Anxiety: Your Body’s Dysfunctional Thermostat

Time to get your hand on that dial.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

anx•i•e•ty- A state of uneasiness and apprehension, as about future uncertainties.

That is a succinct and honest definition of anxiety pulled straight from duckduckgo (because Google is creepy.)

Maybe I’m the one with anxiety though since I’m concerned about privacy and avoiding Google?

Of course, I’m the one with anxiety! That’s the reason I’m writing about it, in fact, anxiety is the impetus behind the majority of my work. I’ve always had anxiety. Literally for as long as I can remember, and I have a borderline photographic memory, I’ve had anxiety. Granted I didn’t know it was a thing. I just thought that everyone was on edge all of the time, hated being in large groups of people, and was hyper-vigilant to all threats at all times.

As it turns out that’s not the norm… go figure. You could say this was a textbook case of “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

The question on many people’s minds is probably, “Why did you have so much anxiety especially as a child?” There are a few factors that play a role but I believe the three primary contributors were; First, I was born deaf. While I didn’t stay that way, I was deaf for long enough that I was wired for a very quiet world. To this day if you want to see what it looks like for me have to restrain every instinct and muscle in my body not to flip the physical violence switch all you have to do is sneak up behind me and make a loud noise. I won’t jump, I won’t yelp, I’ll be preoccupied with dousing instinctual rage.

Photo by @chairulfajar_ on Unsplash

Second, I have a birth defect in my stomach that made it extremely difficult to deal with the physical aspects of mental stress. It’s not fun as a kid hoping that the food you just ate doesn’t come out the other end having not been digested at all.

Third, my closest sibling is 7 years older than me, this is more practical than anything. I just didn’t have any family peers to really practice being social with. So instead of building social skills as a young child I basically marinated in my own little hyper-sensitive world.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I want you to know that I’ve been there. I’ve felt the crushing effects of anxiety. I’ve experienced the irrational fear and deep loneliness that comes from trying to avoid the feelings of anxiety.

I can also tell you first hand that it doesn’t have to be that way. You can step beyond anxiety and take the reigns of your life. You can choose the trajectory of your life.

If I can do it so can you!

How did I do it? Wait that’s a bad question… How am I doing it? Because let’s be honest anxiety is like an addiction. It doesn’t just go away, the thing that changes is your behavior.

I want you to conceptualize something with me for a moment. Imagine that the strongest emotion you’re currently experiencing is setting the “thermostat” for your body. Or in other words, the emotion that you feel most strongly creates the environment that you have to live in, in your own body.

Here’s an easy example, disgust. It’s not too difficult for you to think of something that makes your skin crawl and if you think about it for very long it’s going to literally feel like your skin is crawling. You might even get a shiver down your spine and a little bit of a frown.

You can create that emotion by simply thinking about something and the sensations in your body will shift to match the emotions and thoughts.

Your body will always strive to stay in sync with what’s happening in your thoughts and emotions and THAT is why anxiety feels so terrible.

Photo by Dan LeFebvre on Unsplash

Anxiety sets the thermostat to “worst-case scenario” and then cranks it up to 11.

Anxiety, at least for me, made my darkest most terrible thoughts reality, and as far as my body was concerned I was living them.

The only way I was able to break the cycle was to force myself outside of my comfort zone, both physically, mentally, and socially. You see we humans do our most dangerous thinking while we’re in our comfort zones.

We think that things are always supposed to go right.

We think that stress is a bug in the system rather than a feature.

We think that no one else could possibly understand the way we feel.

We think the thoughts that make us weaker and convert us into comfort zone citizens, the most detestable of all human subspecies.

Exercise was the first escape from my comfort zone. I found that when I intentionally went out of my way to do something difficult I was rewarded. Not only was I rewarded with better looks and improved health but I was more resilient. The things that would’ve derailed me emotionally transformed from Mount Everests into anthills. The INTENTIONAL HARD WORK had changed me and it continues to do so to this day. Fitness was my first saving grace.

Breathwork came next. My brother introduced me to a few simple breathing techniques when I was about 16 years old. I was blown away by how breathing in a certain way coupled with a bit of meditation could change everything about the way that I felt. In just a few moments no matter how off the rails my life felt I could reset and get back to feeling like myself.

Heat and cold exposure were the last to the party. Retrospectively I’m surprised that it took so long for me to get on the exposure train, but here we are. After having a lifelong love affair with saunas I eventually took the plunge into the cold water as well and never looked back.

The common thread that runs through each of these things is that historically they’ve killed a lot of humans, and that’s what makes them so powerful for recalibrating the “anxiety thermostat.”

Photo by guille pozzi on Unsplash

Hear me out.

Countless humans have died because they weren’t able to deal with the physical demands of life. They were either not strong or fast enough to stay ahead of whatever killed them. Quite a few people have also died due to suffocation. Really if you think about it you only ever have about three minutes to live and then you take a breath and reset the timer. It’s the same idea with the heat and cold. Large swaths of humanity have succumbed to harsh environments since time immemorial.

It’s because these things have been happening for as long as humans have been around that it’s important to leverage them. We’re wired to avoid situations that contain these things. It’s that wiring that starts running amock when we’re bathed in anxiety.

The sensations that run through your body when you’re filled with anxiety are the same sensations that you feel when you confront stressors like restricted breathwork, being submerged in breathwork, or getting under a barbell heavy enough to scare you.

That means you have the opportunity to “practice” the sensations of anxiety and turn them into something else.

YOU have the capacity to reprogram yourself as a more resilient flexible version of yourself. Anxiety doesn’t have to have a seat at the table of your life. All you need to do is fill the seat it used to sit at with experiences difficult or uncomfortable enough to keep your thermostat properly calibrated.

I understand if this feels like I’m trying to get you to walk the line between safety and disaster and you’re wary.

You should be because that’s exactly what I want you to do. I want you to forsake your comfort zone and never look back. I want you to become everything you never believed you could be.

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