Having always been a sensitive person, I never thought much of my overactive mind until I was about 21 when I started having intense bouts that I just couldn’t seem to shake. I would get so wrapped up in it, all I could do was fall to the ground and cry. I was easily overwhelmed and intensely affected by the moods of others. At the time, I blamed it on my lack of sleep and dependence on stimulants; which was the norm for most university students, but unfortunately it didn’t end with graduation.
I liken the feeling of anxiety to that of drowning, but in your own body. It is like something has poisoned your mind and has control over you, eating you away slowly from the inside out.
While everyone will experience anxiety differently, some of the common symptoms include: racing, scattered thoughts, overwhelming fear, incessant worrying, pounding heart, nausea, tension, general uneasiness and feeling unsettled. In the past, I experimented with every supplement and anti-anxiety pill out there. Some provided temporary relief, but after it wore off it would all come flooding back in. It was like trying to put a little Bandaid on a gushing bullet wound.
What I have learned from one of my teachers, Khadro, and from books like, The Highly Sensitive Person, by Elaine N. Aron, is that childhood events play into our adult lives a LOT more than we could ever imagine. Our connection or lack thereof with our caretakers growing up heavily dictates how we will be in the world. Personally, I spent about a year combing through my thoughts, feelings and behaviors and tracking them back to my early years, doing what some people call ‘Shadow Work’.
What we must realize is that anxiety is a self-protective reaction or a response to our environment. It could be a justified response to something like getting test results back or it could come up out of nowhere and totally rock your world.
When anxiety becomes chronic, it’s likely your subconscious mind is trying to tell you something; it notices a pattern that your conscious mind can’t see. Something is out of alignment. Perhaps, a current situation reminds your nervous system of a traumatic event from the past and it reacts the same way it did when you were actually in danger. It may seem totally unrelated and without looking into the details, you may never connect the two, but if you want peace, it is definitely worth exploring.
Anxiety can stem from feeling trapped, like you have nowhere to go, unsafe, alone or unsupported as a child. Adult anxiety is a call to do the inner work that is long overdue and the repair that will allow you to be a fully present participant in life.
Over the years, in an attempt to find peace of mind, I have researched and tried just about everything. While we all want a quick fix, it’s important to understand that like all good things, this healing takes time. It takes great practice to be able to feel anxiety coming up and bring yourself back to your safe zone.
Here are some tips to get you going in the direction of PEACE:
1) Catch Yourself Before You Fall Down the Rabbit Hole. Notice the body sensations that precede a full-blown attack. For example, my stomach and chest tighten. Be mindful of these sensations because they will be your signal to take a time out from the situation at hand. Once you have taken some space and calmed yourself down (using some of the techniques below), you can re-enter the trigger situation with a new perspective. Each time you catch the early warning signs and save yourself all the suffering of an anxiety attack, it will get easier to do. With practice, the gap between the stimulus and the response widens and you will be better prepared to handle it.
2) Self- Compassion. Try to see this uneasy feeling as a sign or a guide instead of that thing that you hate or dread. This reaction, just like laughter or tears, is a part of you. You wouldn’t be who you are today without it and in order to heal, it’s important to open up to your reactions, as violent and unpleasant as they are, with love. Acknowledge and feel your feelings. Owning and accepting ALL of you is the only way to healing and wholeness.
3) Practice Grounding. Sounds hokey, but given the nature of anxiety (feeling unsafe/unsupported), working on building your earth element through grounding activities such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing, qi gong, gardening and spending more time in nature will help you find peace in the long run. Connecting with and reassuring your body with deep breathing techniques like ‘Alternate Nostril Breathing’ are especially effective. They help to bring you back down to earth when you get caught up in the moment and feel yourself getting worked up.
4) Create a safe place for yourself. This can mean creating a loving environment for yourself in your home or something a little bit more portable, like a visualization, mantra, affirmation or happy memory that you can go back to when you feel it coming. Personally, closing my eyes, touching my heart, breathing deeply and saying ‘I am safe’ really does the trick for me.
5) Begin a self-reflective lifestyle. Look deeper at your childhood and past and see what comes up. Notice anything that evokes an emotional charge or needs your love and attention. Pay attention to things in everyday life that are triggers for you and see if there is a common thread that can be tracked back to a bad memory. Contemplate and then journal to prevent getting caught up in the vicious cycle of over-thinking.
6) Nourish. The nutritionist in me also wants to point out that food sensitivities go way beyond just a little gas and constipation. They can cause seemingly unrelated neurological symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety and depression. After all our gut is considered our second brain! Generally speaking, those who are more sensitive usually have more issues with food, so if I were you, I would go and get yourself tested to be sure that you aren’t provoking your nervous system at every meal. Also, try making homemade bone broth, it is one of the most yin building foods that you can put in your body.
7) Seek Support. I know how overwhelming anxiety can be, so don’t be afraid to gather support from a loving friend, family member, support group, coach or qualified therapist who can be there for you during this unraveling process. Having the right people around you can greatly determine the rate at which you heal.
As you start to peel back the layers of the onion, know that it is not always going to be butterflies and rainbows. There will be some discomfort as you release wounds from the past. Like a bruise, it may get worse before it gets better, but don’t just give up and numb out because it’s easier. It will come back to bite you. If you are ready and serious about healing, finding peace of mind and living up to your true potential, then you must do the work that needs to be done- and trust me it works!
Believe it or not, you can find inner peace and contentment.
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