When you struggle with anxiety, sometimes you might wonder why you even get anxious in the first place. What purpose does it serve? And why does it make you feel so bad?
Over the years, while struggling to manage my own anxiety, I’ve learned that signs that I’m uncomfortable often show up before the anxiety is running full tilt. It might be a feeling of pressure in my chest. Sometimes my throat feels like it’s full of sand, or my belly feels hollow (like I have a pit in my stomach), depending on what’s making me uncomfortable and anxious.
My mindfulness practice has allowed me to be more aware of my body’s sensations in the moment when stressful things are happening (or I’m interpreting that the events are stressful). My body signals me long before I’m fully aware that the situation is overwhelming or triggering.
Where Do You Feel Anxiety?
I ask clients to tune into their physical reactions when they’re talking about something stressful or difficult. When I ask, “Where do you feel that in your body?” they can often point or place their hand right where they feel it. Or is I ask, “What physical feelings do you have when your anxiety shows up?” Some clients can identify exactly where anxiety lives in them. For others, it’s a little harder to figure out, but usually clients at least have a general sense of some internal sensations.
Many times the body signals come before the anxiety is fully recognizable. Basically your body is telling you that you’re feeling something, usually something uncomfortable. It’s alerting you, wanting your attention and letting you know it’s time to tune in, it’s time to listen, it’s time to take care of yourself.
Tune Into Your Anxiety Through Your Body
So how do we learn to tune into our body so we can hear what it wants us to know?
Start a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness helps you become more aware of yourself — your reactions, your thoughts, your feelings and what’s happening inside your body. If you haven’t already recognized the patterns, you might begin to notice that when certain thoughts or feelings enter your consciousness, your body reacts to those thoughts and feelings in particular ways.
Practice yoga, tai chi or another form of movement. They help you learn to focus on the different parts of your body.
Start a meditation practice. Body scan meditations guide you from head to toe (or toe to head), gradually moving your non-judgmental awareness from one body part to another. It helps fine-tune your focus as you practice the meditation. It also brings an awareness of how your body holds stress and how the stress might change as you bring a conscious awareness to it.
Take a moment to pause. When you’re anticipating a stressful event or encounter, take a minute to pause. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Check in with yourself and ask “Where am I feeling this in my body right now?” If tuning into your body is something new, you might need to do it a few times before you’re able to pinpoint where you feel the stress. That’s okay. Be patient and keep tuning in.
Work with a therapist. The right therapist — one who’s been trained in somatic, movement or body awareness therapies — can help you work toward a greater understanding of your body and help you learn why it reacts the way it does.
As with all new habits and skills, getting in touch with your physical reactions can take some time and practice. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself on this journey!
Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger, creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979.