Intrusions into the conscious mind, whether from everyday life or the unconscious, can deliver a real sense of danger. It is coming from a system designed to protect us, but can often leave us feeling quite unprotected in everyday life, especially with external pressures that necessitate having to push on.
This sense of danger can instil a panicked feeling with racing thoughts. The heart can pound so heavily that we can at times actually hear its thumping rhythm. We might find ourselves struggling to breath. This sense of danger can be debilitating enough that we might even that life is on the edge, utterly helpless and confused as to why we are experiencing such symptoms. The feelings of anxiety can make us feel entrapped in a vicious cycle that can eventually lead us to hide away at the risk of it being seen by the busy external world.
Through our five senses, we take in the external world around us. We live on a conscious level. Sometimes, what we experience can trigger old stored material from the unconscious to travel into our awareness. Psychodynamic therapy can help to explore what might be beneath anxiety. Together with your therapist, it aims to gently connect your past experiences and aspects of yourself with your current experiences.
Outside of the therapy room, there are some exercises which might provide some symptomatic relief from anxiety. Many of these can be found online and I have also listed some tips below shared with me by colleagues. Your GP will also be able to provide advice.
Tips to help reduce anxiety
Focusing on this calming activity, which makes use of the touch and sight senses, can help to reduce anxiety in the moment or at least give you a break from symptoms:
Face the palms of your hands together and touch each of your finger (+thumb!) tips together, touching just at the ends.
Without letting any of your fingertips disconnect, begin to move your hands however they wish to move. You can bend and flex your fingers to allow movement. You can freely adjust and alternate the pressure that you apply, pushing firmly or lightly. It can help to release some anger or frustration to press the tips together firmly for a while. The idea is that you move your hands in anyway that you wish, while always keeping the finger and thumb tips connected.
Watch and focus on your hands and fingers moving around in this freestyle way and continue for as long as needed.
The following will help you to increase oxygen to your brain. Often, when we are feeling anxious, we take shorter and quicker breaths which doesn't assist in reducing the anxiety. The last thing that we feel able to do when anxious is to breathe deeply, but placing your hands over your eyes can encourage you to focus on your breath and to help you feel more protected:
Close your eyes and place one hand over each closed eye.
Take 5 slow and deep breaths. Then breathe normally for 5 breaths.
With your eyes still closed, move your hands to your forehead and repeat the 5 slow breaths, followed by 5 normal breaths.
With your eyes still closed, move your hands to your temples and while gently massaging your temples in small circular motions, repeat the 5 slow breaths, followed by 5 normal breaths.
Take your hands away, gently open your eyes.
The following can assist in helping you to become aware of the mind-body connection during periods when you are affected by anxiety. Focusing on these parts of your body and learning to relax the muscles can feel calming and help to shift your focus. This is not a full body scan, but more of a brief exercise homing in on certain areas that tend to tense up:
Focus on your eyes and forehead and let go of the tension here. If it is challenging to do this, close your eyes tightly and then re-open and release the muscle tension.
Draw your attention to your jaw and try to relax this area, including your mouth and cheeks. If it is difficult to do this, focus on tensing the area before releasing the tension.
Relax your shoulders and extend this relaxation down your arms, hands and to your fingertips.
Take 3 slow and deep breaths.
If you are seeking therapy for anxiety and would like to discuss this with me, please feel welcome to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org