Anxiety: What To Do When Your Body Isn’t Listening

Written By Leslie Stevens, M.Ed., LCMHC

If you deal with symptoms of anxiety, you know the challenges of your body not listening. Let me paint the picture. You are sitting at your desk, working away. Seemingly, all of a sudden, your heart starts beating rapidly, you feel a tightness in your chest, you get knots in your stomach, or your mind starts racing. There is no identifiable trigger, you weren’t actively thinking about an anxiety-inducing stressor. You haven’t gotten into any confrontations lately. You feel relatively safe in your job, family, and friendships. So why is your body responding like this?

Your body is feeling physical symptoms of stress or anxiety, or both. For myself and many of my clients, this can be ridiculously annoying.  I have heard people lament about the fact that they have to take time from their regular schedule to self-soothe, and practice the coping skills to calm down from one of these episodes. Imagine having to take time out of your day several times per day to regulate.  But for many of us who deal with symptoms of anxiety, this is our reality.  Logically you know that you are safe, you tell yourself that everything is a relative degree of “fine,” there are no present stressors that would indicate otherwise. Yet and still, the body isn’t listening.  So what do you do?

My first line of defense is a combination of the following:

  • Deep breathe: Box breathing is my deep breathing of choice these days. You breathe in for a count of four. Hold for a count of four. Breathe out for a count of four. Hold for a count of four. Repeat until you feel that tightness in your chest dissipate.
  • Journal: When our bodies start acting out of anxiety and there is no reason springing up in our conscious, there are subconscious messages being sent from your brain to your body. Journaling will help unpack some of these messages so that you can actively speak back to the actual message or belief that is creating the feeling.
  • Therapy: Go to your therapist and talk it out. That person can help you unpack all of the stuff and get closer to the root. They can help you work through deep breathing techniques, find the appropriate reframes, and even link the thoughts back to adverse childhood experiences or other instances of trauma. If you have experienced trauma, EMDR is a beneficial therapy to try.
  • Talk with friends: Talking is about authenticity, trust, and safety. When you can open up to a trusted friend about what you are going through, it’s not about them giving you advice or solving your problem. Talking with them sends a signal to the brain that you are not alone. You are safe in your relationships. You are fee to express yourself. You are accepted even while going through difficulty. This brings a sense of calmness to the brain and body.
  • Get active: stress in the body sends messages to engage our adrenal response system — fight or flight. Getting active can help release some of those pent up stress hormones.

This is a super short list. There are so many other things that may be specific to you. Just know that if you deal with anxiety or the physical symptoms of stress, you are not alone. The body doesn’t always get the messages that our rational brain is trying to send it. And there is a way to help.

Published by Counseling With Leslie

Leslie Stevens, M.Ed., LCMHC is a North Carolina and Virginia board-certified licensed professional counselor. She co-owns a successful practice in Carrboro, North Carolina. Leslie specializes in helping adults navigate stress, depression, anxiety, and perfectionism. Additionally, she is a life strategist, spiritual coach, and writer.

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