Anxiety. The word itself may trigger a response within you. Anxiety can manifest itself in various ways, and its symptoms can sometimes feel unbearable. In this blog, we will explore some of the most common symptoms of anxiety, discover the potential causes of anxiety symptoms, and explore techniques that can help slow down and relieve the symptoms of anxiety.
What are some of the most common ways anxiety shows up in our bodies?
Anxiety isn’t just something that is in our minds. It may show up in our bodies in a variety of ways. You might have heard of the fight, flight, or freeze response. Our bodies have developed a response to dangers, real or perceived, to keep us safe. Prior to modern times, humans needed to survive in the wild and were faced with more immediate dangers. Therefore, the fight, fright, or freeze response was crucial to our survival. When we experience this response, the thinking part of our brain shuts off, and the reactive part of the brain is activated. This response can be helpful when facing a wild animal, because if you’re taking the time to think about your next move, you may not get away successfully. However, in modern times, this response is not helpful when giving a presentation, making new friends, or finding a job.
One of the key first key steps in working through anxiety is to start noticing your body. Have you ever noticed how your body responds to threats, real or imagined? In therapy, some of my clients have reported stomach distress or a clenching in the abdomen area. Others have noted a noticeable increase in their heartbeat and breathing. Some have experienced shaking in their arms or legs, headaches, and sweating. Have you experienced any of these symptoms? Did you ever consider these symptoms may be related to anxiety? Do you think you’ve avoided these uncomfortable sensations in the past?
Could my anxiety be a signal for something else?
I’d like to expand upon the idea of perceived threats. In many cases, anxiety stems from past experiences when we were taught that emotions are unacceptable. For example, sadness and anger are two emotions that many people struggle with processing. Were your emotions validated or dismissed when you were a child? How was anger or sadness expressed in your family? Were these emotions even allowed to be? Ultimately, these are just two basic emotions. Others include joy, fear, disgust, excitement, and sexual excitement.
In summary, our brains have stored memories of emotional experiences and how we learned to cope with them. As a result, our present day body may have a reaction. We are usually unable to make an immediate conscious connection to those experiences in real time, but what if our anxiety was actually our bodies’ way of keeping us safe? In this case, our body may be sending us a warning signal that may not even be necessary, but just an echo of a past experience. Perhaps, there could be a hidden emotion (or two, or three) under the surface.
Reframing anxiety How can I work with the symptoms of anxiety?
We all have a desire for unconditional love and acceptance. What would it be like to begin to look at your anxious part of yourself with acceptance and love? It may sound bizarre, but think about it. How do you respond to a dear friend, family member, or partner when they are experiencing the same unbearable anxiety that you are? Conversely, how would they respond if you were harsh, ridiculing, or avoidant? Our brains will respond accordingly and can calm our bodies down when we feel accepted and safe.
First, let’s start by reframing anxiety as a signal that enables us to validate our core emotions, our needs, and real conflicts. Then, when it comes up, identify the physical sensations that you are noticing. Perhaps it is helpful to get more familiar with this anxious part of you. Just notice that part not with judgment, but with curiosity and compassion. Finally, be gentle with yourself, as reframing can be very challenging, especially when starting out.
If some of the above looks familiar, this concept is based on the Change Triangle, which was developed by Hilary Jacobs Handel. The Change Triangle is one tool that can be very effective in taming anxiety. However, it may take some practice in order to begin implementing this tool. Sometimes, we may need to slow down and use other techniques before even attempting to use the Change Triangle.
Quick techniques to use when experiencing anxiety
Breathe deeply. If it helps, sit down.
Identify things you see, sounds you hear, and say them out loud if you can.
Imagine yourself in a peaceful place, or inside a picture or painting.
Call or text a good, comforting friend or loved one.
Take a warm bath, hold a cloth filled with ice, exercise, or smell pleasing scents like citrus or flowers.
Anxiety can be extremely uncomfortable. We may have developed certain strategies, or even avoided dealing with the uncomfortable sensations, to no avail. Over time, developing a new understanding of anxiety and putting this understanding into practice can help relieve the symptoms of anxiety. Be sure to give yourself love, compassion, and patience when working through it.
Are you interested in trying out experiential psychotherapy? Reach out to myTherapyNYC to find out which of our therapists would be a good fit for you!
How does anxiety manifest itself for you? What do you think you would like to do differently in responding to your anxiety? Join the conversation in the comments below!
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