Today at work I was feeling a little restless. I had a couple of back-to-back late cancellations so I started eating my lunch early. As I sat there, looking out my office window, munching on the cucumbers I had packed I began to feel a sense of restlessness. It rushed over me in this all to familiar sense of anxiety. I could feel my heart begin to race and my thoughts begin to become louder and louder- I started to feel that merry-go-round feeling I described in an earlier post.
Now, when this happens, I have a couple of choices as I see it. I can remind myself that it will pass, it’s a temporary feeling. I can concentrate on my breathing and practice some grounding. Or I can move. I can go for a walk, I can move my body. When we experience anxiety, our nervous system jumps into a state of arousal. It’s commonly referred to as our fight/flight/freeze response. In a nutshell, it means our nervous system was preparing our body for some sort of major event- and in the case of anxiety disorders, most of the time our nervous systems prepare us for something that never happens. Thanks nervous system!
I won’t go into a ton of detail on the nervous system and our fight/flight/freeze response, but I do want to mention it as it’s pertinent to my subject today. There are a couple different “states of arousal” we experience in our nervous system. One is hyperarousal. Hyperarousal is when your heart races, your palms sweat, you breathe fast, and you often feel like you need to move. Hyperarousal is your body gearing up to fight the threat or run like hell away from it. Hypoarousal is the opposite. Hypoarousal means your body is slowing down. When you are in a state of hypoarousal, you feel tired and withdrawn. You may feel like sleeping. You may feel emotionally numb or like you just really don’t care about anything (or that maybe you don’t have the energy to care about anything). When your body is in hypoarousal you are freezing. Think of the opossum playing dead to trick it’s predator into walking away…when you are freezing you are tricking that threat into saying “meh, why bother, she’s already a goner. I’ll move on”. Both hyper and hypoarousal make it extremely difficult to relax. Both result in a general sense of discomfort and overall feeling of “ick”.
Anxiety can cause both hyper and hypo arousal. Today, I experienced hyperarousal. Now, like I said, I could sit down in my office, focus on my breath and just ground myself- or I could move. I chose to move. (I know I know, long winded way of getting to the point). I grabbed my purse, and outside I went.
Being that it is fall here, it’s a little chilly. This alone grounded me when I walked out the door. A cold breeze hit my face and I almost turned around- and then I thought “if I move, I will warm up”. And move I did. I began walking towards a grassy area near the building I work in and I started to notice there was still some flowers blooming. As I walked further, I passed some robins- I noticed how their little bodies have changed- their feathers almost a different shade, most likely gearing up for their trip south for the winter. After about a half hour of walking and intentionally noticing the nature around me, I decided to stop at a bench and do some breathing. I closed my eyes and I began to listen to the sounds around me, I noticed my thoughts and I let them pass, I let myself listen and breathe.
Now at this point you may be wondering why I’m sharing this in a post, but here’s why: being mindful makes a difference. Mindfulness helps connect us with our bodies and with the world around us. Because I practice mindfulness I was able to recognize my heart beating faster, my urge to move. I was able to notice the flowers still blooming and appreciate their momentary beauty. I was able to sit, and breathe and bring my body back down to a normal state.
When I ask clients if they practice mindfulness, I often get a response that “I don’t have the time”- but I think we forget that mindfulness can be practiced in the small moments too. There isn’t always a need to “make time” for it. So I want to encourage all of you to take a moment to pay attention to yourself- notice your heart, notice your breath.
Until next time- mindfully yours,
PS- have any great mindfulness tips? How do you practice mindfulness? Share below in the comments!