In today’s society, we have all become accustomed to the notion that anxiety is a bad or negative thing to be avoided or repressed as much as possible. Yet our bodies seem to betray our wills whenever we feel stressed or anxious and it can feel as if we are having a heart attack instead of a panic attack. Our hearts and minds becoming cluttered and start racing. Breathing becomes hard, everything seems to have to us on edge, and all we want to do is make it stop. Sadly, an approach to stress that seeks to avoid it causes us to worry even more about our lack of control. We even repress these feelings, which makes our anxiety worse. We begin to worry about worrying!
In truth, most people know very little about the various ways in which their anxiety is triggered, and do not understand why they have the feelings, thoughts, and actions they do when they get anxious. This is often something that my clients see as a problem, but they need not be concerned for they are not alone. Some research indicates that about 40 million people over the age of 18 experience anxiety, which is about 18% of the population.
Confronting Your Anxiety
It is time to confront what it is that makes our heads spin and our hearts beat out of our chests. Over the next few articles, I want to help you to begin to understand, evaluate, and accept the various aspects of anxiety. We will focus on how you can practically begin to regain “control” of your body, unpack the thoughts that lead to your physical responses, and confront those habits that reinforce your anxiety.
The Physical Sensations of Anxiety
Typically, the most noticeable feature of anxiety is that it is accompanied by physical sensations, such as rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, etc. These physical responses come out of seemingly nowhere and scare most people, causing them to believe that something is wrong with them. This is not accidental as these reactions are simply a part of the body’s way of naturally protecting us. We developed these reactions as a type of early danger response system to the many external stresses and complications we faced in nature when we needed to be able to quickly assess the situation and act.
Fortunately, we have evolved and no longer live in the nomadic world with dangers on all fronts that made this response system a constant necessity. Most people with symptoms of anxiety will hear physicians or counselors explain that the body is trying to “fight or flee or freeze.” The body continues to respond to just about anything, even though there does not appear to be a real threat. Unfortunately, this response system has yet to evolve to our modern type of lifestyle, and this leaves many anxiety sufferers in the dark and confused as to why they are experiencing these sensations when there is no apparent external threat.
Remember that Your Feelings are Just Feelings
The most important thing to remember about these feelings is that they are just that: feelings. Begin to consider that the feelings you experience can be non-harmful and natural. You experience these same feelings whenever you get excited, angry, or even when you exercise. In most cases, the feelings subside in a few minutes as they are designed to be temporary in order to prepare your body to respond to some outside element. The difficulty that most people have with anxiety is that they focus on the feelings. This causes the body to extend the duration of these feelings, and this in turn causes more anxiety.
Deep Breathing to Counter Anxiety
While we cannot completely eliminate these reactions, we can actively reduce the effects of these symptoms. There are a variety of techniques that can help you to refocus your mind on something else and allow the feelings to subside. One of the most effective treatments that I recommend to my clients is deep breathing. It is a well-established fact that deep breathing helps to calm and relax the body. Since most of the sensations you experience with anxiety are reflexes, breathing is one thing you can actively control and override. Here are some tips for successful deep breathing:
- Close your eyes, take moment, and mentally accept that the feelings are natural.
- Visualize yourself filling up a balloon in your stomach and slowly inhale for five seconds.
- Hold the breath for two seconds and exhale slowly for five seconds.
- Repeat this process 10 times.
I typically recommend that people practice this exercise outside of an anxiety episode in order to get the hang of the timing and experience how effective it is at calming the body.
Christian Counseling Can Help You Face Anxiety
When dealing with anxiety, having a helping hand can make all the difference. A Christian counselor can enable you to communicate your real concerns about your anxiety and can help you to learn to regain control.