Reducing Anxiety

Many anxious people do not think of themselves as anxious. Anxiety can be “sneaky” — indeed, it’s a common human pattern to contain, control, hide and cope with our symptoms of anxiety — to hide them from others and from ourselves by minimizing and embodying their expression.

It’s actually unusual for the average anxious person to be obviously anxious. When people dismiss anxiety as a factor in their health, it’s because they don’t think of themselves as a “nervous person.” And you might not be. But you may well still suffer from anxiety.

Obvious or not, anxiety always involves a distinctive set of changes in your mind and body. Adrenalin and cortisol — the stress hormones — flow too freely and for too long, of course, with many adverse effects.

Your sense of self and your vitality and attention typically shift upwards and away from the body in general and into the head. When you are stressed out and worrying hard, you are probably “in your head,” as opposed to being “in your body” or “comfortable in your skin.” The head becomes relatively busy, as your brain switches to spin cycle and the eyes and ears scan more vigilantly for dangers — most of them imaginary.

We use muscular tension, stillness, and a lack of breath — like a rabbit freezing to avoid predator detection — to try to manage the churning and sinking sensations in the belly that come with worry.

These processes are so physical and habitual that they are difficult or impossible to interrupt by force of will. Once it starts, most of us are doomed to a few hours of whirling thoughts, and the physical consequences: back pain or neck pain, a throbbing headache, or insomnia2 are all common embodiments of stress.

So what can you do?