What do YOU mean by anxiety?
We all know what anxiety feels like, and because it is so common, we tend to assume that everyone knows what we mean when we say we’re feeling anxious. As everyone is different, however, what anxiety feels like to me may be very different from what it feels like to you.
This makes it difficult – perhaps even dangerous – to give you help or advice without having a detailed knowledge and understanding of precisely what you are feeling and going through.
The aim of this article is to help you learn how listening to your body can help you deal effectively with your anxiety.
What does “listening” really mean?
We may be reluctant to listen for fear of discovering something we do not like. We may not even realise that we’re doing this. In working with children, I’m aware of how often children are told to listen when what we’re really telling them is to do as they’re told.
We say “You’re not listening” when what we really mean is “You’re not doing what I want you to do”.
If we’re told this as children, we grow up thinking that listening means being obedient, and of course then we tend to become wary of listening as we associate it with being obliged to do something that we don’t want to do.
What listening really means is paying attention to what is being communicated. It does not require any judgement or action on your part. It is simply gathering information. What you choose to do or not do with that information is totally up to you.
Here’s a simple Listening Exercise.
Sit or lie in a quiet location. If you’re sitting, sit comfortably upright with your feet on the ground. If you’re lying down, bend your knees so your feet are flat on the ground or mat.
Take a journey through your body, from the top of your head down to the soles of your feet, at your own speed and in your own time, noticing how each part of your body feels. Also be aware of the rate and rhythm of your breathing, and of any thoughts and emotions that may arise.
If you want more detailed instructions for this exercise, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although there are some common factors, anxiety and its causes are not the same for everybody.
What makes one person anxious may not trouble another, and what causes you anxiety at one time might also not bother you at another time.
This is very important, because, whilst practising this exercise can be very beneficial, and if done regularly it can help you manage and perhaps even prevent anxiety attacks, it is not necessarily suitable for everyone. It may be helpful for some people and not for others, and for the same person it may sometimes be helpful and sometimes not.
If you notice that paying attention to your bodily sensations, emotions and/or thoughts has a negative impact then that is useful and important information.
It means that, in your case and at this time, focusing your attention on your thoughts and feelings is not helpful and is therefore not right for you.
Whilst this may sound strange, you may be better off at this time directing your attention outwards rather than inwards, focusing on other people and your environment, or perhaps engaging in a sporting or other physical activity. It may not be the right time for you to explore your thoughts and feelings.
Listening to your body means more than just focusing inwards. It means being aware of what helps you and what doesn’t, so you know when it’s right for you to focus inwards and explore your inner world of thoughts and feelings, and when it’s right for you to focus outwards.
It also means being aware of when it’s helpful for you to listen to others, and when it’s more helpful not to listen, so you’re not listening because you think you have to, but because you want to.
It means validating your right to say no as well as to say yes.
Why is this so important?
One of the major problems that arises with personal development, therapy, healing and learning is our attachment to a particular theory, modality, or orientation.
When something works well for us, for a client, a friend or someone we know, we tend to think that it must be good for everybody – or for everyone in that particular state or condition. We may also think that, the next time we have the same problem or feelings, that particular method or technique will help us again.
This is not necessarily correct. Of course if a particular approach, modality or technique does work for us, it makes sense to try it again the next time we have the same issue. It also makes sense to talk about it to others and suggest that it may be helpful for them as well.
The key word here is MAY. It may work again, or it may not. There are several reasons for this, what’s important is to keep an open mind, and to observe carefully what happens each time, regardless of what happened in the past.
In other words, whilst of course if something worked well in the past it makes good sense to try it again, it’s important not to take anything for granted, so that we can notice what happens each time and be willing to adjust our approach as and when necessary.
So, in order to be truly helpful and transformative, the processes of personal growth and development, including methods of self-help, anxiety counselling, psychotherapy and education, need to be approached as lifelong learning processes.
Donald Marmara, Core Development
Core development adopts a flexible approach, recognising that what works for one person may not work for another. Donald currently resides and practices in Sydney and can be contacted on 0412 178 234.
Donald Marmara created Core Development – a process of change and personal growth developed from his professional training and 35 years’ experience in somatic (body) psychotherapy, counselling and structural dynamics.
Core development adopts a flexible approach, recognising that what works for one person may not work for another.
He can be contacted on 0412 178 234.