What is Stress? The definition of “stress” is: a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives demands that exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.
What is Anxiety? The definition of “anxiety” is: a state of extreme worry and unease, brought on by fear, could be of unknown origin, resulting in compulsive behavior of the fear of impending doom, which can ultimately lead into panic attacks. Please understand that the word “FEAR” is the most important aspect of this definition. Also, understand that anxiety is a REACTION to a fear, going on inside us. It is NOT a disease in itself. So, anxiety is fear based, is a reaction to a fearful situation, and goes much deeper than stress. Where stress may cause additional pressure upon a person at any given moment, once the issue is resolved, so is the stress. Anxiety can be a dwelling on an unknown future, or a “fear of the unknown”. When we become fearful about something in our life, and we dwell on it, our body can kick in the stress response, and a reaction is anxiety. It is a reaction to a fear we can’t control. Over time, anxiety can lead into compulsive behavior, based on that same fear, because we simply can’t let go of the issue, or are trying to control it.
What is muscle tension? Muscle tension is a state of which the muscles are semi- contracted. Most of us carry unnecessary tension throughout our life.
What causes muscle tension? Muscle tension can be caused by stress, anxiety, or when a muscle is overworked. The difference between purposeful tension when exercising, compared to tension caused by stress and anxiety, is that purposeful tension can be controlled, while stress and anxiety tension, is a response to a mental trigger. When we are exercising, we are allowing certain muscle groups to tense up in order to help strengthen and build up the muscle. When we are done working that muscle, we release, and the tension releases.
How does stress and anxiety create muscle tension? When we are stressed or anxious, stress hormones are released into our body, which activates our “fight or flight” response. When it gets activated, muscles will start to contract and become tense, (muscle tension), to prepare you for an upcoming dangerous situation. The problem is that muscle tension can be occurring on such a micro level in the body, that we don’t even realize we are tense. OR we can be SO used to the feeling of tension, that again, we don’t recognize we are experiencing it!
Fight or Flight This totally normalreaction we have within us, gives us the ability to recognize when a threat is near or here, as it gives us the energy to fight...or run. What you need to understand is the “fight or flight” response is there to protect us. Muscle tension is actually a tool the body uses for protection. Take, for example, if someone tries to punch you in the stomach. The muscles in the area will immediately tighten up in order to lessen the injury to the belly, and surrounding organs. If our body didn’t do this, it would be far worse for our belly and organs if the punch was able to be let loose. It is similar with muscle tension caused by stress or anxiety. Only muscle tension is a reaction to something going on in the mind, causing us to tighten up. In my opinion, there are two sides to this “fight or flight” response. One side of this feature, is to keep us safe from a “material danger”. An example would be something like a tiger or a person chasing you. It’s a physical entity. The threat is something that lives and is in our presence. But, the other side of this feature, is when we present a “danger in the mind”. This can also kick in the “fight or flight” response. When we create enough negative thoughts about a situation, OR our mind recalls a feeling or familiar sensation from a negative experience in our past, our mind can manipulate the nervous system into thinking there is a danger in front of us. The nervous system can think we are in the same similar situation of being chased by someone, or think we are in a same negative or traumatic situation as before, and will react to protect us.
How the mind works So, with every experience we have, we react dependent on how we were feeling at the time. Every situation we experience, the mind remembers, and stores into our sub-conscious. It will remember everything from: how we reacted to how we felt, and so on. And it WILL remember. So, if you reacted negatively about a certain situation, your mind will remember this, and the next time you have the same feeling, or thought process, you can trigger the mind to want to protect you. All the brain needs to react is a feeling or thought, or anything remotely matching the experience. In addition, the more hyper stimulated the person is, the more apt the brain will react more frequently. This is where things like PTSD come into play. When a person has a traumatic experience, the mind will remember, and will recall and react when it feels something familiar. This could be anything. (A smell, a place, a feeling, a thought, etc.) If it considers anything about this new situation remotely similar to the traumatic situation, the body will react to protect you. It will send out the “fight or flight” response trying to protect.
How anxiety can develop and build When an issue develops in our life, and we allow our minds to dwell on it, the body can start to negatively react to the situation.
We can start to develop negative thought patterns, which is our mind giving direct focus to the issue at hand. This is where the term “Where energy flows, the mind goes” comes from. The more attention you give something, the more the mind will settle into it. Over time, if the pattern of negative thoughts continues, the mind may understand this as being normal for your body, and send out ways of protection, to keep you safe. This is where the “fight or flight” response can get involved.
We can start to develop tension in our bodies, which, again, is a tool the body uses to protect itself. As the “fight or flight” response gets activated, our muscles will start to contract to try and shield the body from a possible danger. The more the issue at hand remains unresolved, the more muscle tension can develop, and the more negative thought patterns can flow through our minds.
It’s one thing to just have negative thought patterns flow through our minds. It’s another thing when we hold onto these negative thoughts, to a point they lead into a fear. This is how anxiety develops. We can get stressed about certain situations, but it’s when we can’t let go of the situation, and it leads into a FEAR, that we step into anxiety, over stress. In addition, due to the muscular tension, we can start to feel weird sensations inside our bodies. If we don’t ignore these sensations, we can start to question them. As the pressure builds even deeper, the sensations build, and become more prevalent. The more prevalent, the more we start to put a direct focus on these sensations. The more focus we give the sensations, the more power they receive, and ultimately, the more we worry about them. (Where energy flows, the mind goes.)
How muscle tension goes hand in hand with stress and anxiety. So, again, when we get stressed emotionally, the brain is activated, and hormones are released. These hormones send signals to the brain that the body is in trouble. The brain will then send out signals to activate muscle tension, to protect the body. If the stress only occurs every once and a while, the body can easily recover from the tension. But, if someone is highly stressed, the brain may react with excessive muscle tension. Muscles will contract all over the body, and the person will feel the sensations. When a person is stressed all the time, a person can then become hyper stimulated, where the body is in a constant state of tension, because the brain thinks you need to be protected all the time. Let me repeat this, because this is the KEY: if a person is stressed all the time, a person can become hyper stimulated, where the body is in a constant state of tension, because the brain thinks you need to be protected all the time.
What is Panic and Panic Attacks? A definition is: a sudden intense fear and sensation, which overwhelms and disables the body, leaving the sufferer scared and feeling out of control.
Why am I getting panic attacks? A panic attack is, again, a reaction to a stimulus that was created in the mind. Although, different than anxiety, since the mind thinks there is a danger.. RIGHT NOW! It thinks you have to escape from a danger right away. So, it throws the body into escape mode. Experiencing a panic attack is nothing like anything experienced before. It literally feels like you are having a heart attack. If you have never experienced a panic attack, let me give you an idea of what many people go through. A panic attack can appear out of nowhere, and without warning. Your heart would immediately race and pound out of your chest, uncontrollably. A sense of cloudiness may overcome you, and you may feel lightheaded. The chest may tighten, and you may have this sudden feeling of being totally out of control. It, by far, has been the scariest sensation I’ve ever experienced in my life.
If you experience panic attacks, it should be taken as a HUGE eye opener that your body is trying to tell you something. It could be:
You are overwhelmed
You have something going on that needs to be dealt with. (physically, mentally, emotionally)
You need to take time for yourself.
You are worrying about things you have no control over.
So, like anxiety, the cause of panic attacks can be twofold.
When we hold onto uncomfortable situations for too long, we are giving these situations attention it doesn’t need. Remember “Where energy flows, the mind goes”. Our body will react to what we give attention to. If we notice more muscle tension, or we seem to have more worry and sensations in our body, there may be something that needs to be addressed. The more an issue goes unresolved, the more the mind can feed into it. When worry gets overwhelming, the door opens for fears to arise. A cycle of fears can begin, and the nervous system will always be ready to react. When anxiety builds, and the nervous system gets to a maximum point, the next situation that comes up can throw the person over the edge, and into a panic attack.
2) Panic attacks can also occur when the mind is triggered by a thought, or familiar negative feeling, the same way as anxiety.
Unfortunately, once you experience a panic attack, it becomes easier to have another one. Some can even get to the point of creating a “panic cycle”. When you are at that high level of anxiety, the body’s nervous system is also at a high level. It’s at this state, cortisol levels, blood pressure, and resting heart rate can elevate. This is where it becomes even more important to relax the body and mind, since the body can become overworked, and the door can open for fatigue and depression to settle in. Muscle tension is at an all time high at this level, and this is where one can become hyper stimulated. When the “panic cycle” starts, the next worry may become, “when will I have my next panic attack?” The nervous system becomes completely overwhelmed, and the person may end up in a state of constant fear, and is left feeling helpless.
When a person has underlying issues that stem from childhood, this way of living with anxiety may actually become the norm. Once the trigger is set, the pattern of anxiety can continue day to day. In this state, the body reaches its limit quicker and easier, and any additional stressors can cause more attacks. The best way to get the body back into balance, is to start by calming the nerves and releasing the built up muscular tension in the body.
What’s important to recognize here too, is that the brain doesn’t recognize the difference between an anxious thought, or if you are in any actual danger. It only responds to the reactions, and feelings you portray to each situation that arises. It doesn’t know that being late for school isn’t life threatening. But, it will think it is, if you put enough worrisome energy into it. It only goes by your reaction. Same as, a thought or feeling may pass through your mind that would trigger a response to a past traumatic situation. Think about that! This is the power of the brain! More importantly, this is the power of your reactions, and why being aware of how you react to something is so important! Let me repeat that.. this is the power of your reactions, and why being aware of how you react to something is so important!
Those with health anxiety, focus so much on the sensations, that they can start to believe that there is something wrong with their body. They feel that somehow their body (stomach, intestines, heart, lungs) has somehow turned against them. This can lead them into a pattern of fear of their health. They can worry so much, it can become a compulsion, and a habit. Then ultimately, they can start to look at every sensation and pain, as if somehow life threatening, and they can worry to the brink of panic.
This type of compulsive behavior, can also stem from emotional baggage that was held onto for too long. This could be something like a fear from childhood that can resonate through life. What can start as a mundane issue, if given time, can build up, the mind can take over, create muscular tension over it, and mold it into a fear. So each time the same or similar situation arises, the mind reminds us of the initial fear, and the body reacts. This can show up as a churning of the belly, to eventually, (if goes unresolved and severe enough), great sensations that radiate thru the body, which could worry the mind into full-blown panic attacks.
To sum up, when these situations go without resolution, and our minds get so filled with worry, we can stress our bodies to the brink, which is how people can end up with panic attacks.
Cortisol Cortisol is a corticoid steroid created in the body, and released by our adrenal glands. When we allow ourselves to get worked up over and over again, the adrenal glands can go into overtime creating more and more cortisol in response to the stressors. It’s helpful to understand the cortisol level in your body, to recognize how much your body is being stressed. There is a blood test, as well as a saliva test that can indicate your level of cortisol in the body. If it is high, it is essential to find ways of relaxing the body to calm the nerves. Finding ways of reducing stress and anxiety is key here, if you ultimately want to find relief.
The basis of this program So, the key is to allow the mind to realize you are not in danger, even when these situations arise. Unfortunately, we may not know the triggers, so we need to keep the body in a state of “feeling safe” at all times. Over time, the brain will recognize that mentally we are safe, and not in need of protection as much. The anxiety in the mind will then diminish. The goal is to lessen the “danger in the mind”, and to let us only react to an “actual” danger.
How can we relieve our own anxiety? First, if you are suffering anxiety, then tension, stress, and panic can all be emotional reactions to a fear that is inside us. So we have to start with finding ways of reducing that fear. So let’s look at why we are fearful. When we are in a state of fear, we feel helpless, hopeless, and weak. So what if we felt confident, strong and courageous instead? Do you think the mind would feel unsafe? This is the basis of the program.
So, there are so many variables to how and where and why we develop tension, and stress, and even anxiety. So, we will look at the ones that are most common, then you can tweak as much as you need, in accordance to what is working for you. Since fear is the basis for anxiety, and brings on tension, we need to lose the fear, as well as the tension associated with it. And if fear is based on feeling weak, helpless, and hopeless, we need to change that way of thinking, to a more positive mindset. So, even if you aren’t sure the root cause of your anxiety, you can still help yourself. But, you need to be understanding that your body is reacting to “something” going on inside. Again, be ok with the fact that something is going on, and your body is reacting. Your body is trying to tell you something. Listen to it.
Muscle tension alone, can actually be relieved using the right techniques and mindset. So, if we take a different approach, we can start by releasing the tension in the body, and convincing the body it is safe. Since “not feeling safe” is the basis for the tension, stress and anxiety in the first place. Once you can honestly be with that, close your eyes, take a nice deep breath, and as you exhale, focus in on the area that is the most tense. For most people, this is the shoulder area. But, two other areas to consider that we hold tension is the belly and hip areas. So, on your next exhale, lengthen the exhale longer than the inhale to kick in the part of the nervous system that relaxes and calms us. So, if you inhale to a count of about 4, you will want to exhale to a count of about 7 or 8. Repeat a few times until you can feel the shoulders and body give way to relax. Lets try this... This is a tool to remember.. take a breath.. focus on the tension…release.
Patterns of tension Remember that the problem with muscle tension is that it can be occurring on such a micro level in the body, that we don’t even realize we are tense, OR we can be SO used to the feeling of tension, that again, we don’t recognize we are experiencing it!
So how can we combat this? To start its simple awareness. Giving your body the ability to recognize when we are tense.
One way is a constant reminder. A reminder to check in with our body. In my classes, every 5 min or so, I will state.. “take a moment take a deep breath in, and as you exhale relax the jaw, the neck, and the shoulders”. Its amazing how many students tell me that those reminders have tuned them into how tense they really are. This is one way of recognizing that we have developed a habit of holding onto tension. So, you relax, but within minutes, your body tenses again. Why? Habit. Muscle memory. The brain has gotten accustomed to the need to keep you safe from something. So, this will keep repeating and continuing, until you let your body know, you are safe. If the brain thinks your safe, tension will let go. Remember, this is emotional tension. Not tension from overwork of a muscle. Different. And needs to be handled differently.
How to become aware? I tell my students to become aware of their tension multiple times a day. Of course, it depends on the person, the level of their tension, and how much time they are willing to give their bodies. If they are willing, every 15 min., if not every half hour, take a moment to tune in, take a breath, and relax the jaw, the neck, and the shoulders. What you will notice over time, is that you wont need every half hour anymore. You can lessen it to every hour, or every other hour, and so on. Once the brain recognizes that you are safe, and by doing this, you are telling the brain you are safe, it will start the process of release. And stating “I am safe” while you breathe, will actually add to the level of release. We are letting our body, and our brain know, you don’t need to protect me. “I am safe”. Remember that anxiety isn't its own entity. It is a REACTION to what is happening within the body. We develop anxiety when we fear something that we worry about it. When this fear becomes overwhelming, the body reacts in order to keep the body protected, and away from danger. This reaction of protection which is what starts the process of sensations, and the release of the "fight or flight" response.
How can we reduce, if not eliminate, anxiety altogether? We can start by releasing the fears associated with it. How can we do this? I like to come at the issue from a different angle. We become fearful when we lack inner strength, confidence, and courage. So, by building up ones inner strength, confidence and courage, the anxiety naturally starts to calm. In addition, you will work on techniques that will help you accept and feel comfortable about any discomfort within your body. When we understand and accept why we are uncomfortable, we then naturally won't give the discomfort the attention it once needed, and anxiety starts to fade. This is the simplest way to describe what we do here.
When following this process, some people don't even realize that significant changes are occurring.. but they are. They start very subtle, but over time, one day the person wakes up and realizes they have been feeling better. This is the best way to heal, because you want to do this slowly over time. If you starve yourself to lose weight, you may lose some weight initially, but then the body will stimulate hunger and want you to eat MORE to compensate, because it thought you were having trouble gaining access to food. If you lose weight slowly, and over a longer period of time, you are more than likely to keep the weight off, as you continue to discipline yourself. It is the same with this process. We aren't going to deprive (or starve) the body into thinking it needs to protect itself. We are going to HELP the brain recognize that it doesn't need to stay in protection mode all the time. When we feel strong and confident, there is no reason to feel fear. If the brain thinks the body is well equipped to handle things as they come up, the anxiety naturally subsides.
Psychologist Carl Jung stated this best. "What you resist...persists!" So, if we spend all day wondering why we are experiencing anxiety, the anxiety will feed upon itself and grow. When you put your attention on pursuing a goal, like building up strength, our focus becomes more positive, and the "fears" start to fade. It's a pretty basic concept, but needs a strict follow through for results.
Now those with PTSD, and other mental health disorders, may find the process may take a little longer than the average. This is because you may be dealing of more of a direct situation that may have been imprinted in the mind. There may also be a hormonal (chemical) aspect to the problem, which again, may take the brain more time to latch on to the new idea. Remember the brain wants to protect the body, and with some of these more severe cases, it will fight this new process until it feels the body is truly safe. If this is you, lets chat as I have some subliminal recordings that should help with the process.
The point is to work towards making this a part of your life. By giving yourself the time to relax and re-set, you are allowing your body to learn to cope with the change of your thought process, and what you worry about. The less you worry, the less anxiety. The stronger you feel, the less anxiety. The more confident you feel, the less anxiety! You have everything you need right inside of you, just tap into it!!
Requirements for the program: Journal: Be sure you have a journal. The night before you begin:
Start jotting down all the things in life that make you happy. Think about all the things you like to do, what makes you laugh, what makes you feel important. Then be diligent about adding one or more of these back into your life.
Start jotting down all the things that make you fearful and scared. Bringing awareness to these ideas will give you a better opportunity to recognize them as they come up. This can lead you into changing how you look at negative situations. (Remember that anxiety is a reaction to a fear, so try to figure out the actual "fear" that may be causing you anxiety in the first place.)