My stomach is burning with nausea.  Nothing sounds good to eat and my usual love, coffee, just aggravates the constant stomach pain.  I’m tired and slow, given many days of sleep disruption, and feel like I’m going through the motions like a robot for most of my day.  I don’t have a lot to contribute to conversations, since the effort of talking seems too much.  So grateful when I can just listen.

Hi there anxiety. Can’t say I’m happy you’re around.

I mean, who likes living like this?  On edge, irritable, short with people, having little patience.  Difficulty focusing, crying on and off, tender and sensitive. And I’m in pain.  My stomach is on fire.  And I’ve been getting more headaches.  I have to make an effort to be pleasant to others.

When you are in this agitated state, day after day, waking up with dread and just getting through the day, it is hard to imagine not feeling like this.

But it can and will go away, if you allow it to go though it’s course, tolerate the discomfort (very hard to do), and just keep moving. It is likely though that going from feeling primarily anxious to calm doesn’t happen overnight.  It happens moments at a time.

Because even in this heightened state, there are moments of not feeling anxious and sensitive.  Small moments-could be simple work tasks and interactions with others, or taking a shower or doing a chore, when the anxiety isn’t as present.  Other moments like when you can actually appreciate and acknowledge beauty, in nature or your immediate environment, like looking at and appreciating the sky, the color of a flower, or noticing a nice gesture or kind deed by a loved one.  Moments when you can shift focus and possibly find yourself laughing.  Moments when you can pet an animal, pray, meditate, or smile.

How do we get more of the moments we want and less of the painful moments? 

A little at a time.

Anxiety expert Joshua Fletcher states that he shifts his anxious focus to thoughts of “what would non-anxious me be doing” and then doing those actions.  Rick Hanson suggests thinking of a safe or more pleasant memory and embodying the sensations and feelings that go with it.  Jennifer Abel offers these and “Better but Believable” thoughts- coming up with 3 thoughts that are more positive than the anxious thoughts but still believable, which is a way to accept that they still may have some anxious content but not as much as the original anxious thought.  Other suggestions are sensory grounding (one exercise being noticing 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste), breathwork, movement, music.  Claire Weeks suggests you face, accept, just do nothing and let time pass.

This is so much easier said than done and feels counterintuitive.  Who wants to simply tolerate the discomfort?

Well, by doing this you send a message to your brain that there is not a threat and you do not need to react to it.  This information then tells the part of your brain that was ready to fight or flee to stand down.  It just takes time for your body to get the message, since now it’s full of the hormone cortisol fueling it to act.

As much as it doesn’t feel natural to tolerate the discomfort, we must do it so our brain gets the message that it does not have a threat.  By doing that repeatedly we teach the brain there is safety and you can handle and problem-solve threats when they are present.

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