How to tune into your anxiety and why this can help you - 4 tips!
Let's start here: Anxiety is uncomfortable, so we naturally as humans want to lean away from it and there are a multitude of ways we can disconnect and distract ourselves so the feeling (temporarily) goes away. But, what if anxiety isn't just an uncomfortable feeling we avoid and run away from, what if we looked at it as a physiological response happening in the body for a reason? What if, our anxiety is actually trying to tell us something?
I have spent almost ten years working with clients and their anxiety, and I have found that every time we work on slowing down and listening to the anxiety, we learn something valuable that ultimately, becomes part of the healing process.
So together, lets explore the idea that instead of demonizing and disconnecting from our anxiety, we should instead become curious and explore this emotion, ultimately tuning in, instead of zoning out.
Here's my top tips for tuning in to your anxiety and learning what it has to say:
Tip #1 - Let's start super easy: SLOW DOWN!
As ever, nothing about self care and mental health care needs to be complicated, and tuning into your anxiety is no exception. When we are anxious we tend to do everything quickly; think quickly, speak quickly, move quickly, complete tasks quickly and generally rush around. This could easily be seen as 'being busy' and 'having no time' but what we are really seeing here is a sense of urgency that is telling us that the nervous system is feeling on edge and there is too much adrenaline in the blood stream. So the first thing we should do, is recognise this anxious response and consciously slow down. This will give you space to think about what is causing you to feel on edge; where's the fire? Are you stressed? Are you overwhelmed? Are you nervous or upset? What is really happening here? This is the beginning of listening to your anxiety.
Tip #2 - Get Curious - unmet needs.
When you are a little slower, you can start to get more curious about anxiety. This is where we work on our self awareness to build a better understanding of what it is telling us about our unmet needs. Start with these questions:
What physical sensations am I experiencing?
Where am I feeling it in my body?
Is this different or usual for me?
What could this be telling me I need?
For example if you are feeling tightness in your chest, perhaps your body is signalling that you may need to take a break and focus on breathing from your belly as you address the unmet need of relaxation and regulation. If this is a usual regular occurrence for you, perhaps this anxiety is telling you that you need to strive for more calm in your life to meet the unmet need of stability and peace. If it turns up specifically at certain times or places, maybe your anxiety is telling you that there's something you need to work through emotionally that you haven't looked at yet.
Taking the time to build your self awareness around your anxiety will help you to have a deep understanding of the unmet physical and emotional need anxiety is communicating to you.
"I don't believe we can live the whole-hearted lives we want to live unless we learn to lean into these uncomfortable moments, trusting they are uncomfortable not because they are wrong, but because they are touching our deepest longings and we aren't willing to hide" - Brene Brown
Tip #3 - Self Care Signals - More on unmet needs
'Unmet needs' definitely needs more air time! This tip however is about taking a moment to consider how well you are taking care of yourself generally. Tip 3 covers more specific unmet needs depending on what you can feel in the body, but lets also take time to think about our overall relationship with taking care of ourselves. Anxiety can be a great red flag letting us know that on the whole, we are in a state of self neglect. Use these prompts to examine your relationship with self are and see what anxiety could be telling you about it:
(ps ALL of these basic and fundamental needs will make anxiety worse if neglected and that could be what your anxiety is telling you)
Nutrition: Am I getting enough vitamin D, Magnesium, Iron and B vitamins
Hydration: Am I depending on caffeine and energy drinks or am I hydrating myself
Movement: Am I sedentary most of the day or do I allow my body to move
Boundaries: Am I giving myself the time and space I need to recharge
Free time: Am I creating enough space to experience joy, nature, connection & creativity
Tip #4 - Sit With It - breaking it down
Anxiety is not actually a singular emotion, it is a combination of many unresolved emotions that invoke a physiological response in the body. Most people who experience anxiety have a host of unresolved emotions or traumas that have not yet been supported, and they are expressed as anxiety. So, leaning into this uncomfortable collection of feelings can allow you to start to understand what is REALLY going on emotionally, and what anxiety is truly trying to say to you. When you feel anxious, find where it is in the body and try the following:
Close your eyes and places your hands over the place you feel the anxiety the most
Allow your breath to come from the belly and spend one minute deep breathing
Observe how any sensation of anxiety shift or change during this time
Allow any feelings to rise to the surface without trying to push them away
Repeat this until you feel more settled and whenever you have an anxious moment
So, What is your anxiety telling you?
Hopefully by now you have an idea! Side note, learning to work WITH your anxiety and not against it is not as simple as it may sound, so be patient with yourself and remember, it's a process and a journey.