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Calming The Anxious Mind

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 19.2% of people suffer from anxiety. But, what is anxiety anyway?

The way that I view it, anxiety is a threat response to a perceived threat. Our bodies and minds are pretty amazing. We are actually biologically hardwired to notice and to respond to threats quickly. When we feel threatened, many things can happen simultaneously: our blood pressure rises, cortisol and adrenaline get released, heart rate increases, breathing becomes labored. Physiologically, this happens to prepare our bodies for the possible need to fight or flee.

This reaction in our nervous system is actually one of our greatest innate gifts. It dates back to caveman days and probably helped our ancestors escape some saber-tooth tigers... or something like that.

The problem is that, despite our evolutionary advances, our systems have not mastered the ability to discern perceived threats from real threats. Believe it or not, even thinking about a threatening situation can elicit this response.

So basically our bodies will react in the same way if we are being chased by a bear or if we are deeply worried that we said the wrong thing at a party.

(Crazy, I know)

Common symptoms of anxiety can include, but are not limited to: racing thoughts, hyperventilation, rapid heart beat, increased blood pressure, trouble concentrating, irritability, visual and auditory impairments, sweating.

The good thing is we do have control over shutting this system down. Think of it like a fire alarm. In the case of a real fire that alarm is so damn helpful and possibly literally life-saving. But when there is no fire, the alarm becomes unnecessary, even annoying perhaps, so it is best to shut it off.

Furthermore, at any given time, our mind-body connection is using both a top-down and bottom-up approach, meaning when we think something it sends signals to our brain that tell our bodies to act (top-down). Likewise, when do something physically, it sends a message to our brains to process that information cognitively (bottom-up).

For instance, if we think something stressful, our heart rate might increase. Conversely, when we clench our jaw, it sends a message to our brain that something might be wrong.

The groovy thing is this top-down, bottom-up approach works just as well deactivating our nervous system. So if we intentionally think something calming like "I am okay", our body will follow suit and relax; and if we choose to relax our shoulders, that action will send a message to our brain that we don't have to worry. (i.e: no one would stop to deep breathe if they were actually in danger)

So...when that anxiety creeps up, notice it. But then change it. You can send messages from both your body and your mind that you are okay.

Here are some examples how:

· Deep breathing

· Meditation

· Repeating "I am safe"

· Taking a cold shower

· Grounding techniques

· Positive mantras

· Taking a nap

· Cold compress

· Medication

· Stretching

There are soooo many more ways to cope and redirect anxiety. If you are struggling with anxiety yourself, I (strongly) recommend speaking to a therapist or mental health professional, who can design a treatment plan specifically with you in mind.

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