Working with anxiety

The majority of clients I see feel some form of anxiety at least some of the time.  I think of anxiety as general lack of settledness in the body combined with worry and fear thoughts.  For some people anxiety can be a fairly strong experience, others might only experience a little bit in social situations or new experiences.  Sometimes, emotions that are painful to feel such as grief or anger can be held in by the body and create sensations that seem very similar to fear based anxiety.  

When trying to decrease overall anxiety, working on regulating your body is very important.  For this reason, having a regular schedule with full meals at roughly the same time every day and going to bed and waking up at consistent times is very helpful. Regular exercise can be a valuable tool for decreasing agitation and improving your mood.  While these basic behavioral shifts take time and effort to become habits, they tend to make the biggest impact overall. 

After establishing this foundation, anxiety is easier to soothe because the body is functioning better.  At this stage, making sure that your life is balanced and you are meeting your major emotional needs is important.  Make sure you have hobbies, fun and social time for yourself! Additionally, regularly challenging yourself to get out of a rut and try something new adds excitement and positive feelings about yourself.  

Panic attacks

Panic attacks are intensely distressing experiences and even the experience of the panic attack itself can feel traumatizing.  You may experience symptoms such a racing heart rate, trouble breathing, changes in vision or hearing or feeling that you need medical help or might die.  This strong experience of “I’m not ok” can be overwhelming.  Even the memory of this experience can bring back fear.  Generally, individuals experiencing panic attacks have underlying anxiety or unprocessed emotions in their day to day lives.  In therapy, we work together to find ways to access a sense of safety before exploring underlying causes of the anxiety and panic.  

An example of resourcing to access safety might mean thinking of a person in your life who you care about and helps you feel safe.  It could be an pet you love.  Other examples of resources include sunlight (focusing on the warmth and quality of the light); a candle, a favorite blanket, a stuffed animal, prayer, a glass of water or hot tea, a favorite meal, a friend who can be with you, a special place that you can go to and sit, walking outside, yoga or exercise that is soothing and grounding, breathing exercises and visualizations.  

One of the biggest challenges to learning how to resource is shame.  Allowing yourself to feel ok at needing and using resources (including needing help or safety from people) can bring up shame.   It also takes practice noticing small amounts of benefit from the resources that will build up over time.  Sometimes these tools help a lot, sometimes just a little.   It helps to think of resourcing as a gentle exercise program: consistency is key and it takes time to become stronger.  Over time, it will begin to feel more natural and ok to resource yourself.

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