Anxiety may well be a fact of life in these very intense times that 2020 continues to bring.
In my practice, I am seeing a surge of anxiety symptoms as well as the sometimes negative or maladaptive behaviors that folks use trying to manage their anxiety. Behaviors such as increased use of alcohol and drugs, hours getting lost in the rabbit holes of social media and binge eating, tv watching, and news watching. Clients talk not just about feeling more anxious, but also feeling numb, checked out, spacey, low energy, angry and scared.
Now is the time to really learn how to deal more effectively with your anxiety not just so you can feel better, but also because if your anxiety is in check and you feel more grounded more of the time, you will have greater capacity for love, compassion and service.
What is somatic therapy anyway?
Traditionally, psychotherapy uses what are called top-down or talk therapy approaches- approaches that focus on identifying and changing thought patterns as well as examining one’s stories about self, other and the world. Approaches like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and narrative therapy, tend to focus on the mind as the place to start.
While these approaches have great value, they miss one huge component: the BODY. A somatic approach to overcoming anxiety means that we place intentional focus on increasing nervous system regulation as well as incorporating and trusting that your body as an intelligent, innately powerful and wise ally in the therapeutic process.
What we’ve found is that incorporating a somatic approach in treating anxiety is more holistic and sustainable with the added benefit of improving your relationship to your body.
3 Basic Skills for Overcoming Anxiety
Orienting to Goodness
This body-based skill is about focusing your mind to identify a recent, good feeling experience, reliving that experience through journaling or talking about it and then feeling in your body what happens as you remember. It’s similar to gratitude journaling but goes further in that you’re actively looking for good feeling sensations, changes in posture, release of muscular tension or shifts in your physiology.
Here’s an example of a recent good feeling experience: going roller-skating with my daughter. What I notice happening in my body when I remember this event:
- My mouth naturally starts to smile
- I exhale fully
- There’s warmth in my chest
- My body begins to relax, especially my jaw and shoulders
- I notice the impulse to want to hug her
In effect, when you practice orienting to goodness, you are training your mind to look for what’s right instead of what’s wrong; you are slowing down long enough to feel the pleasant sensations in your body and with practice, helping your body and physiology get out of the habit of feeling anxious.
Sometimes, it can be challenging when you’re in the midst of high anxiety to orient to goodness. In such times looking for a place in your body that feels solid, warm, neutral or alive and well can help anchor you back into present time.
To that end, start with sensing into your feet, seat or back (FSB). Sensing refers to sending your attention to one of these three body parts and looking for and feeling for any sensation that feels good or neutral. Once you find a feel-good sensation, see how long you can linger your attention in that area of your body. As you linger your attention, start to notice if any other parts of your system are starting to unwind, relax or shift towards feeling more grounded and present.
Often with anxiety, folks unconsciously hold their breath and/or breathing becomes shallow. According to Patricia Gerbarg, Ph.D., an assistant clinical professor in psychiatry at New York Medical College and co-author of The Healing Power of the Breath, the easiest way to shift your body’s physiology towards greater calm is to simply slow down your breathing rate.
For maximum relaxation, she suggests bringing things down to between four and a half and six full breaths per minute which is about 1 breath/10 seconds, with equal-length inhalations and exhalations. This method, which is known as Coherent Breathing, has been linked to an increase in cognitive performance and a decrease in stress.
For each of the three skills above all you need is to dedicate 2 to 10 minutes of your day. With these basic skills as it is with anything, the more you practice the better you feel.
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There is so much love for you here!