Anxiety is our body's response to a situation that is beyond our control. It can be butterflies in your tummy before a big presentation. or the day before you get married, your first day on the job.
Some people have it worse than others, they may face, Heart palpitations, sweaty palms, vomiting, etc. There is a stark difference between acute anxiety and being clinically anxious.
When you are temporarily anxious because of the situation, the body activates its fight or flight response, but when the time has passed and the circumstances have changed, the anxiety goes with it.
But when you are chronically anxious all the time, that feeling of being nervous or scared or being on alert just doesn't go away. That's when we must realize that its a problem, it's not something that we have to brush aside and live with.
Our Mental illnesses must be treated with the same amount of care and diligence just as we do with our bodies.
You see, the mind and the body is connected, one doesn't work well without the other.
When your mind is anxious, your body will react to it. by feeling its heart rate up,
When we accept it and brush it aside and take it lightly it can lead to serious problems, such as anger issues, behavioral problems, your hormones will not be in alignment, leading to a lack of appetite, or cravings for junk food. Weight gain or even weight loss (but not in a healthy way) its effects can be detrimental over time. if we don't pay attention to it.
Why do we get Anxious in the First Place?
To understand the anxiety we must look at an important system in our body which is the Autonomous Nervous System (ANS), The name is self-explanatory itself, its called Autonomous because it works involuntarily without our conscious control.
Sympathetic nervous system
Whenever our mind perceives a threat, let's say you are crossing a road and you see a car coming towards you at high speed, the body goes into "Fight or Flight" mode.
This increases your heartbeat per minute, Hormones like adrenal and norepinephrine gets released, your blood pressure goes up and glucose gets secreted for energy.
This is our body's way to increase certain functions to deal with the perceived threat. Once that moment has passed, everything goes back to normal.
Parasympathetic Nervous System
When a situation which is out of our comfort zone passes away, and when the brain interprets that there is no longer a threat to deal with. Your Parasympathetic Nervous System takes control of the body.
Its the part of your body which activates the "Rest and Digest" mode. This is when your food gets properly broken down and the nutrients get absorbed into the bloodstream. the toxic wastes are eliminated through the excretory system.
When the body is at its fight and flight mode all these functions get temporarily disrupted.
This is why you don't feel hungry or you feel constipated when you are anxious which leads to a complete imbalance in our overall system. So in short, Anxiety are the thoughts that keep you in the sympathetic nervous system
Identifying your Condition
There are different types of Anxiety, It will be helpful when you are diagnosed of your condition accurately.
1) Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) -
A person with these conditions will project tendencies to being worried about many things in a day, Even when their arent any reason to be worried, The person may have a habit of overthinking on the littlest things possible, Whether its something that someone said, increase in their electricity bills, digestive issues, whatever.
The person with GAD will have a habitual tendency to overthink and perceive threat which may not actually be one.
Symptoms may include
Trouble falling asleep
Constant feeling of restlessness
Trouble letting go of any thoughts.
2) Social Anxiety
Remember How we feel awkward entering a room full of strangers? On the first day of school or college or at work, You don't know how the people will be like, will you get along with them? will you like them, All these kinds of thoughts usually pop up in most people's head.
A person with Social Anxiety also has these thoughts, the difference is, it doesn't go away, even after you have settled in a bit. its constantly there at the back of his head.
The person may feel severely anxious while :
making small talks
meeting new people
having to speak in a group
Symptoms may include
Fear of getting judged
Trembling of hands and legs in a social situation
Constant demoralizing chatter inside the head while socializing.
Some people may even rely on drugs and alcohol which might make them feel calm and eventually they develop a dependency on them.
3) Panic Disorders
In this condition, a person may experience a sudden surge in Physical and Psychological stress for no reason. The person may feel overwhelmed by a situation and may experience a panic attack. It can get triggered by a stressful situation or even for no apparent reason.
The cause of a panic attack is unknown. It can be a build-up for different factors in your life which accumulated over the years and you reach a point where the mind is overwhelmed by it.
Symptoms may include
Fear of Dying
4) Obsessive-Compulsive disorder
In this condition, a person may get anxious over small things such as hand washing, cleanliness of his room, constantly having to check on things like locking up the room, checking the key, checking the gas stove. This behavior can occur repetitively and extensively throughout the day, making a person severely anxious and hampering their social life.
A person with OCD might even face stigma from other people, who may not understand their condition and brush it off as a quirk or something that they can get over with.
How does Meditation help with Anxiety?
When we meditate, we familiarize our mind and body with our anxious thoughts. We learn to become more aware of it rather than getting overwhelmed by it.
Meditation allows you to see what makes you so worried and anxious about certain things, it can be someone's opinion, your expectations, Financial, and Relationship problem, whatever it is which bothers you throughout the day, by meditating you increase your self-awareness, seeing the thoughts in your mind clearly.
And instead of engaging those thoughts which have a snowball effect making you more anxious, you learn to simply observe them and choose to let it go by bringing your attention to the present which is your reality right now, not the past, nor the future but where you are in the moment.
This way when we get those anxiety-inducing thoughts, we take control of it by noticing them and gradually letting them go.
Meditation also helps you to stay calm and allows the body to get oxygenated activating the parasympathetic system.
What is Mindfulness?
Our mind is an instrument that we use when we need critical thinking and carrying out many essential functions. it is not meant to be constantly running out of control. However, the world we live in, we have gotten used to our thoughts going amok. Which is why we must implement certain habits in our life to maintain our mental health.
Mindfulness is pretty straight forward. It means you intentionally direct your attention on to the present moment, the sensation of your body, the smells, the touch, etc. It can be incorporated into anything you are doing, whether its washing dishes, listening to music while having a conversation with someone.
All you are doing is bringing your attention to what is happening right now in real-time with you, rather than thinking about your worries, past, future whatever it is that is going on in your head at that moment.
Although its really imperative that when we observe and simply be in the present, we must be non-judgemental of it. Which means to not run a commentary inside our head about what is right, wrong, or good or bad, only observing whatever is going on in the moment.
Stepping out of the Loop of Anxiety
When we are being Mindful, We are aware of each sense of our body. The legs on the floor, the noise around us, the smells, etc. So when we divert our attention towards these senses, what we do is we step out of the everlasting loop of anxiety, jolting our brain into the present moment.
Eventually with practice, repetition, and consistency it becomes a habitual thing to divert our attention on our senses and everything around us and simply being present, in alignment with your mind and body.
By doing this we change our relationship from a toxic one to a manageable one.
Dan Harris - a reporter at ABC News had a brush-up with anxiety himself, While he was covering the war in Afghanistan, he saw things which we normally won't and after returning to America, he was subconsciously suffering from depression and anxiety. For which he started self-medicating and eventually while being live on TV he got hit with a panic attack.
After this harrowing experience, he decided to give Meditation a go and he has described himself happier and more self-aware, which led him to write a book about his experience and the impact Mindfulness and Meditation had on him.
Simple Ways to be Mindful
1) The 5-7 method
Like I said above when anxious thoughts invade our brain, it keeps us in the Sympathetic Nervous System, which makes us feel constantly on alert and harder to breathe.
The 5-7 method involves us taking deep breathes. Which includes 5 seconds inhale and 7 seconds exhale. I am not talking about holding your breath, The idea here is to make sure that our inhale is slow and long for 5 seconds and our exhale must be even longer than that for 7 seconds.
Why? By doing this for a few minutes, you acquire two important things
1) Oxygenates your body
2) Activates Parasympathetic system
Basically you take manual control over your body and thus activating the parasympathetic system. It also keeps your mind in the present moment, when our attention is solely on our breath and when we are counting the seconds of our inhales and exhales, it gets harder for unwanted thoughts to keep invading your brain and eventually you let it go.
Your breathing needs to be long, controlled, and in a gradual manner because while you are in the anxious mode, your breath is shallow and everything is at alert.
So to calm it down we need to tell our body, everything is fine by taking long deep breathes 5 seconds in and 7 seconds out.
You need to make sure that you are not breathing through your chest, it must reach your diaphragm. Keep a hand on your stomach and make sure it's expanding with air. That's the right way of breathing deep. Continue this breathing cycle for a few minutes and connect back to reality.
Meditate for 10 minutes a day
We have 24 hours in a day out of which we sleep for about 7-8, for the remaining 16 hours our brain is endlessly fed all kinds of information, yet we rarely ever take a time to give our minds a break, I am not talking about sleep, that's different.
When we set 10 minutes aside every day simply to sit in silence and let our thoughts come up, we teach our brain to simply observe those thoughts and let it go. And when we do this consistently it becomes a habit and a part of your daily routine.
Why 10 minutes? Because we must start small, achieving a micro goal makes it much easier for our brain to do it as compared to a 30-minute meditation, you would want to avoid it. but 10 minutes sound simple and easy to do. Once you get used to the whole idea, you can either increase the time or you can stick with the 10-minute routine, its totally up to you and your lifestyle.
Sit on the ground or on the chair, keep your hands on your legs, make sure you keep your spine straight so you don't fall asleep.
Keep a timer of 10 minutes on your phone.
Take deep breathes before closing your eyes and bringing your attention on your breathing. Whenever your mind wanders, which it will, your job is to bring your focus back to your breath. You can even count your inhales and exhales if you want.
Hence by meditating for 10 minutes a day you train your mind to be in the moment without engaging the thoughts, which creates an anchor of calm and silence within you, this is why most people prefer to meditate first thing in the morning so they can carry that calmness in them throughout the day and come back to it when they notice their minds running out of bounds.
I cannot think of a better time to be mindful other than while we are eating. If you cant be mindful for all 3 meals then make sure you take your time and are mindful for at least one meal of the day.
Its been shown that when we eat mindfully, we get fuller faster because our mind and the digestive system is in alignment and aware of what is happening. Compared to when we binge mindlessly in front of a TV/Laptop.
I understand many of us are used to having meals while watching a movie or a series. This is why its harder to finish a bag of chips when we are not doing anything else but eating because your attention is on the food and the chewing which helps the digestive hormones and acids to be in alignment.
Chew your food slowly and be aware of the taste, smell, and flavor.
Listen to your body, eat until you are no longer hungry, we don't need to stuff ourselves like there is no tomorrow.
Try to have at least one meal a day where you are simply eating and not multitasking.
By doing the above-mentioned things, it allows you to be in the moment, slowly creating more self-awareness making you mindful and not someone who is driven by their thoughts and emotion.