If I had a spirit animal, it would be a rabbit.
Not a royal bengal tiger. Or a saltwater crocodile or a bald eagle.
But a rabbit.
Why? Because, just like me, rabbits are riddled with anxiety. Their noses twitch, their hind legs thump and they are said to even be afraid of their own shadow.
I get that bunny.
For years I lived that way too. Anxious, nervous energy literally taking up every corner of my body, mind and being.
I tried everything from improving my sleep, to changing my diet to working with my thoughts.
But at best, these efforts would only provide temporary relief.
Because anxiety is our body’s reaction to stress, the best way I know to get relief from it, is to work directly with the body. To explore the sensations that live there. Here’s how
STEP 1: Name it
Simply acknowledge that anxiety is in your body and name the experience.
Use whatever words feel natural to you, but be aware of your language.
Notice there is a difference between saying, ” I am anxious,” AND saying “I am experiencing anxiety.”
One is a personality trait. And one is a feeling.
Aim for the feeling, because chances are, when you’re not experiencing anxious, you are a joyful, spirited, playful person to be around.
STEP 2: Notice it
Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and scan your body.
In particular, notice two things:
- Where anxiety is.
- AND where anxiety isn’t.
The usual suspects for where anxiety lives are the neck, jaw, chest, shoulders, back, and belly. But be curious and scan your entire body. It can show up anywhere. I’ve had it in my ankles and toes!
It’s rare for anxiety to take over the entire body even though it might feel like it.
And it can be comforting to notice that there are places in the body where anxiety is absent.
For me, those safe places are along my spine, in my heart centre, in my belly, through the soles of my feet and the crown of my head.
Although sensations always shift inside the body, these places are generally anxiety free and have, for me, become somatic resources when challenges come.
Try shifting your awareness between the parts of you that feel anxious and the parts of you that feel at ease. Notice that it’s possible to experience both anxiety and a place of safety or calm at the same time.
STEP 3: Allow it
Typically, we want to fight our anxiety.
I know I did that the other day when I was unexpectedly struck by a level ten anxiety attack.
Aren’t I past all this? How long have I been meditating now? How long have I been practicing yoga? Why am I still experiencing anxiety?
Take a moment to remind yourself that anxiety is a part of life. That it is a common human experience – a normal reaction to the busy world we are currently living in.
STEP 4: Soothe it
Offer yourself some support. Here are two ways:
- Shift your awareness to the places in your body where you feel anxious. Place a hand there, offering compassion and support. You can say the words. “This is hard. Anxiety is hard. May I be kind to myself right now.” This leverages the proven power of self compassion.
- Shift your awareness to the places in your body that feel anxiety free. Send your breath there and see if you can amplify the feeling that lives there. Visualize a light emanating from your safe zones and extending comfort over to the other parts of you. This leverages the body as a somatic resource.
STEP 5: Ask it
My experience with anxiety is that it has something to teach us. If we ask with curiosity, answers always come. See if there’s a part of you that can ask “what is this about?” “How can I heal this?” “What is there here for me to learn?”
Stay with your body and ask earnestly.
Notice if anything shifts or if you get any insight.
If nothing comes be patient. Over time answers come.
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