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Anxiety often causes us so much distress because once it starts, it can feel impossible to stop. We struggle with the tension in our body, while our thoughts, our heart rate, and our breath are racing out of control.
Once we've experienced an intense attack of anxiety or panic, any small inkling of the same feeling can terrify us. Our feelings of anxiety make us more anxious and stressed, and we might begin to feel crazy and hopeless.
People might say to us, "you just need to relax," "it's no big deal," "it's all in your head," and "just take a deep breath." These comments, while well-meant, often feel like more pressure, and the opposite of supportive.
Anxiety is something that happens in our bodies. It's not caused by our negative thoughts, but once it starts, we might start dwelling on the sensations of stress and tension in our bodies that we can't seem to shift. Perhaps we think about all the reasons we feel stressed, or feel crazy and stupid for not knowing what to do to change our experience.
Then, in the course of life, we only need to engage these interventions when our baseline stress starts to creep up again. We would never say we've brushed our teeth perfectly, and will never have to brush our teeth again. But we often act as if we should be able to handle our stress without doing the daily maintenance required to release tightness from our muscles and tension from our bodies. When our practices of stress reduction are as ordinary as our tooth cleaning regimen, we will have succeeded in normalizing stress as an ordinary human experience.
Finally, once we have reduced our baseline stress levels, we'll turn our attention to our stress-reduction maintenance plan. What are our daily and weekly practices that reduce stress in the body. We might consider physical activities like exercise and dancing, bodywork and cuddling to soften the holding patterns in our muscles, and journaling, art making, meditation, and other soothing practices that help us calm down and get into a flow state.
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The antidote to all this anxiety is to work from the "body up" not the "head down." In this course, we will focus on practices that feature 1) intensity 2) repetition and 3) consciousness. We need intensity to engage the limbic brain. The limbic brain is the site of emotions and the limbic memory is where we store traumatic memories. It takes intensity to rewrite the limbic memory. "Just breathing" is often not enough shift the fear cycle that starts when we experience the constellation of tension in our body that we associate with anxiety. Each person reacts differently to the anxiety intervention practices; it's important to find the right practice for you.
Once we have discovered a successful intervention with your acute anxiety, we will begin to work on your baseline stress. On a scale from zero to ten, where zero equals no stress in the body, one or two is stress in the body we can put our attention on and let go of, and three to seven is stress in the body we can put our attention on but are unable to release. When we get to eight, nine and ten on the stress scale, it can feel like we're having an anxiety attack!
Often we will wake up and start our day at a five or a six on the stress scale. If just one or two stressful things happen in our day, the existing tension in our bodies might skyrocket us right into an anxiety attack. What we will do during this course is pay attention to our stress on the stress scale, and bring our stress down under three starting in the mornings, throughout the day, and then at night before we go to bed.
By reducing our stress regularly, we build trust in our wise adult consciousness to have a contingent, appropriate response to our experience. We repeat the practice throughout the day because it takes 300 repetitions to get something into muscle memory, and 3000 repetitions to change from one thing to another. And we do the practice with intensity to rewrite the limbic memory.
"Each of us is a detective for our own bodies, life circumstances, and the interventions that help us reduce our embodied tension. Once we've discovered our personal regimen, we return to it again and again. The more we practice, the more likely we are to associate relaxation with our practice. This positive association can increase the success of any single intervention. As with most things, we usually get better at stress reduction the more we do it."