Sobriety & Anxiety
if you have been sober for awhile, but still find anxiety, overwhelm, or reactivity creep up on your more frequently than you would like — you are not alone! I have been there myself, and it is now one of the main areas where I help my clients find new strategies to create more ease in their lives. Try this short list of tips you when you are noticing anxiety or overwhelm creeping up on you and you are ready to make a new choice and live life differently! I promise that this is available to you.
Certain frequencies and sound waves can actually repattern and reprogram our brain waves to invoke relaxation and soothe anxious or worrisome feelings. If you can change your daily car ride podcast, news, or rock and roll to something more soothing, this will most likely have a calming effect on your nervous system. You can also take a 5-10 minute afternoon break and step outside, take a quick walk with headphones, or even lie down for a brief rest and plug your headphones in for some soothing rhythms to alter your brain waves. One of my favorite free resources is Jason Stephenson’s you tube channel where he offers guided meditations and a soothing music channel. Find a few that you like and bookmark them, so the moment you need a relaxing music break to soothe your anxiety, you know right where to go!
It really can be this simple. If you find yourself fixated on your computer screen, your telephone, or leaning forward in the throes of a heated argument, change your body posture. Lean back and allow for a physical reset to occur. Often in combination with this technique I like to teach raising your eyes to the horizon, looking above and beyond the screen, and taking in a wider view of your environment. Practice the lean back technique in intervals during your day, even when you aren’t at the height of anxiety, and notice if you feel calmer and more renewed when returning to your daily tasks.
What the heck is that? I actually just made up that term, but I think it is a fitting description for the short and simple practice I am about to share with you. The following is a practice is derived from Kundalini Yoga, and is so simple I’ve literally had parents send me videos of their young children performing this meditation.
There are two parts to the process:
1. Tap your fingertips in sequence from your pointer finger to your pinky against your thumb. Pointer finger to thumb, middle finger to thumb, ring finger to thumb, pinky finger to thumb.
2. As each finger makes contact with your thumb, you say the following words: peace begins with me. One word for each finger so it looks like this: pointer finger tap (peace) middle finger tap (begins) ring finger tap (with) pinky finger tap (me). And repeat for several moments.
This is a wonderful and subtle practice we can do while in a meeting, in line at the grocery store, in the middle of an anxiety attacks, lying awake at night, or even while sharing a sweet moment with friends or family. Peace begins with me. The repetitive nature and engagement of your physical body gives your brain something else to focus on other than whatever symptoms accompany anxiety. It shifts you out of the spinning mind and into your body, into a place of empowerment, and into your senses.
I will say this until the day I die, movement is an essential and vital tool available to ALL of us that is immensely beneficial for coming out of an anxiety attack, changing our state, and producing endorphins naturally that automatically help us to feel better.
I work with women in their 80s and 90s (one of my favorite patients is 98 years old and an amazing human) so if they are getting up and moving, so can all of us! Here’s the thing — movement doesn’t have to equal exercise or a rigidly formatted plan. It doesn’t have to require a log, a trainer, or a gym membership. Movement can be as simple as: stand up and stretch, go for a short walk around the block, extend your arms and arch your back.
There is literally no wrong way to move, and you can enjoy the exploration process of seeing what feels good for YOUR body and feeds your soul. If you aren’t used to moving, it may be challenging at first, but I encourage you to stick with it, to add small bouts of movement to your days and see what differences and improvements you notice in your own anxiety. If you want to try a gentle five minute movement practice, feel free to take a look at this video of Qi Gong in the Yosemite valley.
Embrace your Inner Eagle
Fly high and see if you can imagine obtaining a bird’s eye view on your situation and your life. See if you can zoom out from the present moment that is fostering anxiety or overwhelm, and notice all of the pieces of your life, of the planet around you, and of the greater community. When we become so fixated on our own problems and current moment experience, it can feel like we are stuck in quicksand, or on a never ending hamster wheel with no escape. If you can broaden your perspective to take in the larger picture, your in the moment anxiety will most likely fade or lessen in intensity. If zooming out makes you even more anxious or adds to overwhelm, you can take a look at the next tip, or find what methods work best for you in the moment.
In the midst of an anxiety or panic attack, paying attention to small details in your visual or other sensory environment can be very helpful in calming your racing thoughts and heart. Notice the detailed petals of a flower, the grain of wood in your desktop, notice the feel of fabric against your skin or observe the intricacy of the lines on your palm. Go outside and studiously observe the multifaceted bark of a tree. Zoom in and focus on the detail, give your brain something to do besides spin out.
More specifically, extend your exhalations so that they are longer than your inhalations. This simulates your body to drop into a parasympathetic state (rest and digest state) and calm you down, easing anxiety. You can try this in a few ways. Counting your breaths in and out and finding a pattern that feels natural for you is an easy way to begin, and the counting serves as an additional benefit to occupy your mind. As an example: you can inhale for a count of three and exhale for a count of five.
Find something that works for you and does not feel like you are straining to breathe! When you have tried a few breath cycles in this manner, relax and allow your breathing and your system to settle back into a natural rhythm. Exhalations are vastly important because they allow the carbon dioxide to fully leave your lungs so you can take in fresh oxygen. Imagine you are clearing space for fresh and new life to enter your body.
Engage your Five Senses
Often times anxiety is hallmarked by racing thoughts, ruminating or cyclical thoughts, or that hamster wheel analogy. Often, anxiety presents us with feeling like we are on a constant “high alert” even when there is no reason for it. This gets exhausting for our brains and nervous systems, and we can slowly shift these patterns to create change. One of my favorite ways to get out of the spinning mind is to purposefully drop into the body and engage my five senses. This is an easy practice you can do anytime, anywhere, and leaves you feeling better within a few moments.
Simply go through each of your five senses one at a time noticing what is happening in each one. I frequently invite participants to close their eyes when noticing the other four senses (aside from vision). If this is uncomfortable for you, you can leave your eyes open.
Take a moment and notice what you feel on your skin: this could be a gentle breeze, or maybe the texture of your clothing. Notice what you are smelling, both near and further away. Become aware of your tongue in your mouth and any lingering tastes that you notice. Listen for sounds in your environment, what is in the immediate foreground, and what is in the background. Tap into your visual field and allow thigs to come into your field of vision rather than seeking them out. Let your eyes explore and take in your environment. You can access a guided practice of this exercise in my Facebook group: The Self Love Project, by joining the group here and finding the video link here.
Community and connection are incredibly helpful when we are going through our anxious moments. It is easy to feel isolated and alone when in the midst of a panic attack, anxiety, or overwhelm. Reach out! Call a close friend or family member and simply ask how they are doing. This gets your mind off of your own problems, and fosters social engagement. Connection with others provides us with the “feel good” hormone oxytocin, and we remember we aren’t alone in the world.
If you don’t feel like you have close friends or family, take advantage of online support groups like She Recovers. Even go out and get a coffee and smile at someone on the street. These simple act of human connection and engagement of our social system remind us we are not alone. If going out fosters your anxiety even more, explore what other ways of social connection DO feel supportive for you. 1:1 chats, online groups, a therapist, coach , or counselor. You are part of the human tribe, and we all need each other.
Grow the Good
I borrow this phrase from Dr Rick Hanson frequently, because of the wisdom in it’s simplicity. This is a longer term strategy, but one of the most important areas of focus for us as humans. If we look at our evolutionary biology, our brains are hard wired to have a negative bias. This means that it served us better to think things we saw in the wild were going to be a threat (then we could avoid the threat as we were more prepared for it). While this strategy was a good one for keeping us alive, it does not always foster a healthy or happy life in today’s world.
For example, if we have a pretty good day overall: meet with a friend, enjoy a delicious coffee, and smile at a cute puppy but then also get a flat tire, our brains are going to fixate on the negative thing that happened, the flat tire. This means we have to be purposeful and attentive to noticing and growing the good in our lives. When you have an uplifting experience, take a moment, take two. Notice what is happening in your body, linger in the sensation of the goodness. Spend time with it.
Do this everyday. You will train your system and mind to notice and acknowledge more of the good that already exists in your life. Building Self Trust can be a useful way to start growing the good. Enjoy this free training that guides you through practical strategies to increase your self trust daily.
If any of these tips prove to be beneficial for you, drop me a note via the contact form and let me know! Please note this article is not a substitute for medical advice, professional therapy or counseling. This is meant to be informative and educational only. Take good care of yourselves out there!