Overcome Your Anxiety: A 4-Part Series (Part 1: Your Body on Anxiety)
Ok, so there is a lot going on in the world right now. Since the arrival of COVID-19, we have been experiencing an unprecedented time of collective stress globally. Everyone is experiencing the stress and anxiety of the situation differently, and we all have our ways of coping, however healthy or unhealthy they may be.
In addition to giving ourselves and those around us a little bit of grace during this time, it is also an opportunity to pause, reflect, and grow. It is an opportunity to get to know ourselves a little better and observe how we interact with the world when we are faced with stressors beyond our control.
We have the opportunity to build the mind-body connection, to learn how our body communicates with us and how to listen and respond. How to use this difficult time to connect and heal our minds, bodies, and souls.
So, we created this 4-part series to explore exactly that.
We want to help you identify how stress and anxiety show up in your body, how you can truly tune in, as well as what you can do to calm and heal yourself when it does.
Here is an outline of what we will cover in this series:
Part 1: Anxiety and Your Body: Learn the Basic Biology of Anxiety
Part 2: Anxious Thinking + Behaviors that Cause Anxiety…and How to Stop Them
Part 3: How to Manage When There is a Collective Anxiety
Part 4: Resilience and Coping: How to find Calm When Your Anxiety Shows Up
Let’s start with exploring the basic biology of anxiety. I promise I am going to keep it super simple and easy to follow!
You have probably heard of the flight or fight response in the body. This is built into all of us…in fact all mammals on earth (remember, we are part of nature, not separate from it) have this response. It is very important part of being alive…we need this response to ensure survival.
The fight or flight response, also known as the stress response, is essentially a reaction to an external threat. The mind perceives a danger, and it triggers the body to react, to prepare the body to either fight the danger or flee the danger. We all have experienced this reaction at some point.
For example, you are crossing the road and a car turns the corner and doesn’t see you. You see the car and immediately react – your brain knows that it is time to either fight the car or jump out of the way. Naturally, we are going to jump out of the way. The brain sends signals to your adrenal glands, which then pump out a whole bunch of hormones to help your body do what it needs to do. For the purpose of this series, the two main hormones I want you to remember are adrenaline and cortisol.
The first phase of the stress response pumps adrenaline, which gets your heart pumping faster so you can get more blood to your muscles, your heart and other important organs in your body. You will also notice you are breathing more rapidly – this is so that your brain can get all the extra oxygen it needs to remain more alert.
The second phase of the response stimulates the release of cortisol, which keeps the body revved up and on high alert. Essentially, this is your body ensuring the fight or flight response remains switched on. Here is a list of signs that your body is in fight or flight:
Tunnel Vision (we lose peripheral vision to focus on the task at hand)
Sweating (this is actually your body trying to cool itself in case it needs to defend against a predator
Remember, the stress response is not designed to be sustained for long periods of time. Instead, it is meant to help us react to danger, and then once we are safe, the body should return to baseline. However, in modern times, we are not as in much danger as maybe we once were. Instead, the stress response is being triggered by internal thoughts, memories, and emotions. We often don’t even realize it is happening, and if we don’t notice it is happening, we don’t turn it off and we can easily just get stuck in the stress response. It’s as if the body thinks it needs to remain “on” because it doesn’t receive the signals it needs to shut off. This means we are perpetually in a state of preparing for danger even if we don’t need to be.
Here are symptoms of being stuck in the stress response:
Loss of sexual drive
Muscle aches and pains
Frequent colds and infections
Again, the body is not meant to be in the fight or flight response for very long. Typically, the body is able to calm down within 20-30 minutes, sometimes even shorter. But many people are triggering this response with thoughts and emotions and don’t even realize it, and over time, the body eventually starts to break dow. This is when we see chronic health conditions develop, like headaches, gastrointestinal issues, autoimmune disorders, chest pain, aches and pains, insomnia, fatigue, chest pain, loss of sexual desire, and weakened immunity. Too much stress can literally make you sick.
This is why it is SO important to begin building the mind-body connection.
And the good news is: this is totally doable…and we are going to help you.
The first step is developing your awareness – an understanding of how you react to stress. You must learn how to recognize the signs that your body in the fight or flight response, the thoughts and situations that trigger this response. Once you know this information, that is when you can then determine which tools will help your body calm down and return to baseline.
Sound good? Cool – let’s get started!
First, reflect on these questions:
When I am stressed, where do I feel it in my body (i.e. chest, stomach, head, back, etc.)
Describe how that stress feels.
What emotions cause me to feel stressed? (i.e. anger, sadness, frustration).
Once you have answered these questions, then move on to Part 2, where we explore common thinking patterns that can cause anxiety. Check that out HERE.
Peace and love,