What does anxiety feel like and why do we regularly experience it?
Once we feel anxiety or fear, our body starts to send signals, energy, and blood to the body parts that will help us run or climb faster (legs and arms) or fight for our life. That’s why the sympathetic nervous system’s response is called “fight or flight”.
“Anxiety is the 1st reaction of a sensitive system wired to keep us alert to danger and protected from harm. In our primitive days, anxiety helped us to escape lions or harmful weather conditions.” Tamar E. Chansky, PhD.
Simply put, anxiety is our brain’s alert system that helps to keep us alive. It’s our safety mechanism. And surely, we all need to experience it to some degree sometimes.
Nowadays, we are too busy with work, duties, kids, and deadlines, that we keep living on the edge, too close to “fight and flight” even daily. And if we don’t decompress or self-care regularly, we run a risk of even being “stuck” in the “fight and flight” for days, losing the ability to cope with the fear and nervousness. Furthermore, this “stuckness” makes it hard for our body to heal itself. Because the signal from the nervous system is telling the body to run, so obviously there is no time to rest and heal.
Often many of us (especially moms) have never-ending to-do lists and non-stop daily schedules, we physically rush through our day. Our heart rate is fast, our breathing pattern becomes shallow and so the body thinks that we are not safe in the environment. So our system stays in “fight or flight” mode all the time just in case something life-threatening happens and we do need to actually run very fast.
This in turn affects the way we think. I assume you’d agree with me that it is very hard to think about a tranquil and calm, happy, sunny beach when we are in this mode. And so naturally, we start having feelings of fear and thoughts of worst-case scenarios. Also, top it up with body challenges like leaking pee or prolapse then life gets even harder. Because we are constantly worried that someone also notices those embarrassing drops of pee on the pants or that prolapse will get worse and we won’t be able to enjoy life ever again. Worries take up most part of our daily thoughts even if there is no need.
So, does this cycle sound familiar:
Wake up in the morning, rushing through the day, having worrying thoughts about a million things that can go wrong. Thoughts create feelings and emotions, and feelings and emotions create a physical response in the body, which in turn brings even more scary thoughts and nervousness. And this cycle continues repeatedly day by day and many times unconsciously.
Ah hello, anxiety!
Luckily, nowadays we have a lot of tools and ways to help with anxiety experiences.
How to break the cycle of constant worries and anxiety?
To help with this I invite you to turn into your body. The human body is the smartest mechanism that was ever created in the history of this planet. Our body contains wisdom and systems that keep us alive and (if we use it correctly) thrive.
We can influence the body’s nervous system response by using the body’s simple movements, physical sensations, mindfulness (meditation or journaling), and self-talk as soothing self-care practices.
It’s scientifically proven that body movements (physical exercises) and mindfulness (mental exercises) if practiced regularly, can reduce anxiety, and stress and overall improve the quality of our lives.
Commitment to self-care.
Very often I’m asked what is the “best” exercises or “best meditation”. I always say that there is no such thing as “best” or “worst” exercises, or self-care practice. What makes it best for you is the execution. You need to be very committed to yourself in order to regularly do self-care that brings you the healing you are seeking.
Of course, I can give you the most “magical” exercises to help you, but it only helps if you actually do it.
No surprise here! You really need to be committed to wanting to get better. You probably heard it before that knowing what to do isn’t necessarily going to help you get better, but doing what you know you need will bring you results and improvements.
Body movements (physical exercises) to reduce anxiety.
It’s helpful to do some sort of physical activity. It improves circulation in your body, decreases (or increases) your heart rate, distracts you from your thoughts and stories, and generally makes you feel good.
What is your favorite body movement or activity? Walking, running, cycling, yoga, breathing exercises, etc? Can you do that daily for just 10 mins? The important point here is “your favorite.” It is so much easier to keep your commitment to yourself by doing the things that are enjoyable to you.
Here is my favorite, a 3-minutes breathing exercise that reduces anxiety for me:
Sit or lay down comfortably with your spine in a neutral position.
Close your eyes.
Place your hand on your heart and start counting while breathing.
Inhale, on the slow count of 5.
Pause breathing for 2.
Exhale, slowly counting to 8.
Pause breathing for 2.
Breathe like that for 3 minutes.
Return to normal breathing, letting go of counting and pausing.
In simple words, mindfulness is our ability to stay present and be aware of our internal world (thoughts and body sensations) and external environment. Note that being present doesn’t mean being happy, it means simply being fully conscious in the current moment.
One of the mindfulness exercises is meditation, it can be a body scan meditation, visualization or even journaling. All you have to do is to focus on the present moment and feel your body. You can devote 3-5 mins on a daily basis.
Of course, before you start meditation it’s important that you logically recognize that whatever it is you are feeling emotionally, it is just a created story in your head and not a real danger.
Many people think that the best help with anxiety is to change all your thoughts into positive, ignoring or suppressing the negative feelings and thoughts. Unfortunately, that’s very hard to do for many people and doesn’t always work to calm the anxiety.
What I found that works for me and my clients is using descriptive language, mark the thoughts as neutral, not negative or positive.
Describe to yourself the situation, as detailed as you wish, and try your best to not create a story about it, simply describe what it really is.
Very often, we unconsciously attach the emotional story to a simple daily act. The story is created in our heads and might be fueled by past experiences and emotions. Without realizing we attach those emotions (from the past) to the current story and so we produce the worst “potential” outcome of the situation (creating anxiety). When in reality it might be just a small and unrelated fact.
Here is where your mindfulness practice comes in handy.
In meditation or journaling (If you’d like to try journaling as a self care practice to reduce your anxiety, I have a guide for you below this article. Download for FREE “Anxiety relief through journaling”) can you describe the situation in plain boring language? And read it or re-describe it again. This can help you recognize that there is no actual threat to your life and there is no need to imagine the worst case scenarios.
For example, if you are someone who has been considering to start exercising or going to the gym, but you have so much anxious thoughts about actually going to the gym, “What if I sneeze and leak pee on my pants everyone will see it and I will be embarrassed”, “If I mention to my gym instructor that I leak pee when jumping she will laugh at me or other people will notice and everyone will find out that my panties are wet”. So those are the stories. Your job is to write in your journal these facts:
I want to go to the gym or I want to exercise. There are people in the gym. There is a gym instructor.
This is it. All the rest about wet pants and embarrassment are actually the emotional stories that you created. The fact is that you want to exercise. And your next job is to simply brainstorm simple solutions, again without creating the stories. For example, find a women’s only gym, find a coach who specializes in pelvic health (like truly yours), ask your gyno about the support group and classes in your area, etc.
Self-nourishment as an anxiety-reducing tool.
And lastly, sometimes, we experience anxiety without a particular visible reason. Meaning, we might feel anxious, but we don’t know why. We can’t see any “real” reason and you can’t even identify any thoughts that could trigger it.
This means your body needs some nourishment.
It might be that you are simply hungry or experience low blood sugar so you need a snack, you’re thirsty, you need hydration, or you might simply need the presence of an adult person near you, you might need a hug, a touch of a loved one, etc. These needs are very REAL and often neglected because we are too busy doing our urgent things. But the body always lets you know. Don’t ignore it. Recognize what your body needs and give it. Nourish yourself, take care of yourself, and notice how your anxiety dissolves, or appears less often and with less heaviness in your life.
If you’d like to try journaling as a self care practice to reduce your anxiety, I have a guide for you below this article. Download for FREE “Anxiety relief through journaling”.
So to summarise, these are the actionable steps you can follow that might help you reduce anxiety about your pelvic health challenges or just usual daily anxious thoughts:
Step 1. Commit to your self care to get better. Step 2. Pick your favorite physical body movement activity and do them daily. Step 3. Do a mindfulness practice that suits you regularly (let go of stories and focus on simple facts). Step 4. Recognize what are your simple body needs and nourish yourself. Step 5. (Optional) Download my FREE guide (below) or reach out to me directly with your questions.
Disclaimer. Please note that in this article I gave you the practices and tools that I use for myself and my clients, this is not a substitute for medical advice, prescription, or treatment for psychological conditions. Please seek professional help, you can find a therapist or a professional support group that will be able to assist you in dealing with anxiety, depression, and other mental conditions.