What does anxiety feel like?

Anxiety reveals itself in many ways. People often talk about the thoughts and emotions experienced with anxiety, but rarely do they talk about what it feels like to have anxiety. It is important to consider the full picture which include thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and body sensations.

 

Have you ever wondered, what is happening in my body and mind when I am anxious?

 

When you feel anxious, your mind has decided that something in your environment is a threat to your safety and well-being. This can be a physical, emotional, or psychological threat. You now have a choice. You can decide to proceed, avoid, or do nothing.  They way your body and mind respond when anxious is a natural, and helpful, response to danger but sometimes the mind and body make a mistake and we become anxious or fearful in situations where the level or threat is relatively low. For example, someone who has been through a traumatic experience, such as a car accident, may feel very anxious anytime they leave their home, fearing that something bad will happen to them or their family members. Even though there may be no immediate threat, the body and mind prepare to respond with fear and anxiety.

 

The body responds to threat by releasing hormones that are meant to help you react in a way that will improve your chances of survival. For example, your heart rate may increase and begin pumping more blood throughout the body to help prepare your muscles to run away or fight off a predator. What happens in your body and mind when you are anxious is responsible for how you feel when anxious.

 

Have you ever had unexplained stomach or muscle aches, pain, or symptoms such as racing heart, trembling, or dry mouth? These can all be physical signs of anxiety. When people visit their doctor with symptoms that cannot be explained physically, they often receive, what I call, the stress diagnosis. They leave feeling dismissed and believing that their doctor thinks that their symptoms are all in their head. Well, the reality is that the symptoms are in your head but not in the way that you think.

 

The sensations you experience in your body are coming from your brain. For example, when you feel pain in your finger tips after grabbing a hot cup of tea, a message has been sent from your fingers to your brain and this has been interpreted by the brain as pain. Similarly, when your heart starts to beat very fast, your brain interprets this as something is wrong and you feel anxious which leads to thoughts such as, am I having a heart attack, or I need to make it stop. This creates additional problems by maintaining the anxiety you already feel, increasing the heart rate further and creating a vicious cycle that feels like it will never end. The way you respond is the most important factor in managing anxiety.

 

The next time you feel yourself becoming anxious try this simple visualization exercise.

 

Find a comfortable place to sit. It should be quiet and peaceful. Allow yourself a few moments to settle in and find a comfortable position. Take a deep breathe in through your nose, holding it there for a moment or two, and then allow all the air to leave your body by exhaling through your mouth. Focus on breathing from deep in your belly rather than your chest. Continue breathing in this way three more times, breathing in and out slowly and deeply.

 

Next, bring your attention to the place in your body where you feel anxious. Perhaps it’s your stomach, head, shoulders, or back. Take a few moments to scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, noticing where in your body you are feeling anxiety. Everyone carries anxiety in a different place in their body and experiences it in their own unique way. When you find it, settle in for a moment, paying close attention to what it feels like. If this becomes uncomfortable for you, simply return your attention to your breathing for 2-3 breathes and try again.

 

Now, as you experience the anxiety in your body, notice if there are any changes as you sit comfortably, feeling safe and in control. Take a few moments to describe how your anxiety feels in your mind. What does it look like; how does it move or change; does it have a color, shape, or size? Allow the image of your anxiety to develop in your mind as it will.

 

When you’re ready, release your anxiety and allow it to dissolve, float away, or evaporate. Take a few more deep breathes in through your nose and out through your mouth and repeat, as needed.

 

If anxiety is controlling your life, contact us to schedule your free initial consultation.

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