This exercise is inspired by a period of my life when I was so anxious that my ability to sleep at night was deeply compromised.
Anxiety can overwhelm our hearts and minds, interrupting our daily lives and our ability to adequately take care of ourselves.
This is a simple exercise to help manage anxiety
1) Tap into the anxiety you feel in this moment.
2) Notice it and stay with it until it becomes so clear you can feel it in your body as a visceral sensation.
3) While staying with your anxiety, move some of your attention into the room or environment in which you find yourself.
4) Look at what surrounds you, and pay attention to the physical distance between you and your environment. If you’re in a public space, notice the physical distance between you and the people, buildings and nature around you. If you’re indoors, notice the physical distance between you and other people, furniture, walls, ceiling and floor. Let your gaze go as far out into the distance as possible observing the expanding physical space between yourself and what you see. If the indoor space you are in has a window, let your gaze travel outside the window for as far as your eyes can see.
5) Check in with your anxiety and see if it is staying the same or changing.
6) Once you’ve checked in with your anxiety, turn your gaze toward the ground and listen to what’s around you instead of looking at it. If you’re in a public space, listen to the sounds of traffic, people or nature moving around you. If you’re indoors, listen to things like the humming of the centralized air, radiator heat, fan or air conditioning or the sounds made by the other people who are also indoors. Let your ability to hear go as far as it is capable and observe how the further you let your hearing go, the more you can gauge the distance between yourself and what you’re hearing.
7) Check in with your anxiety and see if it is staying the same of changing.
8) Once you’ve checked in with your anxiety, close your eyes and become aware of your feet, your hands and your breathing. Stay for a moment with the sensations coming into your awareness from your feet, hands and breathing.
9) Without opening your eyes, check in with your anxiety. This time stay with whatever part of your anxiety is still present and now try one of two things:
A) Move the remaining anxiety you feel to the furthest point you can see with your eyes or hear with your ears (established earlier in step 4 and 6). Deposit your anxiety at the furthest point and leave it there.
B) Give your anxiety the space to spread out into the furthest place you can see or hear. Imagine your anxiety spreading out from your body and slowly becoming more and more diffuse the further you send it out toward the furthest point you can see or hear. Keep sending it further and further out until you can no longer perceive it.
Once you’re completed one or both of the above, check in with your anxiety and be sure it is significantly diminished otherwise repeat the exercise again until you feel relief from your anxiety. Once your anxiety has diminished or disappeared, you can engage with your daily life again.
Why this exercise helps you manage anxiety
This exercise does two things
1) Allows your nervous system to decompress.
Due to leading busy and stressful lives, sometimes a lot of constriction and tension build up in the body unnoticed. The build up of physical constriction and tension can lead to stress in the nervous system and a sense of anxiety because the body is uncomfortable and overwhelmed.
By moving your attention out into the surrounding environment, you shift your focus away from what’s causing you anxiety. Your muscles relax (even if just a little), blood vessels dilate and your nervous system decompresses.
2) Helps you attain a new perspective.
In order to feel at ease, you have to be willing to let go of tunnel vision and see the bigger picture. Anxiety promotes a state of hyper focus, like glaring through a microscope at a tiny part of a small sample of a larger specimen. The greater the focus, the more intense and all-encompassing what’s being focused on becomes – sometimes to the point where it’s hard to see or focus on anything else.
Allowing your visual and auditory attention to go out as far as you can helps diminish the hyper focus that feeds anxiety because you are including the rest of the world into your awareness. Most of the rest of the world is not preoccupied with what makes you anxious, and that’s a good thing. The rest of the world can help you get perspective on what’s happening in your life simply by realizing that the rest of the world exists.
Ultimately, anxiety is meant to help you realize your unease so you can do something about it. This exercise helps you get the little bit of relief and perspective you need to be able to go back to addressing what makes you anxious with more clarity of mind and less stress.
Author: Samantha Lotti
Samantha Lotti is the founder of Biodynamic Health and creator of Body Compassing. She is a certified and registered Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapist (BCST, RCST®), licensed acupuncturist (L.Ac.) and board certified herbalist in Oak Park, Illinois. A personal back injury brought Samantha to biodynamic craniosacral therapy and ignited her interest in a variety of healing modalities.