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Anxiety is like that uninvited guest that sneaks into our lives, convincing us that we’re the only ones wrestling with it. But the truth is, anxiety is far more common than we often realise, affecting even those who seem to have it all together.

Many individuals with anxiety are high-functioning, expertly managing their jobs, social lives, and daily routines. It might seem like they have it all together, but on the inside, they are grappling with anxiety. Anxiety doesn’t always mean intrusive or negative thoughts; it can manifest in physical symptoms like muscle tension, racing heart, digestive issues, or sleep disturbances. Irritability and impatience can also be subtle signs.

A powerful metaphor for anxiety is to see it as a smoke alarm. When the alarm sounds, it’s a signal that something is burning underneath, usually an uncomfortable emotion like anger, fear, or shame. Instead of dreading anxiety, what if we became curious about it, seeking to understand what’s troubling us?

In this episode, I explain why anxiety isn’t a thinking problem but a nervous system issue. I talk about the science behind our stress responses and the way our brains operate when we perceive a threat and share some simple yet powerful tools to help you calm your nervous system and combat anxiety.

Toward the end of the episode, I guide you through a sensory awareness activation. Engaging all your senses is a powerful way to divert your attention away from anxious thoughts and create a sense of safety.

I also guide you through an incredibly effective breathwork technique to help activate your relaxation response. This technique is one that you can repeat throughout the day to help calm your nervous system.

Remember, there is no quick fix for anxiety, but consistent practice of these nervous system techniques can make a significant difference in your life. Don’t let anxiety hold you back; explore these tools and discover a calmer, more centred you.

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Join the Practical Anxiety Relief workshop.

[00:00:00] Welcome friends. Today’s episode is what I wished people knew about anxiety. But before we dive in, let’s take a deep breath together.

[00:01:15] One of the sneaky things about anxiety is that it tricks us into believing that we’re the only ones experiencing it and that everyone else has their shit together except for us. But I can tell you that in the 10 years of running my yoga studio, many of the people who come to our classes experience anxiety.

[00:01:35] Anxiety is so much more common than we realize and it’s the most common question I receive. How do I feel less anxious or what pose or breathing technique can I do to feel less anxious? And it’s often the people who appear to have their lives together and who are outwardly successful that are affected.

[00:01:55] Many of my clients have high functioning anxiety. Meaning that they can hold down a job and be really good at it. They can manage at home, have great social lives. On the outside, their lives look great. But on the inside, they feel anxious. Now, anxiety doesn’t always show up as intrusive thoughts or negative thoughts.

[00:02:18] Some people experience really physical signs of anxiety. Things like muscle tension that doesn’t go away, no matter how many stretches or massages you do. Having a fast heart rate or heart palpitations. Having digestive problems or feeling nauseous or having butterflies in the tummy. Having trouble sleeping.

[00:02:39] Just feeling generally low, like a low mood or low energy. And another sign of anxiety that people don’t often realize is being really irritable, being really impatient, getting easily upset or easily frustrated. These are some of the signs of anxiety that we might not realize. a really helpful metaphor to reframe anxiety.

[00:03:06] is to view anxiety as a smoke alarm. So when the smoke alarm goes off, we know there’s smoke. We know that it’s a sign to look for fire, to see what’s burning. And if we were to view anxiety as the alarm, what’s burning or what’s on fire There’s often an uncomfortable emotion that we don’t want to feel.

[00:03:27] We hate the alarm and we want to get rid of it because it feels so bad. But the alarm won’t stop until we figure out what’s burning beneath the surface. And beneath anxiety is often an uncomfortable emotion. Things like anger and resentment, disappointment, grief or shame, guilt, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of abandonment.

[00:03:53] Or feelings of unworthiness or not feeling good enough are often what lies beneath anxiety. And even though anxiety feels really shitty and we hate it, it can also feel familiar. And our nervous system, our subconscious mind will prefer what’s familiar over the unfamiliar. So even though anxiety is really uncomfortable, it’s something that we know.

[00:04:19] And our body and nervous system prefer the known over the deeper feelings that anxiety is masking. So when we view anxiety as the alarm going off rather than the enemy, it can start to change our relationship to anxiety. Rather than dreading anxiety or feeling anxious about getting anxious, we can become a little bit more curious about anxiety and try to understand what lies beneath it.

[00:04:48] Why is the smoke alarm going off for us? What’s burning for us? Because if we bury or ignore or suppress our anxiety, it doesn’t go away. It just gets stronger and gets more intense and could even lead to panic attacks. And this is because we’re ignoring the signs, so the alarm needs to get much louder to grab our attention.

[00:05:10] So what if instead of trying to get rid of anxiety or make it go away, we use it as a tool for self awareness? And if we can listen to anxiety, treat anxiety as a messenger, that there’s something beneath the surface that’s burning, and when we tend to what’s beneath the surface, we can quiet the alarm and lessen the intensity of anxiety.

[00:05:35] And this is something that I teach with my yoga alchemy clients, how to process the underlying emotions so they feel less anxious. if you just remember one thing from this episode, it’s this. We can’t outthink anxiety. Anxiety is not a thinking problem. It’s a nervous system issue. So trying to… Use thinking to change our thoughts doesn’t work.

[00:06:01] It’s the wrong tool for a job. It’s like a knife that’s trying to cut itself or a surgeon trying to operate on herself. It’s just not possible. A different way of dealing with anxiety is through the nervous system. So let’s talk about the nervous system. Our nervous system has two main branches, the stress response, which is also known as the fight or flight response or the sympathetic nervous system, and the relaxation response or the, the calm response, the parasympathetic nervous system.

[00:06:36] our nervous system is constantly scanning our environment for threats. And when a threat is detected, the stress response is activated and this triggers a chain reaction of events in our body that prepares us to either fight and defend ourselves or run from the threat. That’s why it’s called the fight or flight response.

[00:06:57] And then once the threat has passed, our nervous system returns to that relaxation response or the parasympathetic state. Now our nervous system has evolved over centuries or even longer, to keep us safe from danger. But our nervous system can’t distinguish between a genuine life threatening incident, like being chased by a predator, versus the non life threatening stress of work deadlines or arguing with our partner or an unexpected bill.

[00:07:30] And so much of the stress that we experience in our modern lives is less of a physical threat, less life threatening and more mental or emotional in nature. But our nervous system acts as if it’s life threatening. So our alarm bell, that smoke alarm is constantly going off even though uur life’s not in danger.

[00:07:51] And so when the stress response is activated, when we’re in that fight or flight response, we experience a lot of muscle tension. The kind of muscle tension that doesn’t go away with massage and stretching. We experience increased heart rate, increased blood pressure. This is to prepare our body to either fight and defend ourselves or run for our lives.

[00:08:11] We also get a flood of stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol in our bloodstream, giving us a surge of energy so that we can either fight or flee. And as we get all this increased blood flow and increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, we also get reduced blood flow to our digestive organs because when our life is in danger, the last thing we need to be doing is digesting our food.

[00:08:37] So that’s what happens to the body. But what happens to our brain is even more interesting. So, when the stress response is activated, the front part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for, um, executive functioning and calm, rational, logical thinking, that part of the brain shuts down.

[00:08:57] And the fear center of our brain, the amygdala, takes over. And this is a survival mechanism which means we respond to stress automatically and instinctively rather than rationally. And this is really handy in a life threatening situation, as our animal instinct will kick in and take over. But having the amygdala in charge is not so helpful when we’re dealing with mental and emotional stress.

[00:09:21] Because when the amygdala is in charge, all of our thoughts are fear based, all of our thoughts are about worst case scenario, and… It really clouds our judgment and clouds our thinking. So when we’re stressed, we don’t think clearly, rationally, or logically. Our thoughts will be negative and fear based, because that’s how our nervous system evolved to keep us safe when we were living in caves.

[00:09:47] So, telling ourselves to calm down… Telling ourselves to just think positively, or telling ourselves not to sweat the small stuff doesn’t actually do anything for our stress levels. when we feel anxious, it’s a sign that our nervous system feels unsafe. And to reduce our anxiety, we need to create a sense of safety in the nervous system.

[00:10:11] We need stop that alarm from ringing. And this is why we can’t outthink anxiety, because it’s not a mental problem, it’s a nervous system issue. And when we try to use our thoughts and our minds to recover from stress, we’re using the wrong tool for the job. Tools that clear the stress hormones and calm the nervous system are way more effective at reducing anxiety than trying to think or analyse our thoughts.

[00:10:38] And a lot of us, when we are stressed, go into this sort of over analyzing mental gymnastics, trying to think our way out of a problem. And you’ll probably know from experience, it just makes you feel worse. It can cause us to obsess over our problem, it can cause us to ruminate, it can cause us to feel more and more anxious.

[00:10:58] So rather than a top down or a mind based approach, healing anxiety requires a bottom up or body based approach, which includes movement and the breath, to create a sense of safety in the nervous system. because when our nervous systems in that calm and relaxed state, the amygdala, which is the fear center quietens down and the calm rational part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex switches back on.

[00:11:24] And when our nervous system’s in a calm and relaxed state, we automatically think better. We’re more creative. We have more perspective and we’re far less reactive. So trying to think positively or trying to out think Anxiety doesn’t work. Instead, we need to calm our nervous system. So we get back into a neutral state.

[00:11:46] We think and feel better when our nervous system’s in that calm parasympathetic state. So if you’re feeling stressed right now, if you’re feeling anxious, if your thoughts are racing, there’s some really simple things that you can do to calm your nervous system. And I’m going to share them with you now.

[00:12:05] And the first one might seem a little bit weird or odd, but trust me, it works. It’s jumping up and down on the spot or shaking our body. when we’re in that fight or flight response, we have a rush of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol in our bloodstream, giving us this surge of energy and that energy wants to move.

[00:12:27] or discharge. So have you ever noticed that when you watch a wildlife documentary and a deer is being chased by a predator and manages to get away, they often shake afterwards. Or maybe you notice that when your dog gets into a scuffle at the dog park, they shake it off afterwards. Well, shaking and jumping is how we can release The charge, the pent up energy from our nervous system and from our body. It’s a way of clearing those stress hormones and bringing us back into a neutral state. And I’m a big fan of shaking and jumping. I do it daily. I’m such a fan that I actually have a mini trampoline in my office. that I jump on throughout the day just to discharge the stress and to stay calm.

[00:13:13] So a few minutes of shaking or jumping up and down on the spot when you feel wound up or anxious can really help you to feel calmer. when I worked in an office, I used to just go into the bathroom, shut the cubicle door, jump up and down for a minute, return back to my desk. No one would be any wiser, but I’d just be feeling a whole lot.

[00:13:33] better. Now, the second thing that you can do is become aware of your senses. And we’re going to do this now. So have a look around and notice everything that you can see right now.

[00:13:46] Try to widen your vision so that you see everything in your field of view.

[00:13:51] And then go into your peripheral vision, which means that you’re not looking at anything in particular, rather you’re noticing everything.

[00:14:00] And when we go into our peripheral vision, it sends a signal to our nervous system that we’re safe.

[00:14:06] Because when we’re stressed, when we’re in that fight or flight response, we go into tunnel vision or foveal view. So doing the opposite of tunnel vision, by widening our perspective, by going into our peripheral vision, just sends an instant message that we’re safe, we’re okay. Now pay attention to all the different sounds that you can hear right now.

[00:14:28] The sound of my voice, the sounds in your environment, maybe even the sound of your own breath.

[00:14:36] Now notice the sensations in your body.

[00:14:39] Feel where your body is in contact with the floor.

[00:14:43] Feel the clothes on your skin.

[00:14:48] Feel the air on your skin.

[00:14:51] And feel the rise and fall of your breath.

[00:14:53] Now notice anything that you can smell. Maybe there’s a scent in the air, or maybe it’s neutral. Just notice.

[00:15:02] And notice any residual taste in your mouth. Perhaps you can taste the last thing you ate or drank.

[00:15:09] Now bring your awareness to all five senses at the same time. See, hear, feel, smell and taste. And when we become aware of all five senses simultaneously, we activate our sixth sense, our awareness of the present moment.

[00:15:31] And when we become aware of the present moment, it diverts our attention away from our anxious thoughts, it gives us some mental space, and it calms our nervous system.

[00:15:46] And the last tool I want to share with you is breath work. It’s a fantastic way to calm the body, mind and nervous system. And there’s all sorts of breathing techniques that I’ll share with you over the course of this podcast, but the one I’m sharing with you today is one where we make our exhales twice as long as our inhales.

[00:16:11] Our inhales are energizing and our exhales are calming and relaxing. So when we extend our exhale, when we make it longer than our inhale, it sends a message to our nervous system that we’re safe, that we’re okay, that we can relax now. So try this breathing technique with me now. Inhale for a count of two, and exhale for a count of four.

[00:16:45] Inhale for two, and exhale for four.

[00:16:56] Inhale for two,

[00:17:00] Exhale for four,

[00:17:07] inhale for two,

[00:17:12] exhale for four.

[00:17:19] And notice how you feel after that.

[00:17:21] Sometimes it can take a little longer to have that calming effect, but for a lot of people it works almost instantly. And the best thing about breath work is that you can do it anywhere. It’s portable. You can do it in work meetings when you’re feeling anxious and no one will notice. You can do it when you’re stuck in traffic and feeling irritated.

[00:17:47] You can do it while you’re cooking dinner or doing the dishes. And breathwork has a cumulative effect in that the more you do it throughout the day, the calmer you’ll feel. So if you’re feeling highly stressed, if you’re feeling quite anxious, try doing breathwork for a couple of minutes, three or four times a day, whenever you’re feeling anxious.

[00:18:12] And after a week of daily practice, you’ll really start to notice the difference. Now, the thing about stress and anxiety is there’s no quick fix or instant hack. Chances are if you experience stress and anxiety, you’ve been experiencing it for some time, but incorporating these nervous system techniques into your daily routine will make a big difference if you do them consistently.

[00:18:41] And remember that anxiety isn’t a thinking issue, It’s a nervous system issue. And at Cultivate Calm Yoga, all of our yoga classes focus on the nervous system. We use movement, breath work, and mindfulness to bring your nervous system into a parasympathetic state. Because yoga is so much more than a stretch.

[00:19:04] The real meaning of yoga, the traditional meaning of yoga, is all about calming the mind. And that’s what we do in our yoga classes. We teach you how to calm your nervous system so that you feel less stressed, less anxious, and get some mental space. And at our yoga studio, you don’t need to be fit or flexible.

[00:19:23] Our yoga classes are beginner friendly. You don’t need to look a certain way or wear fancy clothes. Because we don’t really care what you look like. And we don’t have mirrors, we don’t take photos. We just teach you how to relax with gentle movement, breath work and mindfulness. So that you think and feel better.

[00:19:41] Yoga is proven to reduce stress and anxiety and over the last decade we’ve helped thousands of people calm their mind. We can help you too. So if you’re in Brisbane, I’d love to see you at one of our yoga classes so you can experience for yourself what everyone’s raving about. Keep calm my friends and I’ll see you for the next episode.