IS ANXIETY BECOMING A PROBLEM?
Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. It is a human emotion we all share, and it’s important to remember that you are not the only one who deals or has dealt with it. At low and moderate levels, anxiety can even be beneficial. It motivates us, keeps us safe and aware, and gives us the desire to perform well. However, when anxiety becomes heightened and more consistent, it can interfere with our daily functioning and negatively impact our lives.
A common theme of anxiety is worrying about the future and what’s going to happen. While it’s OK to be goal oriented and plan for the future, worrying excessively can prevent us from living peacefully in the present. Some individuals with anxiety want to be in control or tend to be hypervigilant about controlling their surroundings and what’s happening externally. This creates a prison in your mind because no one is capable of being in control of everything, so you end up feeling the opposite – out of control and trapped. You lose sight of your own self, and lose the ability to focus on being present.
HOW CAN YOGA HELP WITH ANXIETY?
Learning to Let Go
When you are experiencing anxiety, therapeutic yoga for emotional healing can help you let go of what you’re holding on to – whether it’s worrying about the future or trying to be in control. Through grounding and mindfulness, therapeutic yoga teaches the idea of non-attachment, learning to not hold onto the future, and to not be preoccupied with what’s going to happen. You also learn how to move on more quickly from anxious moments or prevent panic attacks through increasing self-awareness. When we experience anxiety, we have a tendency to focus and dwell on it, worrying about how long the panic attack will last or when the next attack will happen. Through therapeutic yoga you’ll learn how to not dwell on anxiety – focusing on it gives it strength and we want to reduce its power over us.
Living in the Present
Everything we feel is temporary. We have ups and downs, and it’s important to remember that whatever you’re feeling – anxiety, panic, fear, tension – will pass. Therapeutic yoga teaches you to let go of the anxious moment by learning how to tell when an anxiety attack is coming on, acknowledging your feelings (because feeling anxious at times can be acceptable and valid), and then allowing these feelings to pass. You’ll learn that anxiety attacks are temporary, and once they’re gone, they’re gone. Many people with anxiety tend to hold on to the fear that another panic attack will happen, but that fear is anxiety itself. The more we hold on to these feelings and not allow them to move on, the more control they have over us. Through yoga, you’ll begin to understand that the present moment is what is real – not the past or the future. With this understanding, you’ll be able to find a sense of peace, clarity, and interpret situations rationally, rather than feeling doomed and worrying about the “what ifs.”
Through using yoga postures and breathwork, we redirect our focus to our bodies and the present – not the internal chatter in our mind. You’ll move your attention away from the mental chatter and ruminative thoughts by shifting the energy level down so you can find peace and tranquility. Then we can focus on what is happening at this very moment in the present. What are you worried about? What are you trying to be in control of? All of that is irrelevant to what’s happening right now in this moment.
Focusing on What’s Good
A lot of people tend to carry tension in their shoulders, neck, and jaw, so in yoga we work on grounding the feet and gently redirecting our focus away from “problem areas” and, instead, focus on what feels comfortable and strong in our bodies. When we pay too much attention to what hurts, we give those parts of our body more power. The same goes for when we’re experiencing anxiety. When you are having a panic attack, what’s happening in your body? Is your stomach in knots? Are you clenching your teeth? Is there a tightness in your chest? Redirect your focus, without forcing it, to other parts of your body – your toes, knees, or hands. How do they feel? Do they feel strong? The same thought process can be used for when you experience emotional pain caused by anxiety. What is causing your panic attack? Are you worrying about the future or trying to control something you can’t control? Gently redirect your focus to strong parts of your life, whether it’s a good relationship, a fulfilling job, or a hobby you enjoy. If you go back to feeding into your anxiety and worry, don’t be mad at yourself or judge yourself. Be forgiving and kind to yourself and gently shift the focus back to what’s strong in your life. Therapeutic yoga teaches us how to shift our focus away from what causes us to feel anxious, and empower us to strengthen the positive parts of our lives.
Taking the Edge Off
The automatic nervous system is made up of two parts: 1. The sympathetic nervous system that triggers the “fight or flight” response and acts like the gas pedal in a car. It gives us energy when faced with a crisis so we can respond to dangers and external stressors. 2. The parasympathetic nervous system that helps us calm down and acts like the brakes. It allows us to be at rest. People who have chronic anxiety are unable to fully be at rest as their sympathetic nervous system is always on or activated. For individuals dealing with chronic anxiety, their bodies are still operating in alarm mode even when going about their day without experiencing any threats or stressors. In this alarm mode, you feel on edge, jumpy, and anxious. If you are in a heightened state and an event occurs that threatens you or makes you worry, you lose your ability to rationally respond because you’re always in “fight or flight” mode and it feels as though there’s nowhere else to go.
Therapeutic yoga can help you remove the angst and edge. People with anxiety are typically not mindful that they are in the sympathetic phase or what their body is experiencing. Yoga helps you bring awareness inwards to your body, so you can become more in tune with what your body is telling you. The clenching, tightness, and knots are all a response to what’s happening in your mind. When you learn to listen to your body, you’ll be able to redirect your thinking and train yourself to be in the resting state as baseline. Therapeutic yoga will teach you to be at rest at your baseline during normal everyday activities, and only turn on “fight or flight” when needed.
YOU ARE NOT HELPLESS
While we can never get rid of anxiety (and that’s OK), there is help for reducing it, minimizing panic attacks, and reducing physical discomfort that results from anxiety. Therapeutic yoga for emotional healing can help you learn how to stop anxiety from controlling you, so you can live a peaceful and tranquil life. Dr. Heather Violante is a licensed psychologist and certified in using therapeutic yoga to help improve your emotional wellness. If you live in the Fort Lauderdale area, contact her online or call (954) 391-5305 (ext. 8) today to schedule your therapeutic yoga sessions as part of your psychotherapy treatment and be free from overwhelming anxiety.