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What is anxiety?

Anxiety can feel very personal and isolating. Sometimes people forget that feelings of anxiety affect 8.2 million people in the UK in a single year.

I asked some friends how they would describe their anxiety…

“I feel it in my breath first, my chest constricts and I begin to shallow breathe; then a general tensing in the upper body and arms, especially shoulders. If I feel especially anxious, I find I don’t hear as well as usual… Or at least, don’t process sounds as finely!”

“It’s like walking into an invisible glass wall. My breath stops, my body stops, I feel my gut twist. My legs are heavy and will not move. Senses heighten, palpitations in my chest.”

“It would begin in the nest of my ribs, everything would tighten up, it’s like my body stopped right there and my breath couldn’t go any further, I would begin to feel a disassociation from everything including the rest of my body”

How would you describe yours, are there any similarities here, or how does your experience differ?

Why Do We Have Anxiety?

In evolutionary terms, anxiety is part of our “fight or flight” response system. Meaning it was built to kick in when we faced danger. As a result, our hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, surge through our bodies in response to a threat and get us ready to take appropriate action.

We share this with most animals, along with the rest and digest, which is the other side of our autonomic system (bodily system). This slows our blood down so we can digest food, sleep and refuel.

So when did this genius system of evolution go from saving us, to being something we go and see a doctor about?

What was once a survival necessity, has come full circle to being a contributor to stress and stress-related symptoms, and is currently one of western society’s biggest killers.

A Natural Remedy for Anxiety

The good news is, our fight or flight system is not broken. We may not be in life-threatening danger anymore on a day to day basis, but our nervous system is still clearly giving us messages about our well being. These messages are asking for our attention, the question is, are we listening or acting accordingly?

Often our go to response for feelings of anxiety is to suppress it, which can consist of the use of some form of pharmaceutical medication, which usually contains some sort of health side effects.

Now, I am not here to tell you to stop taking any medication you’re on, or to discredit anything that works for you. But I am going to add breathwork to the mix, and the benefits it has on feelings of anxiety.

Please note, breathwork is not a substitute for medical practice or psychological diagnosis or treatment. But it is a huge ally, so why not add it to what you already do to combat anxiety and give yourself all the support you can?

Anxiety becomes more of a problem when people find themselves becoming or feeling anxious about everyday things that pose no particular threat.

Here is a list of some of the noted forms of anxiety:

  • Social anxiety
  • Excessive worrying
  • Sleep problems
  • Irrational fears
  • Muscle tension
  • Chronic indigestion
  • Stage fright
  • Self-consciousness – self-doubt
  • Panic
  • Flashbacks
  • Compulsive behaviour

What triggers anxiety is individual for each person, depending on many personal factors with most likely deeper roots, which lead to embedded fears, themes and patterns from childhood.

Anxiety from a Physiological Perspective

If we were to, just for a second take away the word anxiety and look at the sensations that arise in the body, we will find there are some huge commonalities with the physical symptoms, and conscious breathing can be a huge help with self-regulation and self-soothing.

Look at what happens during an anxiety attack as a protective mechanism, which is designed to prevent the organism (you) from engaging in potentially harmful behaviours. This includes a change in blood pressure, heart rate and temperature, increased blood flow to the major muscle groups, and inhibited immune and digestive system functions. And sometimes there will be heart palpitations or numbness in the limbs.

For me, learning more about the physiology of anxiety gave me a different perspective on the situation, and perhaps loosened the mental grip anxiety used to have on me. I am able to remember the science of what is happening and what tools I have in supporting myself through it.

As someone who once had crippling social anxiety, I can confidently say, through my breathwork journey, this anxiety has completely transformed.

Breathwork As Anxiety Treatment

Breathwork is an invaluable tool here. Anxiety can be marked by a sense of dread and uneasiness that does not necessarily have a logical focus. As a result, there can be an immobility in taking any effective action to alleviate it. In breathwork, you learn to consciously observe your energy levels and sensations in the body, you identify what physical and psychological indicators go with your underlying or rooted fears. You are supported in feeling and expressing emotions which help move and untrap blocked or stagnant energy.

In held sessions of conscious breathing and breathwork, you have a space to safely address and give safe harbour for your fears to be felt, rather than perhaps unexpectedly in your life when they get triggered.

This begins building in a grounded way, the all-important confidence that you are in charge of your life and have the tools to support yourself in the grip of the anxious moment. The adult part of you is more able to come forward and nurture the part of you that is stuck, afraid or uncomfortable.

Know that you are not alone in your anxiety. However it shows up in your life, it is a mixture of psychological, physiological and physical components. It is personal but shared and common in all people. The fastest and most sustainable way to change the course of the grip anxiety has on your life is to reveal it in a safe and held environment like a workshop. Know and trust that conscious breathing is your number one ally when it comes to managing and alleviating anxiety.

Here is a breath practise to try for 10 minutes a day, which will have a positive effect on overall anxiety levels.

Coherent Breathing

Coherent breathing is, in summary, is a breath cycle mirrors the frequency and regularity of the autonomic nervous system rhythm, as reflected in the variability of the heart rhythm. It can get quite technical, but to keep it simple, inhale for five steady counts and exhale for five steady counts, though the nose and keep going like this.

Focus your attention in the area of the heart, or lower abdomen. On each inhale bring a steady and slow breath deep into the lungs and softly grow and expand with it, then soften on each exhale, then repeat.

This is a really simple and effective technique, but it only works if you do it. Try it for 10 minutes a day for 5 days. Share with the Grounded Life Facebook community what differences you notice.

Use this Spotify track to help with the time, the bell goes every 5 seconds to help guide you.