How to Combat Anxiety – Part 5 of 5 Miniseries – Practical Ideas to Settle and Soothe – the Body

WHAT DOES ‘CONNECTING WITH OUR BODY TO SETTLE AND SOOTHE’ EVEN MEAN?


Our society has a tendency to live in our heads- we focus on our thoughts as a way to make sense of the world. We sometimes forget that below our shoulders is this incredible resource and barometer: our body.

I want to focus on how we can use our body as resource when anxious or worried thoughts are flooding in or we are feeling distressed or upset.

Connecting with the physical self can be larger movements or it can be more subtle movements. The idea of connecting to our bodies in our current environment or space can be a very grounding way to settle and soothe.

Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

 

Here are some ideas you may want to try:

Taking a walk getting up and walking around or out of the space you are currently in. This combines movement along with a change of environment, which can be very helpful.

Have a drink of water Again movement and change of context. Drinking water disrupts our anxious thought patterns with an act of responding to our body in this very specific way. Also, our brain needs to engage other parts in order to coordinate the movement necessary to drink.

Yoga- If you are familiar with any yoga forms you can use those (e.g. child’s pose or warrior) or you can try stretching. Stretching can be light and doesn’t have to include your full body. I like to do legs up the wall for a few minutes, but this is not always an option. Something simple like a calf stretch using the wall or a shoulder stretch by bringing one arm across and in front you and holding those stretches, even for 30 seconds, can be helpful. It depends on what is accessible for you at the time.

Our brains are pretty amazing. Connecting with our imagination and our thoughts is something that people are very interested in and that scientists have been increasingly researching especially in the fields of athleticism and mindfulness.

Walking, drinking water, pushing up again a wall, squeezing your toes, yoga, can all be helpful in settling our minds and bodies

Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

LOOKING FOR SOMETHING A LITTLE MORE SUBTLE?

Photo by Felicia Buitenwerf on Unsplash

Maybe you are in your classroom or an area where legs up the wall stretch or getting up for a walk might not be an option in that moment ?

Try tense and release– You can do this with just about any body part. One example is “scrunch your toes”, so tensing your toes in your shoes (boots or other footwear) and holding the tension for a few seconds and then slowly (sssslllllloooooowwwwwllllllyyyyyy) releasing. You can do this a few times for it to be most effective.

You can also choose different body parts like your jaw, your fists, your shoulders, your glutes. You can work your way up or down your body by focusing on different parts. There are a lot of variations that may be options for you.

 

Photo by Guilia Bertelli on Unsplash

Soothing touch– This is something that can try in many different ways. The idea is finding a way to connect to your body in a way that brings some comfort.

It can be something like a self-hug (that’s right, a  hug for yourself) by placing your hands on your opposite elbows and giving yourself a gentle and caring squeeze.

Butterfly hugs or butterfly taps (crossing your arms in front of you and placing your hands on the opposite upper arm and tapping gently back and forth).

Some other ideas are placing your hand on your heart or placing your hands on your upper legs if that feels ok and just taking a focused breath while you connect with your body and physical self.

You can also squeezing your muscles gently. You can do this on your arms or legs or hands. For example, if you start with your arms, use your opposite hand to gently put pressure on your other arm’s muscles and work your way up and down on that arm. Once you’ve done that, switch to the next arm.

Rocking or swaying gently– This idea may not be an option for you depending on the environment you find yourself in. If you want to try this one, try a gentle rocking or swaying – you could even be on a swing or rocking chair and this can be soothing for the body.

There you have it- in this mini series we have covered a variety of ideas you can use to settle and soothe the mind and body when you are experiencing anxious or distressing thoughts and feelings. We talked about ideas using senses, breathing, visualization and imagery, and now connecting with the body. Check the other videos/posts out to see what’s there.

We spend so much time in our heads, hopefully this will help you connect with your body in a supportive way.

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Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

How to Combat Anxiety – Part 4 of 5 Miniseries – Practical Ideas to Settle and Soothe- Visualization and Imagery

How can we use imagery and visualization to settle and soothe our minds and bodies from anxious, fearful, and negative thoughts?

Let’s continue the conversation on how to let our body and mind know, “thanks for keeping me on alert but I’m ok right now and I’ve got this”.

I wanted to be outdoors when recording, although I did sacrifice sound and video quality to some degree, I decided to go with it. Being outdoors is definitely my happy place and whenever I use guided imagery or visualization, some elements of nature always make their way in. Visualizing nature might also work for you or you might have some other things that really connect when it comes to using your imagination as a resource.

whenever I use guided imagery or visualization, some elements of nature always make their way in.

Photo by Riccardo Ciarini on Unsplash

What is visualization and imagery?
​Imagery or visualization involves using your imagination to help put your body and mind in a different state. In most cases, it is used to help create a more relaxed state but it can also help with things like focus and performance.

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

Imagining has the power to change brain activity

 

Our brains are pretty amazing. Connecting with our imagination and our thoughts is something that people are very interested in and that scientists have been increasingly researching especially in the fields of athleticism and mindfulness.

 

 

 

 

​after an 8-week meditation program, the amygdala (brain’s smoke alarm) was less activated when exposed to emotional content

Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash

Research studying the brain of those who meditate or practice mindfulness on a regular basis have shown that brain activity changes during meditation. What’s even more interesting is that the changes that take place during meditation are maintained even when participants are not meditating. One study using FMRI (takes pictures of the brain and records brain activity) found that after an eight week meditation based program, the amygdala (our brain’s smoke alarm) was less activated when exposed to emotional content.

Why do we care to know this?!?!

​Well the amygdala is like the brain’s smoke alarm, it alongside with other brain structures, take the stimulus we receive in the world and helps our brain (and body) decide what to make of it- is this a threat? Is this enjoyable? Do I need to freak out right now? So if research on the brain is telling us that our amygdala activation is changing that is important to a society that has more recently been living in the crux of perpetual anxiety. It means we can play an active role in helping ourselves out when it comes to upsetting thoughts and feelings and our response.

 

Photo by Sean Kong on Unsplash

The thing is that the emotions of fear and anxiety are based in the memory of something that was scary or in the anticipation that something terrible might happen which, “triggers a habitual fear response…… even if there is no actual present-moment threat”.

The take away- it is VERY good to have a brain and body that can respond to threat when we are in ACTUAL danger AND it is even better if we can help that brain and body to become super efficient at sifting through what is actually a threat and what is not.

Photo by Chau Cedric on Unsplash

Another way that imagery and visualization has been researched is in the realm of athletics. Imagining doing an activity, like a sport, prior to actually doing the activity can help our brain remember the neural pathways needed for that physical activityAthletes can use imagery and visualization to improve physical performance and to perform under pressure- Amazing!

So that’s pretty cool and speaks to the power of visualization and imagery, but before I digress any further let me bring us back to using visualization and imagery to settle and soothe our minds and bodies when we are flooded with anxious, fearful, or negative thoughts and feelings.

What I like to use when it comes to settling and soothing the mind and the body are visualizations such as containment, safe place or safe state imagery. The reason I like these in particular is because I find they are very effective at kicking in the parasympathetic system (rest and relax) and I can access them any time.

Image par Reimund Bertrams de Piaxbay

Container Visualization
This visualization focuses on creating some imagery of a container or vessel of sorts that can hold upsetting, painful, or difficult thoughts and feelings until you are ready to come back to them. This is great for in the moment settling of the mind and body. The idea here is that you can use your imagination to put difficult thoughts and feelings “on the shelf” temporarily to be able to focus again or continue on with your day, but that you can come back to them when you feel supported to do so.

​Here is an example of a guided visualization that is about 7 minutes long.

Safe Place Visualization
Safe place visualization can be a great tool to respond to overwhelming moments. Sometimes the idea of a safe place may be difficult for a person to imagine. In particular if your experiences hold trauma or spaces that generally felt unsafe. I will always invite clients to consider that the space may be one they’ve been before, one they imagine they want to go to one day, or perhaps it is a completely imagery place. At the end of a safe place visualization, you can also imagine a word or phrase that might help bring your mind and body back to this more relaxed and settled state at another time. An alternative is to take a few moments after the visualization to draw, paint, or write about the place. This can help it to stay with us in a meaningful way  to come back to at another time, if that feels like an option.

it is very good to have a brain and body that can respond to threat when we are in ACTUAL danger AND it is even better if we can help that brain and body to become super efficient at sifting through what is actually a threat and what is not.

A note on making it more meaningful-
Introducing and using visualization and imagery to help settle your mind and body comes with a few considerations. In my experience, they can be very effective as a one off. If you are needing something in the moment and don’t plan on using it again, it is ok to access this practice once and you may see that it is quite helpful.

Saying that, I think the more you practice, the more benefit you will get from it. Just like in those studies looking at the effects of meditation and imagery for athletics on the brain, the more we activate certain parts of the brain, the more efficient our brain becomes at lighting those areas up.

There may be some scripts that work better for you than others. There are lots of videos, books, blogs, apps and websites that offer so many different types of visualization and imagery scripts. Some are specific to theme, timing, or for specific areas of life (sports performance, addictions, anxiety, stress, etc). I would really encourage you to look at some different options and see what fits for you. On that note, the voice and the pace of guided visualizations are unique. Have a listen to the first few seconds of some guided visualizations and if you don’t like the voice or something is just not sitting well for you, try something different!

Here are some resources to consider checking out:
https://psychcentral.com/lib/imagery-basic-relaxation-script/
https://www.innerhealthstudio.com/imagery-and-visualization.html
https://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/
https://www.developgoodhabits.com/best-mindfulness-apps/
https://www.mirecc.va.gov/cih-visn2/Documents/Patient_Education_Handouts/Visualization_Guided_Imagery_2013.pdf

 

Photo by Robert Lukeman on Unsplash

 

If you found this post helpful, spread it by emailing to a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook- Thanks! Also, be sure to come back and check out Part V, where I’ll be talking about how connecting to our physical self (our body) can help combat anxiety.

Happy imaginings!


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook.