To Heal Anxiety, Stop Thinking of it as a Disease!
“It’s a simple fact: Nobody likes to feel anxious. Anxiety is among the most pervasive and reviled of human emotions. And since it’s unhealthy, we all agree, we should prevent and eradicate it like any other illness. An entire economy has sprung up to aid us in our efforts: from self-help books and holistic remedies to pharmaceuticals and cutting-edge talk therapy. And yet, the fact is that we remain a profoundly anxious society, with rates of anxiety disorders soaring. A third of us will suffer from debilitating anxiety disorders in our lifetime.”
This was the lead paragraph in an article that appeared in Psychology Today this past week. (Click here to access the entire article)
In her new book called Future Tense, Why Anxiety is Good for You Even though It Feels Bad, author Tracy Dennis-Tiwary argues that it may be our beliefs about anxiety more than the feeling itself that is the problem. “Anxiety is good for you, even though it feels bad,” she says. Consider this, a feeling of anxiousness is your nervous system’s way of responding to events it deems unsafe. That is a profoundly important role when facing real dangers.
The Nervous System is Talking to Your Body All Day
The messenger system signals many other biological and physiological systems in our body to ramp up muscular action, heart rate, blood pressure and hearing, and slow down digestion and interest in procreating when facing real danger. This is what it is supposed to do. But our nervous system was never designed for modern life with its constant barrage of low-level stress. The “fight or flight system” as it is popularly known is designed to turn on for short periods of time, not all day.
Many people do not feel safe currently — much of it warranted by a climate crisis, political instability, war and COVID19. But much of it is created by the stories we tell ourselves and the way we respond to events.
My Experience of Anxiety
For those of us like me who have dealt with anxiety, it is hard work and exhausting with or without medicine. For me, the medicines did not work. Cognitive therapy was very helpful in changing my beliefs from “something is wrong with me to understanding I was reacting to something wrong outside of me”. I learned that the goal of an anxiety-free life was unrealistic. The goal has shifted to developing coping methods when the anxious feelings arrive. Also I am learning to remain curious about the root causes of the anxiety.
I love the way the author puts it… “the idea of fighting with anxiety is much less helpful than being curious about anxiety… Don’t like anxiety. But own it, so it doesn’t own you. Acknowledge it, and believe that it’s a part of you. That’s how we gain mastery. Treating anxiety as a disease or enemy only blocks us from that goal.”
In my journey, I have found Gentle Somatic Yoga and HeartMath tools for emotional regulation to be incredibly helpful for dealing with anxiety.
Here is how Gentle Somatic Yoga helps with anxiety. It teaches you to reconnect your sensory motor cortex (part of the brain) to places within your body that are so tense from fear and past physical or emotional traumas. We use gentle repetitive mindful movements and introspection (sensing internally done with eyes closed) to find new ways to safely move and reconnect with our bodies and feel whole.
HeartMath Tools Have Been Proven to Reduce Anxiety
HeartMath’s thirty years of studies have shown a 46% drop in anxiety among the clients they studied who practiced their tools. Here is one of my favorite tools to use when anxiety creeps up on me. I can honestly say that having recently lived through a major hurricane I am more anxious now than I have been in years. Rather than think something is wrong with me, I am giving myself grace in understanding why my feelings of anxiousness have increased. HeartMath tools to the rescue. The Inner Ease Tool is particularly helpful for this. Give it a try and let me know if it helps you.