It’s 3:18am on a Thursday morning and yet again, I’ve been shaken awake by the antagonist in my head. Anxiety and I have been companions since before I can even remember. I’ve spent years trying to reclaim authority of my own mind, and I’m sure many other people can relate to this struggle. By sharing a few of my experiences and the wisdom I’ve gained from them, I hope you can find a new or a refreshed understanding of the anxious mind.
Tonight I let my guard down. Haha I mean that’s exactly what happens when we sleep, right? Sleep is one of the most vulnerable and helpless spaces we enter into, both physically and mentally. I was sleeping soundly and now what seems like the next moment (which is actually 3:18am), I’m experiencing some weird half sleep / half awake state where my mind is anxiously and recklessly spinning.
After an especially exhausting day, it would make sense that the usual mental effort exerted to guard my mind and cope with anxiety would all but disappear in a sleep state. But now I’m awake, my heart is pounding, my stomach is in knots, my chest feels tight, and my breathing is fast.
Who can relate?
This is exactly what happens when our body believes we are literally facing danger. The physical sensations of our fight or flight responses aren’t unhealthy in and of themselves. In fact, this bodily response is quite amazing. The simple awareness of danger triggers a release of stress hormones to help keep us alive.
Anxiety, then, is when our mind creates worse case scenarios in an attempt to prepare for any possible future harm. This, in turn, triggers the same release of stress hormones to activate our fight or flight system.
It’s healthy to be aware of possible outcomes, but not to the point where the possible is given all control.
Until about 4 years ago, imagining possible worse case scenarios was the most constant state of my mind.
Let me give you some context.
When I was a freshman in high school, there was a shooting at my school while I was in the building.
As you can imagine, this experience has very much shaped me into the person I am today – for better and for worse. I’ll be giving more details about the way I’ve processed this event and healed from it in a later post, but for now, I want to speak ..write.. (haha) particularly about the anxiety the event awoke within me.
Very soon after the shooting, I started seeing a therapist. While at first, my therapy was primarily focused on the treatment of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), I quickly discovered that most of the anxiety I was experiencing had been dormant, but it had always been there. The shooting just brought it to the surface and forced me to give it a name.
Before therapy, I understood anxiety as a normal state of being. It was with me every day, and I somehow thought that was okay.
I’m curious how many people are also living in a constant state of unease, worry, and fear and think they are stuck there. If this describes you, I want to say with all the confidence in the world: You’re not stuck. There is hope. I promise – you deserve to experience peace.
We all deserve to experience peace.
There are a variety of helpful tools we can use to calm anxiety (exercise, journaling, listening to music, etc.) but I want to focus on one tool in particular that you may not have heard of –
Every single time I went into therapy and spewed out my anxious thoughts or felt that fight-or-flight tension in my body, this is the technique my therapist used to help calm me down. It has completely transformed my anxiety:
- Step 1: Close your eyes and breathe deeply
- Step 2: Take notice of where you might be feeling tension and unease in your body, but don’t fight it. Just notice it. Breathe into it.
- Step 3: Your mind might be spiraling, conjuring up worst-case scenarios. Notice those thoughts. Allow them to be what they are. Keep breathing.
- Step 4: Think of a time and a place where you felt the most peace/security/comfort/joy. Literally go there in your mind. Remember the sights, sounds, smells, & feelings
For me, when I meditate, I usually go back to Coronado Beach in San Diego, CA. I remember that refreshing touch of ocean water pushing me on a boogie board and I remember sitting in a circle on the sand playing Phase 10 with a group of close friends. I remember laughing, winning;), but also feeling an incredible sense of security and hope in the presence of the people who knew me best (you know who you are <3).
Regardless of your present state of anxiety, I encourage you to think: What is that place for you?
- Step 5: Slowly, bring your awareness back to the present moment. Check in with yourself. How is the tension in your body? How is your mind? Whatever it is – let it be. Give yourself grace. And when you’re ready, open your eyes.
This is the exercise I practice, at 3:18am on a Thursday morning.
We can’t just force our anxiety to go away – I wish it was that simple – but we can redirect our attention to tasks / activities that are within our control in the present moment.
You may feel anxious sometimes, but please always remember that your anxiety does not define you. You define you. & if you’re a person of faith like I am – God’s love defines you. So speak kindly to yourself and be gracious.
Thank you for reading, please don’t hesitate to send in questions/comments!
Love and peace to you all, ❤ Dee
“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” – Psalm 4:8