A difficult life can gradually cultivate an anxious expectation or negative anticipation in the mind and body. While resistance is the primary cause of our suffering, dread only adds to and perpetuates our stress.
In 16 Clearing Statements To Address The Self-Sabotage of Inevitability, we looked at the belief systems underlying an anticipated difficulty, as also their consequences. There was a tacit acknowledgement there that our thinking was coming in our own way and the tools suggested there were a means to solve a specific, clearly identified and problematic belief.
Here I would like to focus on a more generalised habit that we may have acquired: A readiness for suffering that is far more deeply ingrained, often unconscious and is likely fuelled by countless experiences and multiple reasons.
How to recognise whether you are affected by it:
- Observe the body:
Sit silently, undisturbed for a few moments. Breathe easily. Pay attention to your breathing and your body. You may notice a stiffness in the spine, shoulders or at the back of the neck, a tightness in the muscles, or shallow, fast breathing. Those who have dealt with a lot of challenging situations and traumas(big or small) may feel such symptoms more strongly. Once it is noticed, you realise that it feels as though the mind -body is bracing itself against an unfathomable, approaching storm.
(You can test this further by allowing your thoughts to float towards a future time or upcoming event. Your mood may dampen, and overall a sense of effort or heaviness may show up for no particular reason. The stiffness, tightness or pain may aggravate. Any of this could be mild, or acute.)
- Observe your thoughts and emotions:
There is a fear of being disappointed, worry and a tendency to imagine all that can go wrong rather than what can go right. Despite positive thinking or manifestation exercises, you may be a persistent, nagging doubt that cautions you not to get too hopeful or invested. It may also show up as an underlying current of fatigue, helplessness or sadness. Life seems more uphill than not.
It is as though a ‘fight or flight’ response is no longer situational, but has become a default state. Our mind-body has got locked into a preparedness for battle.
How to release such dread:
Becoming aware of this anxiety and tension in the mind and body is the first step. This, in itself, starts shifting our energies and thoughts. Along with a mindful watch on our recurring thoughts, addressing this in the body is also important.
We can further the process by pairing our conscious intent to release this negative anticipation with one or more of these simple options:
- Heart Focus: Sit straight and take your attention to your heart and breath. Imagine as though you are breathing in and out of the heart. As you breathe mindfully, do any one or all of the following:
- Inhale deeply and intend, “I release all resistance to whatever is unfolding.” as you exhale completely. Repeat until you feel relaxed.
- Place both hands over your heart and say, “It’s okay to feel this way.” (3-5 times). After that repeat, “It’s okay to let it go now.” (3-5 times)
- Place both hands over your heart and repeat softly and slowly, “I am safe. I am okay. It is safe to relax now.”(3-7 times)
- Focus your thoughts on anyone or anything that invokes love or appreciation in you. Continue these till you feel yourself relax completely.
- Shift Your Position: Notice which part of the body feels tight/tense and move it slightly to a position that is more comfortable. It’s surprising how much energy goes into holding that tightness and the ease that can show up with such conscious movements. If you are the type that tends to get lost in thought or the activity on hand, make such 5-second breaks a regular habit.
- Stretch The Body: Basic stretching exercises combined with the intention of emotional release affect not only the body but also the mind, emotions and energies. Meridian stretches and Surya Namaskars are particularly effective.
- Psoas Muscle Clearing: Lie down on your back with knees bent and feet about a foot and half apart. Let the knees fall together lightly and comfortably. Place your palms flat on the two sides of your abdomen, just off the centre of your body. Your hands will be roughly parallel to the line joining the thighs and abdomen, as though cupping the abdomen area. Now hold the intention of releasing the pent up emotion you have identified. You may begin to notice energy moving below your palms. If heaviness shows up anywhere else, stay in the same position, but move your attention to the disturbed part of the body. Now imagine a grounding cord running down from the base of your spine and another from the soles of your feet to deep down in the centre of the earth. Imagine that everything that needs to leave you is passing out through these cords.Repeat as often as you feel the need.
(I have combined several approaches into the above exercise and most people I have shared it with find it to be particularly powerful. I highly recommend it as a daily practice.)
- Energy Exercise: Cross your arms into the Cooks hook-up, and follow these commands: “Feel it strongly as you can, as clearly as you can, until you just can’t feel it anymore.” Repeat 2-3 times, until you feel calm.
- Visualisation: Imagine golden white light flowing down through the top of your head and filling the entire body. Intend that it clear out all distressing cellular memories and replace them with a soothing calm. Take your time as you scan through the body, ‘lighting up’ any areas of heaviness or darkness. See this light flowing down, out from the soles of your feet, deep to the centre of the earth.
Any and all of the above can move you from an apprehensive tension to feeling easeful and refreshed instead – within minutes.
For additional help, here are some relevant posts:
- 13 Clearings To Address The Fear Of The Unknown
- Embracing Change (EFT Script)
- 9 Clearing Statements To Address The Fear Of Uncertainty
- A 5 Minute Exercise To Reclaim Peace
- 11 Crisp Reminders To Help With Difficult Situations
PS: In the event that you are facing a full-blown panic/anxiety attack, try one of these:
- Hold your breath: Hyperventilation implies you are taking in too much oxygen without releasing adequately. Hold your breath for a period of ten to fifteen seconds, relax and repeat this a few times. You could also cover your nose and mouth with a paper bag and breathe in and out of it for a few minutes. This restores the oxygen-carbon dioxide balance in the lungs.
- Deep Diaphragmatic breathing: Slow, deep breathing right down to the bottom of the lungs, such that you feel your abdomen rise up noticeably. Breathe through the nose, with a longer out-breath than in-breath. (Count in your mind to 7 as you breathe in and to 11 as you breathe out).
- Emotional Freedom Techniques/EFT is excellent for calming the system down. Learn more at my website or get my book: Emotional Freedom Techniques.
- Mathematical Exercises: I have seen this work remarkably well. It shifts attention away from the stressor and activates a different part of the brain. Try solving for the square root of a large number or multiplying large figures.
I trust that one or more of the above will help alleviate your stress and bring in more peace and clarity.
If you find any of the above useful, please do share it forward.
We live in taxing times and most of us could benefit from a little relaxation.
Updated on December 8th, 2016:
Came across a few interesting 60-second suggestions for deep relaxation in a talk – ‘NeuroWisdom 101‘, by Mark Walden. Adding some of those below:
- Begin yawning deliberately and slowly stretching your body. Whatever speed you are stretching at, keep halving that until you are moving as slowly as possible. There is a growing awareness of each muscle movement, while the ‘fake’ yawning begins to induce genuine yawns. These give the brain opportunity to pause its thoughts and rest. Within 60 seconds, one can feel the growing relaxation of mind and body.
- Run your fingertips slowly down the inside of your other palm, taking 20 seconds to go from the fingertips to the wrist. MRI scans indicated that this stimulates parts of the brain that deal with self-awareness and self-confidence. You can use this to calm yourself before meetings you are worrying about.
- When feeling down, worried or moody, stroking the forearm slowly helps shut down negative emotional centres in the brain.
- Concentrate as strongly as you can on the sound of a bell for 30 seconds. Listen as deeply as you can to whatever you hear. Such intense concentrating shuts down a large part of the brain and hence, this kind of focus is an excellent strategy to manage ADD, procrastination and the wandering mind.