- Natalie Dressler
Anxious and not sure why? Here's some ideas that might help…
We've all had that tight or uncomfortable feeling in our stomach at one point in our life. Perhaps it was related to a time you were in a new situation or a time when you felt unsafe. Other times it may have surfaced for no clear reason.
One of the top things that many clients come in for help with is anxiety that appears to come up for no apparent reason.
Often they feel anxious or stressed and don't really understand why. Sometimes they might have a slight idea of small causes and other times they feel frustrated and confused, because to them nothing is wrong.
While it might seem like this anxiety comes out of no where, our brains are wired to respond to threat and keep us safe. This means that our nervous system can become hardwired to respond to "threat" even if there isn't any true "threat" around us.
If we've had enough overwhelming negative experiences in social interactions, places, events, or around people, our brain remembers these feelings, body sensations and images connected to these things in order to help us cope next time around. Being able to respond fast to a potential threat is a key survival response and can help us remain sharp and attuned to our environment.
While this may have been quite adaptive to our ancestors who needed to be able to react quick and survive more challenging life circumstances, it often becomes a response that doesn’t work for us in our here and now.
This often leaves us feeling stuck, and over time feeling more and more helpless or frustrated around what we feel.
Awareness of this cycle within ourselves can be a good starting point.
It's often helpful to begin to track when you feel the anxiety throughout the day. Try to notice what your body is feeling. When does it become more tense, or when do you start to feel your heart rate increase, light-headedness, fearfulness or butterflies in your stomach? Writing this down over the span of a week or two can start to clue you in to potential triggers that are causing your brain to go into a false alarm.
Once you identify these triggers, then you have some options!
Try exploring your relationship with your anxiety. Many people start to hate the uncomfortable feelings inside and try to avoid situations that will make them feel anxious. Often, this tends to increase the anxiety even more, because our brain wants us to pay attention to a potential threat and deal with it!
If you notice this is your go to, you can try to start to observe these judging and avoiding thoughts in a compassionate way.
Telling these anxious thoughts to go away will not necessarily work. The problem is with our limbic system, which has more to do with the emotional/body sensation response from our brain and less with our words. Trying to just change our thoughts, won't necessarily be enough to change the accompanying physical and emotional responses that come with it.
Instead, try offering compassion to the feeling inside and even to the judgement or avoidance that you feel around your anxiety.
A handy way to bring up compassion is to think of a time that you felt love or compassionate towards someone else. Try to really visualize this time, notice how it felt, what you could hear, and touch, and then notice how this feels in your body. Once you find this feeling in your body, try seeing if it can expand into the area of your body that you feel the anxiety in. Not forcing this, just seeing if it will go to the area in your body that needs it. Notice what happens when you continue to do this throughout the week.
Try to listen to the thoughts that surface around your anxiety and get curious around how it's trying to help you. What is it worried will happen if you don't get anxious? Has this fear helped you out at some point in your history? And if it has, can you honour this? Often just acknowledging that it's trying to help, will calm some of the response in our brain.
Other small techniques such as 4-7-8 breathing and grounding can offer some relief. Often we need to dig a bit deeper though and help our brain actually learn and feel that we are safe in our life now.
There is much much more to this type of work, but hopefully this gives a small sense of what this work can look like!