Disclaimer: I do not have clinical anxiety, nor am I formally educated in this realm, so please don’t take this advice in lieu of that of a medical professional.
I was struck with intense sensations of anxiety a few weeks ago, and this was due to a multitude of factors.
A few weeks of continuous travel with very little alone time (which is essential for my well-being)
More alcohol than usual
Too little nutrient-dense food
The energy of those around me
Several of these things are within my direct control.
I can make better food choices.
I can consume less booze.
I can enforce stronger boundaries around my sleep habits and travel plans.
I can ensure my energetic boundaries are stronger when in the company of certain people.
However, work stress is an example of a type of stress that is seemingly unavoidable for many people.
For you, work might be a breeze, but the real stress comes from personal relationships, finances, or health concerns, just to name a few.
While we may not be able control situations like this (at least immediately), we can control our responses to our thoughts and physiological reactions.
The physical, anxiety-ridden reaction might be:
Knots in the stomach
Tightness in the chest
Or any other manifestations specific to you
Our bodies believe we’re in a state of distress, so our “fight or flight” mode kicks in.
Logically, we may be able to tell ourselves that there is no reason to be fearful if we believe this to be true, but this doesn’t mean the physical sensations will subside.
Therefore, our only option at this point is to witness these physical sensations. That’s it. Notice and observe them. The minute we try to fight them, they intensify and persist.
Does this mean the feelings of discomfort immediately dissipate with this observation?
No, but it changes our relationship to them, and this is everything.
(**Does this sound similar to our relationships to our thoughts we aim to achieve during meditation? It should, because it’s the exact same concept!)
Our bodies and minds are strange entities, and they’re often doing their own things without any input from “us”. Yet, we identify with their ebbs and flows so deeply and without hesitation.
Feeling anxious usually involves both our minds and bodies—the incessant thoughts that send us down a spiral of fear and the physical sensations noted above.
All of this forms a seamless narrative that leads us to believe we’re not safe.
In reality, these physical sensations and the accompanying thoughts are transient. They’ll leave, and they’ll return again—as they do for all of us—and they’ll drift away once more.
Rather than jump on this bandwagon and allow these thoughts and physical sensations to control us, we can identify, witness, and accept them.
We can acknowledge that we are not them.
They’re simply part of the human experience.
Where to start
I have experienced great relief by implementing the concepts of my meditation practice regarding my thoughts and applying them to the physical sensations my body experiences during stressful situations. This includes:
1. Identify the Sensations with Neutrality
Approach the thoughts and physical sensations with a sense of curiosity, and try to simply identify them without labeling them as good or bad.
They’re only negative because we perceive them through that lens, but many of the physical sensations experienced with nervousness or anxiety are the same as excitement. A neutral lens is best.
Whatever you do, do not to label yourself as “anxious”. This indicates a permanent state, which will lead you to believe you’ll never experience reprieve.
2. Accept the Sensations
The phrase “what we resist, persists” can’t be truer in these situations. I find that the more I fight these feelings, the more they intensify and the longer they last. Rather, I have learned to simply notice and accept them.
3. Get Curious – Are They Teaching You Something?
This one can be tricky, because our minds and bodies are often sending fearful signals simultaneously during these states. However, if we follow the first two steps, we can then approach them with a sense of curiosity.
Ask yourself—what are these feelings trying to tell me? Have I been burning the candle at both ends? Am I in a job I hate? Am I surrounding myself with negative or dramatic people? Have I been neglecting my nutrition and movement? Journal your ass off and see what comes up!
4. Control What You Can
Based on the answers you obtain from your curiosity, start implementing measures that will help you course correct onto a path of increased well-being. Personal relationships and financial woes may seem too daunting to change immediately, so start by making a plan if all else fails.
Some ideas include:
Time in nature or outdoors
Quality time with uplifting and growth-minded individuals
Solitude and self-reflection
Removing negative or “toxic” people/energy
Journaling for introspection
The quality of your diet
Movement – dialing it back or increasing as needed
Remaining stagnant will only serve to make you feel more powerless.
As I continue to learn and grow, the more I’m accepting that nothing in this life will remain the same.
Our lives will ebb and flow as we move through seasons in life, and the same is true with our states of well-being—physical, emotional, mental.
Meditation continues to reinforce the notion that there is so much power in simply paying attention, observing, and accepting that we have a choice in how we perceive these experiences.
Our feelings and emotions—especially the seemingly unpleasant ones—may just be our best teachers yet if we’re willing to perceive them this way.