Anxiety is a normal sensation that most of us feel every now and then, although some more often than others.
It is our body’s natural response to stress, which can be caused for a variety of reasons. We can describe anxiety as a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come: the first day of a new job, the first day after you lose your job, starting a new project or relationship, or giving a speech are examples of situations that may cause people to feel fearful and nervous.
What happens in our body when we feel anxious, and why is it so upsetting and difficult to manage?
Headache, insomnia, and a pounding heart are among the most common physical symptoms. However, these can also be accompanied by sweating, muscle tension, stomach pain, as well as distorted and negative thinking. Such distortions can include forecasting (when you are predicting a future event that hasn’t happened), self-defeat (together with an all-or-nothing way of thinking), and mind-reading (the feeling that others are negatively judging us and our work).
There is a way we can rationalize this process and cope with it.
Let’s change perspective for a second. What if I told you that anxiety is a gift?
In fact, it is our body telling us that something is not working as it should, a signal from our bodies that we need to do something differently.
Many times, when anxiety hits us, we make things worse by getting mad at ourselves for feeling anxious. This can become a vicious cycle. We feel like there is something wrong with us, we become ashamed, and we are hard on ourselves instead of saying, “You know what, actually? Thank you body. You are telling me something that I did not notice.”
Feeling anxious? Do a self-check.
When you realize you are feeling anxious, ask yourself the following:
1. Am I hungry? Sometimes when you struggle with anxiety, it may be a cue for something else. I often mistake feeling hungry or tired for anxiety.
2. Am I getting all the love that I need? Such love may come from ourselves and/or from others. Sometimes we feel under-appreciated, un-seen, and/or not loved and cherished as we feel we should be.
This is when we need to use one incredible tool: compassion. When we tap into what our body is doing and what it needs, it’s easier to have compassion.
After carrying out a quick self-check, you might realize that you need some time away from your damn screens, or you need to drink more water, or perhaps you need to be spending more time with your partner, etc. In recognizing what we’re not getting, we allow ourselves to feel compassion for the situation.
3. What does my body need? Do you need something physical like a workout or yoga? Do you need to be in nature? Do you need warmth and comfort?
If movement is the answer, remember that it can be short! Don’t let the lie of a long workout keep you from moving.
If a hit of nature sounds like the answer, I suggest catching up on all of your phone calls while on walks. Years ago I told my team, contractors, co-facilitators, and colleagues that all my calls would be done while I walked. I told them in advance and shared that if they hear sounds or noises, it was because I would be walking. I assured them they would get the absolute best version of me because when I walking I am not in front of a screen, therefore my hearing and attention are hyper-focused on them and our conversation. While on these calls, I take and refer to notes on my phone in order to stay organized. In short, I highly recommend walking while talking.
If warmth and comfort feel like the best solution, I love baths, and I also use a hot water bottle or heating pad on my belly to reduce anxiety and install a sense of calm.
Pay attention to the posture of your body, too. We might be sending signals of anxiety to our body due to our actual physical position. We might be sitting uncomfortably when driving, scrunching our face, raising our voice, running around like a maniac, et cetera. All of these compressed physical postures tax your vague nerve, which can kick off your anxiety.
Other great things you can integrate into your daily routine today are rubbing your feet, taking yoga-inspired classes, and using a foam roller. But here is the easiest one of all: leave your phone in another room and go lay on the floor. Turn your palms up, stare at the ceiling, and take twenty very slow breaths. No rush — this is your time. It allows you to become present and get a chance to talk to yourself about the main question you need to find an answer to: Am I getting what I need?