What is anxiety?
What IS anxiety? There are so many technical definitions of it (google DSM definition of anxiety), but what is it really? One of the ways I talk about it with my clients and often in the first session is that anxiety can be seen as obsessing about the past or worrying about the future, right? So what if you are right here right now? Is that a problem? What anxiety is not, is being in this moment right now.
Clients very easily see this definition and can start to think of anxiety in this way. Which brings me to homework assignment #1 (if you like homework). "Next week, notice how much of the time you are not present". This is best observed doing the mundane, like preparing dinner, taking a shower or washing your dishes at the sink. Are you "all in?" That is, feeling the warm water running over your hands, noticing the pattern/colors of your plates, smelling the scent of the soap. That is being all in or fully present. Most likely you are elsewhere; running over that awkward conversation you just had with your neighbor, reminding yourself to call your mother later, or finding yourself in fantasy land where you are CEO of your own successful company that helps companies throw the best rewards parties for their employers! Some places our minds go are fine, helpful and even good for us like the last one, the fantasy job-but that blog is a whole other topic!
But what if our minds continue to take us to the negative, dark and scary places? That has a real effect on the system; physically and mentally. If the thought is a worry one, it can start to trigger the Amygdala center or our fight or flight system. Are you aware of what is happening inside your body when this system get initiated? The body's sympathetic nervous system is activated by the sudden release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands. These are primarily adrenaline, and cortisol and they get released to prepare you for battle! To be at your best, your amazing system works to dilate your pupils so you can see better, your senses become sharper, your muscles feel tensed up but what's happening is your heart starts beating faster pushing blood to the muscles for increased strength and the breath feels shorter but lungs airways are opening to take in as much oxygen as possible. Think people with superhuman strength in an emergency! All this to help you prepare to defend. But what if your really aren't in a situation where you need to defend yourself, like for example forgetting to call your mother? Well the system gets triggered anyway if your thoughts are worrisome enough to initiate the system, and this may indicate your system needs a tune up. And guess what, the more we worry, the more we prime ourselves to worry. Our system loves habit,"Oh last time you had that thought- it was green light to the amygdala! You're having that thought again? Let's go!"
So you can see how our system can get on auto-pilot, meaning it is over reacting to things that shouldn't really be triggering the fight or flight system at all. The good news is we can actively work to reset our system so it can return to the natural guardian it really wants to be for us. Now, isn't it a better idea to stay focused on that boring old dish we are washing? Give it a try, this is active mindfulness. See how much you are actually present with your current experience for 1 day. When clients return the following week they report they are amazed at how much they are actually not present much of the day. This is a good starting point.
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dreamer, seeker, intuitive, pisces,