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Your Body Holds Anxiety: Use It to Quiet Your Mind

The body holds a great deal of anxiety. Anxiety is all-encompassing and takes place in the body as much as in the brain and mind. This means, of course, that we are susceptible to a host of anxiety symptoms from head to toe: racing thoughts and worries, roiling emotions, and physical sensations that make us anywhere from uncomfortable to ill. As annoying as this is, we can use it to our advantage, using our body to quiet our anxious mind.

Your Body Knows Anxiety

"Your body hears everything your mind says." -- Naomi Judd

In a recent visit to my dentist, I was visiting with my hygienist. She remarked that people's mouths--their actual mouths, not their words--speak volumes about their lifestyle, including stress and anxiety. She mentioned wear patterns on teeth due to grinding, frequently a tension-related problem. She told me of a man who came in because small pieces of his front teeth had chipped off as a result of a sudden increase in stress and anxiety that manifested in a new habit of biting down on objects like pens. His anxiety was so high and his tension so extreme that he broke teeth. 

My own body listens to my thoughts and emotions and holds them in my digestive system. It sent me warning signals long before I was diagnosed with multiple digestive and autoimmune disorders. Unfortunately, when I originally listened to my symptoms, it was only long enough to be annoyed and take an over-the-counter symptom reliever. Had I paused to really listen with gratitude (for my body trying to communicate helpfully) rather than with irritation and impatience, I might have minimized some damage. (That said, I'm not berating myself or living with regret. I've simply learned to listen and change my lifestyle, and my physical and mental health are better because of it.)

How to Use Your Body to Quiet Your Anxious Mind

Use your unique physical symptoms of anxiety to your advantage. By befriending your whole self--mind and body, symptoms and experiences, thoughts and emotions--you can position yourself to take positive action to reduce anxiety. 

Some ways to use your body to help with anxiety:

  • Tune in and attend to it. When you notice discomfort (a sore jaw, muscle aches, joint pain, headaches, stomachaches, and much more), pause and be mindful of it. Give it your full attention. Consider what it might be trying to tell you. What's on your mind? How are your emotions? What's going on in your life? Rather than trying to silence your body by taking an aspirin or heartburn reliever, for example, what can you do to address the problem it's calling to your attention?
  • Try progressive muscle relaxation. Starting at one end of your body and slowly, methodically progressing to the other, tense and release one group of muscles at a time. Curl your toes as tightly as you can, hold the squeeze, and then release. Spend extra time in areas where you hold the most tension. Feel your muscles respond by letting go. 
  • Stretch gently. Practices like yoga and tai chi connect mind and body to relieve stress and anxiety in your whole being. You can also take brief breaks throughout your day to stand and stretch. Make gentle movement a regular part of every day to release anxiety's grasp on body and mind. 
  • Get some moderate-to-vigorous exercise. Any activity that you enjoy and that elevates your heart rate and makes you sweat can help your body and mind be calm. "Moderate" and "vigorous" are relative terms, with different meanings for each individual, so make sure you listen to your body and avoid overexertion. 
  • Use mindful breathing. Pause frequently to close your eyes and take a few slow, deep breaths. Turn your attention to the sound and feel of your breath entering and leaving your body. When your mind wanders to anxious thoughts, just acknowledge it and return your focus to your breath. This calms your stress response and sends much-needed oxygen to every cell in your brain and body. 

Develop a friendship with your body, and let it help you reduce anxiety and stress. Tending to yourself physically can help get rid of anxiety in both body and mind. If I can learn to do this (and I did), anyone can. 

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2020, July 23). Your Body Holds Anxiety: Use It to Quiet Your Mind, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 30 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2020/7/your-body-holds-anxiety-use-it-to-quiet-your-mind



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson delivers online and in-person mental health education for students in elementary and middle school. She is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and five critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She also speaks nationally about mental health. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Robin
July, 28 2020 at 3:00 pm

This was really helpful. My body stiffens out like a board to where my knees are almost inverted and literally held up off the couch when I am stretched out. I try to recognize this and relax it when I do, bit often it's not till I'm in pain before I do something about it. Thank you for your most.helpful articles ❣️☘🦋

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