Three weeks ago I was writing this post, sitting with my Grandma during the final hours of her long, extraordinary life. Since that bittersweet day that we said goodbye to our matriarch, there have been countless opportunities to meet anxiety’s embrace.
Isn’t that the case everyday? Not just during the extreme moments, but in everyday life there is so much outside of our control, and there are some circumstances that trigger me to fight harder against some circumstances than others. All the while, Life seems to keep gifting me with just the right packages to highlight my own personal triggers and issues.
For as long as I can remember anxiety has been a constant companion. Being a vigilant Virgo, and the daughter of a vigilant Virgo, I am a first rate worry-wart. The way that anxiety grips my body and mind when I’m in its clutches is unmistakable – and yet, for much of my life I didn’t have a name for it.
People experience many different sensations with anxiety, some of them might be:
When we’re experiencing anxiety, it’s important to know it’s not just an emotional experience or a physical one – it’s a mind and body phenomenon. It can be helpful to attend to both.
First address the body
What you’re feeling in your body when you’re anxious is the result of your fight or flight response. When your brain interprets information as dangerous, it sends a message to your body to act on in order to keep you safe. This floods the body with chemicals, which we feel as emotions and physical responses. Addressing the body is like giving first aid. You can do this by:
First put one hand on your heart and one on your belly and take a deep breath.
Tune inward – give your full attention to yourself, as you would to a friend who’s hurting.
List any sensations you notice. It’s helpful to list them on paper, as this depersonalizes the emotions just a bit, but listing them silently in your head works if necessary.
Give your brain a steady flow of oxygen – which is the fastest route out of fight or flight and back into the thinking part of your brain. An easy way to do this is by “square breathing” – Count your breathing evenly 4 in, hold the breath for 4 counts, breathe out for 4, and then hold for 4 again. Repeat for 4 cycles.
The next way to address the body and soothe the fight or flight response is to reach for your oils. Essential oils directly affect the amygdala – the flight or fight part of brain – helping to calm the central nervous system. Some oils to try:
By gently applying pressure to certain points on the body you can stimulate the parasympathetic response to help your body calm down. Here are some points you can use in conjunction with your oils:
- Hall of Impression – or third eye – on your forehead, between your eyebrows
- Union Valley – between thumb and first finger – do not use this point during pregnancy until you’re ready to stimulate labor.
- Base of skull
Address the mind
Often thoughts or fears are behind anxiety. Our brains love to concoct fears of “what if?…”, stories about what others think or feel about us, and imagined catastrophies of the future.
As you tend to your mind, grab a pen and paper and freewrite-style make a list of everything on your mind – the fears, the worries, the catastrophies, the imagined judgements.
Once it’s safely on the paper (things are less scary when you bring them into the light and pin them down in ink), start by asking the question:
Can I know that this is absolutely true?
Sit with yourself, in an exercise of presence, as you give attention to your body’s signals and your mind’s stories. As you stretch the edges of what you’re able to hold, a surprising transformation begins to unfold. You deepen and strengthen the relationship you have with yourself – the love, trust and care you give to this one precious person you get to spend your life with – and that is what self-care is about.