I see a lot of clients wanting help for their anxiety symptoms. Sometimes their anxiety is connected to the things that are going on in their lives. Other times, their anxiety isn’t explicitly related to any situation or event in their life. They report feeling anxious for no apparent reason.
Ignoring your Emotions – the Mind-Body Connection
I explain that at times, they might be suppressing uncomfortable emotions such as anger, sadness or pain. This typically starts in childhood. For example, you may have learned that expressing such emotions can result in being ignored, punished or ridiculed or left feeling like you or your emotions are too much. You likely tense up your body and hold your breath to prevent the feelings from coming out. Many times, clients are not even aware that these feelings exist because holding in the emotion has become a habit and a way of being. You might have unconsciously learned to keep these emotions in at all cost. However, we can’t keep these emotions in forever. At some point, they’ll start to surface. And when they do, your internal alarm goes off, warning against the ‘dangerous’ emotions surfacing. This typically leaves us feeling anxious.
Mindfulness for your Anxiety Symptoms
Can you relate? If so, know that you can learn to change the automatic anxious response. The first step is to mindfully observe whether there’s another feeling you might be experiencing as soon as you feel the anxiety coming on. Our brain likes reason, and reason can ease anxiety. Mindfully observe the emotion that might be associated with the anxiety. For instance, if you’re feeling like anger is triggering the anxiety, notice it. The second step is to be curious, ask yourself what might be causing the anger? Was your boundary violated? Was a need not met? Once you connect to the underlying emotion, you’ll become more comfortable with it. Rest assured that our body was made to experience all of the emotions. Once you can surrender to the emotional experience, the anxiety, aka alarm, is no longer needed.
A Breathing Exercise for your Anxiety Symptoms
Here is a breathing exercise to help you experience emotions. Specifically, this focused breathing allows you to relax, play attention to the sensations in your body, the associated emotions and to allow these feelings to come up.
1. Sit in a comfortable position in a chair with your feet on the ground and your back against the chair. Begin with a full exhale. Then inhale and image that you’re inflating a balloon that goes from your navel to your chest. Your belly should expand with the inhale and contract with the exhale. Ensure that your shoulders don’t move.
2. Continue slowing and deeply inhaling and exhaling full abdominal breaths. As you exhale, press the balls of your feet onto the ground. If you feel lightheaded, slow it down. It means you’re breathing too quickly. Inhale, exhale, press your feet. Repeat.
3. Continue breathing, and pay attention to the sensations in your body. You might feel annoyed, frustrated or like you want to give up. Try to keep going, as it typically means that suppressed emotions are beginning to surface. Keep breathing and be mindful of the emotions that come up. If you feel the annoyance, frustration or like you want to give up, notice where you experience it in your body. Visualize breathing directly into the areas of your body that are feeling the sensations. By focusing your attention directly on the sensations and breathing into them, this allows them to come to the surface so that they can be released. You might experience tears, or anger initially, but once they’re released, you’ll feel lighter and calmer.
Because this is new, you might have to practice this a few times before feeling anything. You’re teaching your mind and body something new, and it might take some practice so that your body will gradually begin to relax. It’s also normal to have many thoughts. When a thought comes up, notice it and bring your attention back to your breath. The more you practice, the fewer thoughts will pop up.