Nervousness is normal when we have to face new and challenging situations, experiences, tests, interviews, presentations, or awkward family events.

However, if you find that you are beginning to overly avoid situations (people, places, feelings) you could be left to constantly feel like you are in a ‘mind over matter’ battle and need to push harder to get through your day.

You may need to increase your awareness about anxiety before it shifts from being a habit to a complete takeover that could cause a lot of physical and emotional issues down the line.

Sometimes we have been anxious for years and it just becomes our ‘new norm’  as if we have never known any way else to feel. Perhaps you developed coping strategies that have served you well thus far and you’d like to explore new options to help self regulate and support your daily life.

The Many Forms of Anxiety 

How might anxiety be showing up for you in daily life? Take your pick. 

prostration
apprehension
worry
physical tension
physical pain and/or shaking
disturbed digestive function
difficulty breathing
rapid shifts in blood pressure and heart rate
sleeplessness
intrusive thoughts
feeling unworthy
over pleasing
constant talking
self-abandonment
indecisiveness
loneliness
hyper-business (can’t sit still)
social isolation
exhaustion 

There is a strong correlation between anxiety, chronic/trauma stress, allostatic load, and the stress/survival response associated with our neurobiology and neurophysiology (our brain and nervous system). 

Coping Depends on Many Factors

If you lack resources
If you were neglected and did not receive adequate care as a baby and child
If there was an unreliable attachment to a caregiver in your younger years
If you were emotionally abandoned/abused and silenced as a child or adult
If you were not allowed to express your emotions and learned to tuck them away
if you were bullied or exposed to chronic stress with no end in sight

There is no doubt there is lots of help out there and finding what works best for you can be a bit of a minefield. It’s always helpful to start at a physiological level. Working with your autonomic nervous system can help to ease physical symptoms that can set off the alarm bells in the brain. This alarm bell can signify a lack of safety and with that, a cascade of physical, mental, and emotional survival events begin to take over. You can certainly push these away, however, it’s a band-aid. Learning the language of the body and nervous system can help to distinguish between our thoughts and physical sensations between what we think and how we feel.

A band-aid is a survival strategy, not a solution. Over time you will find that you need to push harder, more often, and for longer periods of time. Your exhaustion increases and your tolerance level for stressors may dwindle away or begin to show up as physical and emotional breakdowns. If avoidance begins to set in (another survival strategy) that further deepens the neural pathways for anxiety to shift from a quiet rumbling to an outright constant storm of physical sensations and emotional events and difficult experiences.

A Few Strategies to Help

Cultivate present moment awareness because ‘micro moments’ of stillness in presence, all add up. The part that most people leave out is taking ‘time to absorb’ the good physical sensations and positive emotions that come with experiencing stillness and peace if even for a moment. Dr. Rich Hanson writes and speaks about this (and I wholeheartedly advocate for this at a micro-level). Forget about the ‘big breakthroughs and appreciate the little ones. There can be strong feelings of contraction, feeling crowded and tight, bound and controlled by the physical sensations within the body. It can be a great resource to introduce spacious awareness and investigate what else is available to us. What else can you feel (and see, hear, smell, and sense) and take time to absorb at a cellular level? This could also be seen as a ‘healthy distraction’ that subtly refocuses attention away from the body and intrusive thoughts. Research proves “anxious people pay more attention to their bodies and physical sensations“.

Choose an exercise program and regime that includes interval training, combined with balance and coordination exercises, like balancing yoga poses that include eye movements and introduce mindful strength training. It’s important to start feeling stronger in your body. Anxiety is often seen as a weakness, which of course it is not; however, if we feel stronger in our bodies it helps promote physical and emotional indicators of feeling self-confident, you build vagal tone and heart rate variability. The coordination and balance work helps you recover from feelings of uncertainty and accept them as part of life without them being detrimental.

Incorporate grounding exercises that help you feel safe in your body and help to release physical tension.

Spend more time being present when in nature, as research has proven that this has a positive effect on your nervous system health and emotional wellbeing.

Learn to set boundaries specific to your anxiety, accept it, befriend it, reassure it, feel it, and know it for what it is. With many years under my belt, I have found a love for my anxiety, I see it as a friend who is watching my back, albeit an overprotective one yet sometimes I thank it for showing up and I let it know ‘I’ve got this. Whichever younger anxious parts of me and past experiences show up, I compassionately say ‘I got you’ and ‘I’ve got this. Self-abandonment exacerbates anxiety. Hold it, nurture it, observe it, and describe it, it is ok, it is trying to keep you safe

Try appropriate breath work that balances out the left and right prefrontal cortex (which helps quiet the mind) and builds vagal tone – essentially stimulating and regulating your parasympathetic nervous system. The vagus nerve is the braking system of your stress response. The fitter your vagus nerve is the fitter your nervous system is and the more you can engage and derail automatic autonomic nervous system responses. Be cautious, some breathing and meditation practices can increase your anxiety and even shift you into a panic. Try many techniques and always move in the direction of what stabilizes you.

Introduce guided practices that support embodied safety and connection, as you are building new neural pathways to help rewire your brain. These practices can help you self-regulate and align yourself in kindness and compassion.

If your anxiety has connections to early childhood/traumatic experiences you may also need some support from counselors and therapists. Consulting with a functional medicine practitioner is another great option. They can run blood work to find any connection between your anxiety and your gut health and help restore homeostasis in your gut environment. This has a positive effect on your immune responses (closely associated with the stress response) and can rule out leaky gut which can lead to toxins getting to the brain. Research has shown this can have a big impact on your mental and neurological health.

You are not trying to avoid, get rid of it, or fix it. That’s when the war begins. Instead, we bring it with us and slowly rebuild our life. I describe anxiety related to chronic/trauma stress and childhood injuries as
‘a hurt and frightened soul looking for a safe home’. A safe home for our anxiety to rest in free of judgment, ridicule, and anger.

*Remember, It is not all in your head and there are plenty of options to explore. Begin to make choices and allow ‘do it anyway’ to become your new mantra.

Love to all

Roseanne
Advancing your Ability to Heal and Repair your Nervous System

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