What To Do When Your Body Won't Stop Being Anxious
What To Do When Your Body Won’t Stop Being Anxious
By Laura Machado, PsyD
When your body is gripped by anxious sensations, it can feel like actual torture. It’s like a terrible storm is sweeping up and down your body, threatening to suffocate you from the inside out. It’s a near impossible task to focus on anything but tracking and surviving the waves of anxious, physical sensations. Sometimes there’s no clear trigger why this is happening; sometimes the trigger is long over, but your nervous system has remained stuck in “emergency mode.” It can feel hopeless, like will my nervous system ever let go?!
I have the answer: YES. YES, there is absolutely a way to reset your nervous system so that you can live free from the torment of physical anxiety. It actually can go away. You can be you again. I am certain of this.
If you’re interested in this topic, you’ve probably already googled and learned you “should” try to meditate, do some deep breathing, do some yoga. All of those things are great, worthwhile ideas (you should try them)… AND hard. Anything that requires you to feel your body while you’re feeling this anxious may sound instinctively like a bad idea (it’s not - but that’s not the point of this post). I have another idea of something you might find less intimidating to do that has big payoffs: Precious Moments (keep reading, I'll explain).
When you’re wrapped in physical anxiety like this, your mind and body are SCARED. They are in emergency mode. Your body and mind are convinced a major life-threatening attack is on the horizon. Their job is to help you survive, so they begin scanning for danger. Your mind begins to pay super close attention to your body, scanning it for signs of anxiety, concluding, “Oh shoot, there’s some anxiety. Is there more? How about now? Am I still anxious? Shoot, I’m still anxious.” You might wake up in the morning, and the first thing you think is, “Am I okay? Am I anxious? Oh shoot, there’s some anxiety. Is it going to get worse? Yup, it just got worse. Shoot, what if it gets as bad as it did that one time... ” Cue the wave of torment that is physical anxiety symptoms. It's awful.
Ironically, to try to protect you, your mind and body have come to expect and prepare for danger. They are staying in emergency mode.
So to get relief, we need to teach your mind and body to EXPECT safety-- to think of safety as the norm. We want your nervous system to be more optimistic and assume that peace is normal. Peace is just how it is. In other words, we need to give your nervous system some hope that the war is over.
This is where what I’ve dubbed “Precious Moments” come into play. “Precious Moments” are moments in which, even for a minuscule microsecond, your body is at peace. A minuscule microsecond when you’re living, not even noticing your body. If you’re reading this thinking that never happens to you, I reckon you might be wrong. I’ve never met a person for whom there is not even the most microscopic moment. Maybe it’s when you “faked it” and said, “Hi!” to someone earlier. In that briefest of moments of raising your hand, giving a wave, looking at them and saying, "Hi!" you weren’t aware of your anxiety. Maybe it was when you checked the temperature of your shower by sticking your hand in the running water. In that microscopic moment of touching the water, maybe your focus was on your hand, and your body was at peace. Maybe it was the briefest of moments when you were in a fitness class and you lost yourself just for a split-second to the music. Usually it’s hard to find these moments, and you might only find two of them, and those two may add up to a grand total of ½ a second, but they are there.
So here’s the task: use these Precious Moments as evidence to re-train your mind and body to expect peace. How? Every single day, at some point (I recommend morning), sit down with a pen and paper or computer and keyboard and think back on the day before. Scan through the previous day in your mind searching for micro-moments that were so PRECIOUS because your body and nervous system were okay in that micro-moment. Find them and write them down.
At first you might just find 2 moments per day. The goal is to find 5 everyday. Work your way there.
What happens then, is as you get practiced in scanning through your experience of the previous day for moments of physical peace, you get better at it. Two moments become easy to find; then suddenly you can find five, or even more. Then, the actual practice of every morning sitting down to think of Precious Moments from the day before becomes a Precious Moment itself. This is because you are mentally re-living the previous day from the perspective of looking for peaceful moments; as you do that, your mind and cells get the message: "peace." And then what happens is you start to notice the peace in the moment it's actually happening. So, for example, you may go through your day and notice a micro-moment of physical peace as it’s happening. You might say to yourself, “Oh! This is a precious moment! I have to remember it for tomorrow morning to write down.” Suddenly, you aren't just cognitively knowing that there was a good moment; you are, in the moment, soaking the moment up at a cellular level.
This practice of documenting Precious Moments every day trains your brain to stop scanning for danger and to start scanning for peace. It then trains your brain to notice it in the moment and soak it in. As you begin to notice Precious Moments in the moment they’re happening, your body begins to feel it in the moment too. As you then re-live it by writing it down the next day, your mind and your body’s cells remember that moment.
We feel what we get used to feeling. By doing this practice, you get used to looking for and feeling peace. Your body can then put down its guard and your nervous system can go back to its natural state of relaxation.
To put it differently, you change the paradigm of your body and mind. They go from being in emergency mode, expecting danger to being open and relaxed and looking forward to safety and peace. And as that happens, your body and mind get to relax because they can expect that they will be okay.
Imagine how it will feel for your body to just expect that everything is okay. That can be your reality. I am sure of it. Start with the practice of Precious Moments, every day, and see where it takes you.
I’m excited for you to begin to feel safe and peaceful again. <3
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