I had a conversation with a dear friend over lunch today. She and I remarked that anxiety seems to be rampant these days. When I was in graduate school, depression was referred to in all the textbooks and by experts as the “common cold of mental illness.” But I honestly think anxiety has surpassed that.
And it’s no wonder. In a volatile and arguably traumatic sociopolitical environment, where we are constantly bombarded with information and images that tell us who we’re supposed to be and what we’re supposed to value, it’s little wonder that we’re all triggered to shit. According to one recent study, up to 33.7% of the population are affected by anxiety disorder during their lifetime.
Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, fear-based stress and anxiety can be debilitating. Job worries, financial strain, relationship struggles, and unresolved trauma can all play a role. And it’s causing real problems in all aspects of our lives: mental health issues, all kinds of somatic disorders, substance abuse, and disconnection from loved ones, to name just a few.
While I don’t want to generalize my experience to everyone, I can tell you that my yoga practice has been invaluable in shutting down anxious thoughts before they take hold in my body. First, connecting my movement to my breath has enabled me to slow down my mental processes enough to notice how my body actually feels when my stress begins to build. Second, yoga helps ground me to the present moment. In coming weeks, I’ll post a short and simple anxiety-busting yoga sequence you can use anytime you’re feeling that tension build.
In the meantime, maybe you’re out and about or lying in bed, or somewhere you can’t just drop into child’s pose right there on the floor. So here is a three-step, “in-case-of-emergency-break-glass,” anxiety-busting 911* for when feelings of stress and anxiety creep in:
- Breathe. Take a couple of deep breaths. After one or two nice deep breaths, inhale deeply on a count of four, then exhale, lengthening the breath slightly, maybe to a count of five. Inhale for four, exhale for five. Continue this for a few rounds. Your body sensations may feel heightened by anxiety, your thoughts racing. Notice these things. Don’t try to change them. But don’t attach to them, either. Focus instead on your breath. Keep that inhale and that lengthened exhale.
- Ground yourself in the present moment. Continuing your breathing, take a moment to look around. Notice your surroundings. Feel the earth underneath you, supporting you. Place your hands, palms facing down, on the earth or your knees or thighs, and become conscious of the connection of your palms to the surface they’re touching. This is the only moment that exists. And in this moment, you are safe.
- Repeat silently to yourself: In this moment, I am safe. On the inhale, add your mantra, “In this moment.” On the exhale, “I am safe.” Anytime your anxiety starts to ramp up, just return to your inhales and exhales, and the mantra.
Repeat this until you feel the physical sensations of your anxiety subside. I sometimes struggle with anxiety-based sleep disturbance during times of great stress, and this is what I do to get past it and go back to sleep. I hope it serves you.
What’s in YOUR anxiety-busting toolbox? Comment and share!
*Assuming you are not in an imminently life-threatening situation, obviously!