I was standing in the kitchen on a cold Sunday afternoon, utterly paralyzed. We were hosting a Chiefs playoff game party. The triggering comment had just been made about a very sensitive part of my life that nearly tore apart my family. The speaker made no qualms about how funny this was, but it sent me in a tailspin that I just couldn’t shake.
I felt my heart rate begin to increase as my chest got tighter and tighter. My ears felt hot and mentally, I felt like I was in a helmet about 3 times too small. There was no room to think, let alone be the perfect host. I knew I was holding my breath, but I couldn’t force myself to inhale so I just smiled, praying no one would notice the internal unrest I was experiencing. It was nauseating, painful, scary, disorienting and all too familiar.
What could I do? I had a house full of people. After all, It was a party, not any different from other parties we’ve hosted. In an instant I knew I wasn’t well. What could I do? What would any rational person do?
I awkwardly cleared my throat, laughed at the right times in conversations, brought out more food and wine, blinked hard to help me focus, fought back angry tears, committed to what I wasn’t interested in for next week and silently resented that fact that I was carrying this with me. That day, like so many others I simply pressed on.
It’s such a familiar feeling for me. The autonomic portion of our nervous system is responsible for fight or flight which most people are familiar with, but there’s a third option-freeze. The medical, science nerd in me is fascinated by this. In nature, it could play out like this...you’re walking along on a trail and encounter a bear. Your brain kicks it in high gear, and you choose one of these options:
1️Fight-get big, loud, throw rocks, defend yourself and fight for your life
2️Flight- run as fast as you can, try to get away
3️Freeze-stand there, paralyzed and unable to move
That Sunday afternoon I opted for all of these at different times.
1️ Fight- I snapped at my husband who tried diligently to keep me from spiraling-he knows the glazed look. Not one of my finer moments, but I’m thankful for his grace.
2️ Flight- I made myself busy with ridiculous tasks to avoid life and entertainment. That day, I chose to organize my son’s closet and fold laundry upstairs away from everyone.
3️ Freeze- Initially, I stood at the sink scrubbing a dish that was quite obviously clean while I looked for an escape. I simply couldn’t walk away.
I share this story to give you hope. Anyone ever feel like you’re on this vicious cycle? Me too. If we were in person, I’d give you a hug- COVID or not simply to know, you’re not alone.
There are hundreds of options to get out of this cycle from professional counseling, dietary changes, medication to movement, meditation and beyond. My methods may not work for you and likewise, yours may not work for me. You don’t know if the Christian Louboutin’s fit unless you try them on. Ok listen, I’m more of a ‘new pair of tennis shoes kind of girl’ but you get my point.
Go on friend, start trying! Each of these helps to turn off the sympathetic portion of your brain (remember the bear?) in order to switch on the parasympathetic nervous system while allowing the rational you to come back. Think of the Snickers commercials, you’re not really you.
● Listen to your body-what is it trying to tell you? Hunger, thirst, discomfort, fatigue, illness, stress, etc..
● Breathe! Get some fresh oxygen to your brain!! Draw in a couple of soulful deep breaths to fill those beautiful lungs!
● Move your body- Get the blood moving in your muscles. Walk, do air squats, arm circles, lunges, skip, run, wall pushups, stretch, yoga. It truly doesn’t matter, just move. This one is essential for me.
● Water! Get a refreshing glass of water. Most of us don’t get enough water in the day so drink up. Hydrotherapy is a well-known stress reliever. If you’re home-hop in the shower or take a soak. If you have a center near you that offers this service-splurge!
● Journal, journal, journal- the amount of research done in this area is astounding! I’ll write another extensive blog post to share this powerful tool-but for now just practice writing it down. Get it off your chest and watch the feeling dissipate
● Name It To Tame It- Dan Sigel coined this phrase. If you’re not familiar with his work this is a fantastic video clip. Simply put, verbally identifying the emotions that you’re feeling turns off that sympathetic nervous system and releases chemicals to turn on your parasympathetic nervous system to help calm you down. Try it out. Next time you feel the anxiety rising say it out loud. “I’m feeling______.”
● Learn to meditate- So much of meditation is focusing on your breath and your body. It’s learning to intimately listen to the cues your body is sharing and adjusting accordingly. Calm and Insight Timer are both excellent apps if you're just getting started with meditation.
Like I said, the list of options to help reduce anxiety go on and on. These are my go-to’s. It’s a daily process and I quite often use more than one when needed. My hope is that rather than allowing anxiety in the moment to rob your peace, you will be able to know:
● You’re not alone
● These are options right at your fingertips
● You have a support system
All the best,