Anxiety: Stop, observe and fully experience!
It's very common for us humans to react to unpleasant feelings by distracting ourselves. We can use all manner of objects and situations to prevent us from experiencing feelings from checking social network sites, playing YouTube videos, watching TV, sleeping it off, or perhaps relying on others to calm us down. However effective these modes of distraction are we can only stave off such intense feelings temporarily. In other words running away from anxiety never works full time because you can't run from yourself, wherever you go, there you are! So what's the answer?
Firstly it's essential to understand that bodily feelings and sensations are always present in each and every moment. Some are very subtle and others more intense. Some we welcome, others we reject. However, whether we dismiss some and not others we can't avoid the fact that bodily feelings are continuous. In this sense its incredibly important to get to know your body intimately, to explore it in the same way you explore the world, with inquisitive interest.
Let's use the example of suddenly feeling self-conscious on a train, perhaps assuming that everyone will see how awkward you feel by your body language? The first step is to stop and recognise that those old familiar feelings have arrived again. Now, by the time you realise this the old reactions and distractions will have most likely begun. Does your face feel like you could fry an egg on it? Have you crossed your arms to feel more comfortable? Are you twitching, fidgeting or desperately searching for friends to call? Are you leaning forward to avoid eye contact with other passengers? Is your whole body tense?
Now that you've noticed such behaviours the next step is to stop. That is, consciously avoid the urge to further try and push away intense bodily feelings or continue with distractions. Rather, begin observing/watching the typical urges to react to such powerful physical sensations, but this time without moving. You will feel an incredible urge to avoid or distract, but stay still and fully experience the urges without reacting. If you find yourself leaning forward then lean back and stay still. If you feel the urge to cross your arms, simply observe the feeling/urge and keep them by your side. If you feel the urge to fidget, phone someone or play with your hair just observe the urge to do it and stay still. Observe and fully experience every physical sensation and urge to react to them without moving. Allow bodily experiences play out without wishing them away.
This incredible resource is available to you in every moment. Cultivating the non reactive observer in you will increase wisdom, give you a strong sense of control and ultimately free you from unconscious past reactions to anxious sensations. More than that, it will help you to re-connect with intimate moment to moment embodied experiences as opposed to battling with them. At first beginning to observe anxious feelings without reaction might be tough, after all you've been distracting from them for years, but remember, Rome wasn't built in a day!
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About Adam Day
Adam Day is trained in various approaches as an intergrative therapist; these include Humanistic (Person Centered/Existential), Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, and Psychodynamic. Please feel free to contact him for an assessment between 9 - 6 Monday to Friday.