What Everyone Ought to Know about Anxiety
Have you ever found yourself worrying? If the answer is yes you are not alone. If you want to say “bye-bye worry and hi joy”, you need to learn how your body works.
Your body’s ultimate mission is to keep you alive
The drive for survival causes people to behave in weird ways that you and I know as Anxiety. For example, the other day I was at the grocery store looking for the perfect avocado. All of the sudden, the worst happened: the person besides me sneezes repeatedly and very loudly. Ugh!
I knew it was allergy season. However, I worried. I felt my heart pounding. What if this person has something more than just allergies?
I tried to ignore the sneeze. But, I couldn’t get over it. All I wanted was to wash my hands. Can you relate?
Before the global pandemic started, if you heard a sneeze, you’d offer an empathetic “bless you” and move on. But, these days, if you hear a sneeze your “fight or flight” response goes on like: “Here comes the ninja virus. Your life is threatened.”
Gosh! Why did sneezing become such a big deal?
Well, the answer relies on your complex mind-body system. You’re fully equipped with all the mechanisms you need to survive.
Your “fight or flight” response enables you to react quickly during life-threatening scenarios. Sweating, tension, breathing rapidly are physiological responses that help you to “fight the threat off” or “flee to safety”.
Calming yourself down may seem difficult, but with practice it can feel like a day in the park
Here is what I mean: The other day, I went for a walk in the park. I was waiting for the pedestrian traffic light to change to green, when I saw it! The cutest squirrel eating a peanut in the middle of the pedestrian crossing. So fluffy and focused on the peanut.
Blink! The pedestrian traffic light changed to green. I proceeded to cross the street while enjoying a sunny and warm day.
Then, out of the blue I heard it. “HOONK! HOOOOONK!”
A red truck driving toward me (and the squirrel), honking like crazy. It was my turn to cross but clearly the driver was not stopping. I reacted in a second. I ran quickly to the safety of the sidewalk. Phew!
What the heck was that? My heart was pounding, my breathing agitated. Fear, anger and concern. I was so upset. The day was still sunny and warm, but I was no longer able to enjoy and relax.
At that moment I wondered about the squirrel, where was she? There she was, eating another peanut and looking very unconcerned as if nothing happened. How did she get over it so fast?
The answer: the squirrel turned off its “fight or flight” response as soon the red trunk threat was gone. The squirrel survived and moved on, it was no longer thinking about the “I almost die”event. While my case was the opposite. I was so anxious, experiencing mixed feelings of anger and fear. I wasn’t able to move on as fast as the squirrel did.
Intellectually, I knew the red truck was no longer a threat, but my imagination was making up stories
My mind was racing with anxious thoughts. Why do they let such people drive? What if this happened to my grandma? She moves slower than I do and she loves walking in this park…What if…?
Time to practice anxiety management techniques. I needed to to reach out for those tools that help me turn off my “fight or flight” mode. I found a bench, far from the street that seemed safe enough. I sat on the bench, put a hand on my heart and acknowledged to myself “That red trunk really scared me, and that’s okay”. I took the time to recognize how difficult that moment was, then I began to feel better. I paid attention to my body for a while. My body felt less contracted.
After a couple of minutes, the magic happened! I felt better. I won’t lie, I still felt unrested. However, good enough to enjoy my walk in the park again.
Getting to know your body is the key
Your body constantly fires up “fight or flight” responses in moments when it doesn’t help. Meaning you’re not under a life-threatening situation so running or fighting does nothing to helping you. No, wonder why many of us feel so anxious and tired all the time!
The news are your mind make sense of common life stressors as a life-threatening events
How does your body feel now? What will happen to you if your “fight or flight” response gets activated 96 times per day (imagine that feeling of a trunk driving towards you times 96) – that’s once every 10 minutes. Wouldn’t that make you feel tired and unhappy? Of course it will.
In modern life we are expose to a huge amount of information. Research indicates that an average adult checks her phone every 10 min. And let’s be honest, sometimes we are checking out funny stuff. But, a lot of the time is more like:
- An instagram post showing polar bears starving due climate change
- Your coworker texting you – she lost her job, and she thinks you are next
- A news article titled “Tragedy for all of us, how nurses are dying during COVID-19”
If you feel anxious after reading those headings that’s understandable. Your body can interpret news as life-threatening event. Your body wants to keep you alive, so your fight and flight response gets activated.
Your body is confused. Trying to save you from the news in your phone with the wrong strategy. Reality check. you can’t run away from the news, as I did when escaped from the red truck.
If you truly want to feel calmer, happier and have the energy to do it all. Begin by paying attention to your body. Self-awareness is powerful
The next step is to put your knowledge into action. Next time that you feel your “fight and flight” response fired up ask yourself, what is all this about? How can I help myself? Cultivating curiosity about your experience is a practice will support your self-awareness muscle, which is vital to achieve that calmness and happiness you pursue.
If you want to know more about how to manage your anxiety and get over “that thing” stopping your ideal life, you are in the right place. Stay tuned for future articles where I’ll describe the foundations of anxiety management to help you uncover life beyond anxiety.