Anxiety has become the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting more than 40 million adults. The symptoms that anxiety creates in the mind and body include:
- Excessive worry, apprehension, uncertainty or expectation
- Restlessness, feeling keyed up or on edge
- Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
- Fatigue due to unsatisfying sleep (difficulty falling or staying asleep)
- Muscle tension and difficulty relaxing
- Irritability and lack of inner peace
Anxiety is developed from chronic worrying, which is thinking about something you want to avoid from happening. This could be something in the future that you anticipate will turn out negatively, or something that happened in the past that you wish didn’t happen.
As the mind ruminates about anxiety-provoking scenarios, the body responds as if the scenarios were happening in the present moment. Since the body is unable to be in the future or past, it causes anxiety symptoms.
Anxiety symptoms can also stem from a lack of trust that everything will work out or have a good outcome. This mistrust in life’s process evokes a need to control outcomes and can cause obsessive thinking. Fear of not being able to control leads to anxiety.
Anxiety can also come about from feelings of inadequacy, believing that you are not equipped or able to handle what life presents. This causes apprehension and dread, resulting in fear of change, or inability to move forward with life goals.
Some people become predisposed to an anxiety disorder if they have been exposed to threatening situations that stimulate their fight- flight-freeze response. Bullying, domestic violence, sexual abuse, physical abuse, witnessing someone being harmed, an accident, or combat are all examples. If during the threatening event the person was powerless to fight or flee, this can cause a maladaptive fight flight mode. Not having a safe place to decompress or process the threatening event can result in intermittent, unprovoked physical symptoms such as:
- Fear or thoughts that disallow peace of mind
- Cold or sweaty hands or feet
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities
- Muscle tension
The good news is anxiety is treatable. The key is being able to calm the nervous system and mind.
One effective way to calm the mind is by using the five senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste to bring the mind to the present moment. This is done by asking, “What am I seeing right now? Take a moment, look and answer the question.
Next ask, “What am I hearing right now?” Take a moment, listen and answer the question.
Then ask, “What am I smelling right now?” Take a moment, breathe in and answer the question.
Next ask, “What am I touching right now?” Stop, become aware of everything that is in contact with your body and answer the question.
Then ask, “What am I tasting?” become aware of any flavors in your mouth and answer the question.
Then affirm in your mind, ‘All I have to do is be in this moment. I can handle everything life brings me one moment at a time.’ This exercise brings the mind to the present moment, which makes it nearly impossible to have anxiety. Repeat this exercise each time you are aware of worry thoughts about the future or past.
One effective way to calm the nervous system when it is keyed up is to practice ‘sleep breathing,’ while awake. Sleep breathing is the way the body breathes during sleep. Do this exercise by sitting in a quiet place. Close your eyes and take in at least three long, deep inhalations and exhalations (you can slowly count to five or six with each inhale and five or six with each exhale). Now let your breathing return to its natural breathing pattern. Allow your body to breathe all on its own without your assistance for at least one minute. If your mind wanders, bring it back to your breath, staying aware of your natural breathing pattern. This exercise stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response), bringing your heart rate and pulse back to resting. This resets your nervous system. Practice sleep breathing throughout the day for at least 60 seconds each time you notice you have shallow breathing.
Practicing exercises that calm the mind and nervous system each day will help manage anxiety and bring more peace into your being. Living a life with more peace is not only healthier but promotes a more enjoyable way to live life.
Written by Elisabeth Davies, MC
Author of Good Things Emotional Healing Journal: Addiction