Anxiety Management: Rediscover What Used...

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Anxiety Management: Rediscover What Used to Make You Feel Good

March 21, 2010

We’ve all been there in some shape or form: that feeling of anxiety. It is a familiar feeling for me. I’ve had it on and off through most of my life. When it’s bad, my heart and head feel like they’re fluttering at mach speeds trying to outpace each other. When it’s managed, it’s often been the extra burst of energy that has allowed me to accomplish some pretty cool things. I don’t look like an anxious person, I’m a pretty chill mother and boss, but inside my head, I’ve usually got enough logistics running to help out NASA. I can plan and execute like a mother. The problem is that it’s not always necessary. One of my top tips to manage anxiety with my clients is to rediscover what used to make them feel good. For me, that’s yoga.

Yoga may not be your thing, but something is. I’ve had great conversations helping clients rediscover what they used to do that helped them feel good. What was the thing that brought them calm or joy or really built their sense of self? For some, it was dance, or singing, or running. For others, it was taking the time to write or curl up with a good book or spend time in the backyard. Most of us have one or two things that we can remember always loving or always feeling good when we were doing them regularly.

A great anxiety management tip: go back to what you know. You may be surprised by what you find out about yourself.

After a Sunday morning (4:08 AM) wakeup from the scent of a freshly baked Jack’s frozen pizza wafting up the stairs (one of my teenagers is taking advantage of the last remaining nights of winter break to stay up late as they often like to do), I had to revisit this mantra myself.

While I like to be up early, I don’t like to be up at 4:08 am, and it takes me a while to fall back asleep. Long enough that I get to the point of contemplating whether or not I should get up and tackle my Sunday to-do list. God may have said to rest on the 7th day, but Sundays often feel like the day of all days to prepare for the upcoming week, and for me, there is usually a sense of anxiety about using the day in the most efficiently balanced way of planning, preparing, self-care, laundry, family time and a nap. Today there is a bit more on my plate because my daughter is heading back to school this week and that comes with its own set of challenges. So, as I laid in the warm bed, trying my best to meditate and burrow back into the covers, cajoling my active brain back into sleep I could feel the anxiety building.

Thankfully, this morning I was able to fall back asleep. My secret: counting in sets of 10 with my breath, odds on the inhales, evens on the exhales. When I woke again I knew that I needed to do something about the anxiety because otherwise I would spin, so with about 7 minutes to spare, I put on my yoga clothes, grabbed some tea, and went to a yoga class. I have been a fairly frequent doer of yoga for close to 20 years; however, for no good reason other than life has been happening, I haven’t been to a class in close to three months. I had motivation though, I just felt like I needed to get there this morning, the thought was, go back to what you know.

The first downward dog and forward fold were downright painful, and for a moment I wondered if I was going to make it through class, but I kept going. One of the great things about yoga, in a class format, is that you don’t know what is coming next, so your brain has to pay attention. If your brain is paying attention to the instructor and how not to fall on your ass, it cannot pay attention to all the monkey business in your head.

Benefit number one of going back to what you know: the simple act of choosing to do something clears your head, one way or another.

There were definitely some moments of doubt and “I can’ts”, but midway through class, it didn’t matter what my brain was thinking, I was in the middle of doing it anyway. We think thoughts all day long, and they’re real, but they’re not always accurate. How many times do we find ourselves in the middle of an “I can’t” moment, only to find that we just did?

Benefit number two of going back to what you know: the familiar will trigger memories of “I can,” and your brain and body will follow along.

I saw friendly faces, I got a big hug and a Happy New Year, I walked into the studio that I know and love, rolled out my mat, loosened up my tight back and hips, and laughed at myself. I remembered being strong and yoga being a necessary part of my self-care routine, so I dropped the worries and got some perspective. Most of all, I felt good. Don’t forget, the familiar feels good, and when we stoke those parts of our lives that feel good, everything else is much easier.

A woman practicing yoga after receiving therapy for anxiety in Hinsdale.

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