How to Stop Anxiety in Its Tracks Naturally
A bit of awareness and your breath are all that you need.
Anxiety technically starts in our heads, but that’s not where we perceive it. The first place we notice it is usually in our bodies. The sensations of anxiety are what derails us.
Your body and mind are in constant communication. Your mind tells your body stories to give it context for what’s happening, and your body feeds data to your mind to keep the stories flowing.
You can think of your body and mind like the hands of a juggler. The hands are constantly in motion catching and throwing, maintaining the rhythm, and keeping the objects airborne. One hand is the mind, and the other hand is the body; if they’re out of synch, the rhythm is broken, and something gets dropped.
With anxiety, sensation overloads the system cutting communication from the “body” hand to the “mind” hand, and until the sensation is dealt with, the rhythm can’t be restored.
Which gives rise to the real question.
How do you keep your mind and your body in synch? How do you experience the sensation without breaking the rhythm?
There are two stages.
Stage 1. Pay attention
Paying attention is the hardest part, but once you get that down, the rest comes easily. What you’re paying attention to is when you feel your body begin to shift out of phase with your environment.
Here’s an example that most people can understand.
You walk onto the stage and can feel the heat of the lights. Looking out across the crowd, you see a sea of faces. Your palms begin to sweat, your heart races, your throat constricts, and you ask yourself why you agreed to speak in front of all of these people.
That’s public speaking in a nutshell for the vast majority of the population. Many people find public speaking absolutely terrifying, and it shows in their physiology, body language, and voice.
The sensations that I outlined above start long before walking out on stage. The stage just so happens to be where they hit the hardest.
Your job is to pay exquisite attention to when they start, and when they do, you’re NOT going to suppress them.
You’re NOT going to breathe slowly.
You’re NOT going to try and slow your heart rate.
You’re NOT going somewhere else in your head.
You’re going to stick with the sensations, and you’re going to milk them for everything they’re worth.
It’s going to be uncomfortable.
It’s going to be scary, and you’re going to do it if you want to take your life back from the clutches of anxiety.
Stage 2. Breathe accordingly
Now that you’re sitting with these sensations, it’s time to synch up WITH them. This may seem counterintuitive because conventional wisdom says you should suppress the sensations into oblivion.
That’s the worst possible thing you can do, and here’s why!
The sensations you experience when anxiety hits are the product of your body, making resources available for you to step up and “rise to the occasion.”
That’s what you want, right?
You want to be able to go out on that proverbial stage and kill it. You want to be able to stand when everyone else is falling. You want to feel confident and competent in your own skin no matter the situation and no matter the stakes.
Am I wrong? Would you prefer to fold like a cheap lawn chair any time the heat gets turned up?
I didn’t think so.
If you’re not breathing slowly, then what are you supposed to be doing?
You should be breathing in a manner that synchs you with your activity and environment.
Here are some specific pre-activity breathing suggestions
Public speaking — Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. When you inhale, breathe deep and low. When you exhale, just let it go. Breathe at a rate that is about 15% faster than normal.
Physical competition — In the run-up before the competition, you should be breathing 100% through your nose in a slow and controlled manner until about 5 minutes before your warm-up. In the 5-minute window, shift to oral in and nasal out, focusing on the exhale being slightly longer than the inhale. If you’re feeling alert and collected, continue that breathing throughout the warm-up. If you’re feeling lethargic, pick up the pace.
Important personal relationship conversation — If you know the conversation is coming, take a few minutes and hit 10–20 quick oral inhales with relaxed exhales. After the final exhale, hold your breath empty for as long as possible, then shift to 100% nasal breathing.
The above examples are meant to be instructive rather than prescriptive. You can see that they all have some similarities as well as a few differences. The reason for that is that each situation is different and requires a different state. What I’ve outlined here will keep most people in the state that prolongs the sensations of anxiety.
FULL STOP! WHAT?
Remember how we talked about your body helping you rise to the occasion? It can’t do that if you hide from the process that gets you there. You have to be able to make peace with the discomfort if you want to harness the power of your anxiety.
There’s no magic bullet to avoid anxiety. Everyone experiences it every single day, and struggling with it doesn’t make you special or broken. It simply means you need to develop your skills for utilizing it.
Sure, that’s all fine and good on paper, but what about when the anxiety actually hits? What happens when you’re flooded with sensation, and the pit in your stomach turns into a black hole? What happens when you start sweating, and everything in your mind and body tells you to “Get out!” even though you KNOW you should stay?
As Rob Wilson would say, “If it doesn’t work when you’re on fire, then it doesn’t work.” In other words, if what I’m telling you doesn’t work when that black hole does show up in the pit of your stomach, it’s not worth anything.
It does work, and you don’t have to wait for your next incredibly anxious moment to test it.
We’re going to create one of those moments right now.
Take the time to actually work through this exercise and use what you learn to help you harness the energy of anxiety for something more useful.
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