Anxiety is often thought of as a mental health issue, but if you live with it, you understand it's not just in your head, it also takes a toll on your body. Maybe it feels like a tightness in your gut and across your chest. Maybe your heart races and your neck and shoulders feel tight. Since anxiety affects our bodies and minds, in order to effectively treat it, we need to address both the physical and mental symptoms.
In his article, Help for Anxiety, Paul Ingraham shares his insights, including the physiology behind anxiety and concrete steps you can take to manage it. He also discusses possible medical causes, how massage can help, and gives clear examples of several grounding exercises that you may find helpful.
"Obvious or not, anxiety 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, this has many adverse effects, and constitutes a genuine medical hazard.
In this state, 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 mind becomes 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 insomnia are all common embodiments of stress…”