying down but you can do this while on the go, a real test of mindfulness in action. Start with your feet. Connect to all ten toes. Travel your mind up through the body, settling upon each part of your body and asking it to release its tension. Send each part of your body a hug and a high five. Realise that your thoughts ARE you body’s thoughts. Each of your cells responds to your negative internal dialogue. So they will also respond to a positive internal dialogue. Smile. Fake it to make it – your body and brain will believe your smile, and the joy rush will follow.
Write down your worries, and see that as a way of letting them be released from your thoughts. Dump all of your niggly fears and swirly thoughts in a notebook and tell yourself that is the only space they’re allowed. Shut the door on your uninvited house guest.
See anxiety as your friend rather than your enemy. A helping comfort enabling you to make strong decisions, rather than a scary monkey sitting on your shoulder, his hands over your eyes, sabotaging your resilience. Things are going to be ok. Everything is ok. You’ve got this. All is well.
Breathe. Soften. Lighten.