recently read a story about a college professor who brought in a glass of water and held it over her head. She then proceeded to ask the class about to guess how heavy the glass of water was. After several guesses, the professor said, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is how long I hold it. If I hold it for a short period of time, it won’t seem heavy at all. But the longer I hold it, the heavier it will become. And at some point, it will become almost impossible to hold it because my arms will give out and my hands won’t be able to grasp the glass.
When I read this story, I realized how often many people get stuck holding their own “glass of water” when they’re dealing with anxiety. The longer they hold onto anxiety, the more unbearable it gets to the point that it becomes almost impossible to hold. One of the most difficult parts of anxiety is that sometimes people don’t have a good reason for feeling anxious and then they begin to put themselves down for feeling anxious. And the spiral continues. And soon they’re stuck. Stuck holding the glass of water (anxiety) for days and weeks and months to the point that it feels impossible to hold.
What many people don’t realize about anxiety is that it is a symptom of what your mind or body are trying to tell you. For example, we know that adrenals or thyroids not functioning properly can cause some people to have heart palpitations. Your body is giving you a physical sensation to alert you that something is off and needs your attention. While the physical sensations of anxiety are uncomfortable, I think it’s important to pay attention to what they are trying to tell you. Here are 3 tips to help you figure out your anxiety, and hopefully be able to put it down, at least temporarily:
Notice your body sensations
While the bodily sensation that come with anxiety, heart palpitations, racing thoughts, shortness of breath, are very uncomfortable. They do provide us with good information. There have been times that my physical sensations get so uncomfortable that I stop what I’m doing and pay attention to what’s happening in my body. When I pause long enough to notice, it usually means that I need to pause, take a break or quick rest.
Try this: When you have uncomfortable bodily sensations, try taking inventory of them. I usually like to start at the top of my head, going all the way down to my toes, and notice any unpleasant or uncomfortable body sensations. As I do, I say things like, “My shoulders are really tense, I must be holding some tension there.” Or “My shoulders are up by my ears; I wonder if I can relax them some.” Then I focus on breathing slowly in through my nose and out my mouth, then exhale trying to relax that specific area. I try to do this 3-5 times and I usually feel better and more relaxed in just a few minutes. This works even better when you can do it when you are calm! I call this brain training…when we practice something when we’re not anxious or agitated, we train our brains to calm down quicker in a crisis. It’s like what a workout does for our physical body.
Notice your thoughts
Sometimes when we pause and notice our body sensations, we get overwhelmed and go to the worst-case scenario. This is one of the reasons that many people do not like to pause if their anxiety is heightened. The quiet causes their brains to spiral and think of all the terrible things that might be happening in your body. It’s important to just notice your thoughts, not attach any meaning to them yet, but instead just notice them.
Try this: When you are anxious, try to slow your heart rate by slowing your breathing. Then as the thoughts come up label them by saying, “Oh, that’s a scary thought,” or “I hadn’t thought of that one yet.” This is going to be hard at first. But the more you practice the better you get at it. Because most of the time, the thoughts that we have when we’re anxious make absolutely no sense. And then when we’re calm, we realize how inaccurate those thoughts were in the moment.
Notice your behaviors
Many people I work with want to be alone when they’re having anxiety or panic. And depending on who you’re with this may not be a bad idea. But one of the things we know about the brain is that the person with a calmer nervous system can calm the person with the more reactive nervous system. Think of a toddler having a melt-down and their mother can come in, give them a hug and a kiss, and they quickly calm down. The mother has a calmer nervous system and can calm the toddler’s more reactive nervous system. Knowing this, it might be better for you to stay present with your safe person.
Try this: When you’re experiencing heighten anxiety, try to sync your breathing with your safe person. Even though they aren’t doing anything, they have a calmer nervous system, and can therefore calm your nervous system as well.
Hopefully, I’ve given you a place to start in how to put your anxiety down and give your body some rest. If you still need help with managing your anxiety, join us for the Anxiety Management Group for Adults August 9-October 11 (No Group on Labor Day, September 6). We will be covering topics to help you be the boss of your anxiety! Check out our website and social media for more information.
I love working with highly sensitive people. If you think you might need counseling or coaching, and especially If you’re highly sensitive, please feel free to contact me at 317.496.0456 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to hear what is happening and help you find the right fit for counseling or life coaching. If you are looking for help with burn out, depression, anxiety, trauma or behavioral concerns, you can read more about how I can help at my website peacefamilycounseling.