Calming the Bodystorm: Somatic Tools To Overcome AnxietyAug 26, 2023
“Anxiety's like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn't get you very far.”
- Jodi Picoult
Anxiety brews internally as a nerve storm - amygdala sparks igniting cascades of panic through body corridors. Soon heart pounds, breath shallows, and muscles constrict without tangible threat. We fixate on catastrophic thinking while our inner world becomes a hurricane.
But somatic sciences shine light in the darkness, illuminating pathways home. When understood as physiology, anxiety transforms from amorphous spectral foe into simple (if intense) sensory input we can repattern. By befriending our biology, we learn to harness mindfulness, meet panic with care, and reroute reactivity into grounded action.
The journey requires courage to question reflexive fear responses imprinted over lifetimes. But skillful somatic practices ultimately calm psychology's tempestuous waters from within. They turn victims of anxiety into sailor navigators traversing inner disturbance with agency. For the body grants gifts far greater than panic if we have eyes to see.
How Anxiety Hijacks the Body
When anxiety strikes, the amygdala urgently signals threat detection through the nervous system. Whether real or imagined, danger triggers cascades of fear - adrenaline, cortisol, increased heart rate, and vigilance. We ignite for fight or flight.
Lost in the blizzard of "what-ifs", attention fixates on catastrophes that haven't (and likely may never) happen. Like a skipped record, thinking loops repeatedly through worst-case scenarios and how to escape them. We forget to breathe.
Without intervention, the mind latches onto anxiety's stories, making them our identity. But what if we imagined anxiety as passing weather within us, not intrinsic to who we are? The first step to freedom: recognizing anxiety's transient nature.
Befriending Our Biology
Mindfulness helps us relate to anxiety differently - not as an overwhelming catastrophe but as difficult body sensations we can gently tend to. Somatic awareness teaches us to notice psychological stress physiology without judgment.
Observing physical signals like knotted shoulders, clenched jaws, or churning stomachs reveals bracing patterns against imagined threats. We pause and breathe deeply into these places, loosening fear's grip.
Meeting panic with care realigns perspective - anxiety is not some malevolent phantom but the body's misguided attempt to protect us. We calm it as we would a child waking from nightmares, with compassion.
Retraining the Nervous System
Crucially, somatic sciences show anxiety as ultimately just patterns of sensory input. With practice, we can rewire neural pathways to respond beyond panic. Consistent exposure combined with relaxation techniques builds resilience.
Activities like breathwork, meditation, or yoga strengthen prefrontal capacities to self-soothe anxiety. The brain learns again to govern fight-flight impulses instead of letting them govern us. We cultivate mindfulness over matter.
Mindfulness Over Matter
Indeed, in each anxious moment, we retain the power to mindfully intervene with embodiment choices. Somatic practices widen the space between stimulus and response.
Before panic overwhelms us, we engage the senses - tracking five things we see, four we touch, three we hear, two we smell, and one we taste. Anxiety loses dictatorship over attention; we anchor in the here and now.
Again we meet discomfort with care, neither fixating on worries nor suppressing them completely. Equanimity prevails as we view anxiety's rise and fall with openness, riding its waves rather than drowning.
Photo credit: Linus Nylund @Unsplash
Riding the Wave
This capacity for mindfulness during intensity is learnable like any skill. The more we practice somatic tools for staying present through discomfort, the less victimized we feel by it.
By gently leaning into anxious sensations, we teach the body they need not overpower us. Like surfers, we build strengths to stay balanced amidst crashing arousal. In anxiety's fires, presence persists.
Calm After the Storm
Given dedicated practice, somatic approaches transform anxiety responses from reflexive to considered. Nervous systems capable of self-regulation are no longer hijacked by spikes in stimulation.
New capacities emerge - facing each moment with compassion, mobilizing mindfulness to move toward freedom from fear. We dwell not in trepidation of the next storm but in gratitude for all we've overcome. For the only journey is opening as life unfolds.
Anxiety, when held in its right light, reminds us of internal power yet accessed. By recognizing our somatic signals, we apprehend the mind's weather not as a disaster but opportunity to remember enduring inner peace.
For calm exists underneath the raging mental gales, if we but descend to its stillness. Somatic sciences illuminate the passageways. May all who suffer find courage to befriend their organisms and retrieve what waits patiently within - an unbreakable belonging, held in each breath. The storm will pass. The only shores are those between us.
Photo credit: Noaa @Unsplash
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