Fight, Flight, or Freeze – Understanding the Three Responses to Anxiety

The anxiety disorders that we suffer with as a society today are a mutation of the primitive mechanism that once helped us to survive. Our nervous system is structured for attending to sudden, short-term danger that we would respond to by either running away, fighting for our lives, or freezing and camouflaging ourselves from predators. Unfortunately our society and technologies have far surpassed our biological evolution at this point. Our old ways of dealing with the original stressors we faced in nature are no longer translatable to modern problems.

Despite our problems being more long-term and complex, our nervous system’s response still manifests itself in similar forms to address stress. It is not always easily recognizable as what most of us think of as anxiety. I believe we still have the instinct for fight, flight, or freeze, it just looks quite different now than it did for our ancestors. I believe a lot of the behavior exhibited by people today is in fact due to anxiety.

Flight

Our flight response is what I believe most people mainly associate with the modern expression of anxiety. While we may not actually run away, this is the sensation we are used to describing as anxiety. It is easy for me to identify this inner urge to get away from the situation. This is the only mental state that I attributed to my anxiety disorder for the majority of my life. However, recently I’ve discovered that a lot of my other behavior can also be traced back to my nervous, unstable mental state.

Fight

I have struggled with anger since my teenage years. I never really considered that it had anything to do with my mental illness though. I felt that it was just a part of my personality or temperament. I’ve come to realize that, in fact, it is my anxiety that makes me so quick to anger. I had heard that underneath anger, there is often fear, but even then I didn’t make the connection. While anger may not always be a reaction to anxiety, I feel mine usually is. Understanding this has allowed me to be much more compassionate with myself when I become angry, as well as have more sympathy for others when they exhibit this violent emotion. When we know that anger is coming from a place of fear, it shifts our response to it immensely.

Freeze

This is another possible reaction to anxiety that I’ve only recently identified. Most people attribute procrastination to laziness or simply not caring. I suppose it can certainly stem from these things, but I believe now that it is primarily another carry-over of our nervous system’s primitive reactions to stress. If we can’t used our increased adrenaline to run away or fight, we freeze, or in other words try to avoid the problem or dangerous encounter. Unfortunately, avoiding a midterm paper won’t result in the deadline disappearing or going away like a predator that hasn’t spotted us would have.


I’m not suggesting that these behaviors are justified because they come from a place of fear, discomfort, or anxiety. However, I do think that it’s important we understand the source of these troublesome habits we or others in our lives might display. At the very least, it can give us some insight into our own behaviors that will be crucial in learning to change them. Many people feel badly about themselves for things like procrastinating or having a short temper. They internalize society’s view of these things and make matters worse by believing they are just a lazy or mean person. Getting a deeper understanding of the root of these issues can help us offer more patience and grace to ourselves as well as others.

Recognise Your Fight or Flight (or Freeze) Responses

Deceptive Mental States

Every day I wake up I choose love, I choose light, and I try.

The Submarines – You, Me, and the Bourgeoisie

What are we supposed to do when we cannot trust our own minds? This is where I believe faith comes into even an atheist’s life. At least for me, this is where I try to practice faith. You might be asking, well why wouldn’t you trust your own mind in the first place? If you are one of the lucky few who have no mental illness, then you may never encounter this dilemma. However, for someone like me, who suffers from an anxiety disorder, there are many times I’m left unsure of whether something is a genuine concern or if I’m spiraling into delusional, distorted perceptions and over reacting. It can be extremely difficult to tell the difference. Not only that, even if I determine logically that I am being a bit dramatic, it doesn’t make it any easier to calm myself down emotionally or silence my racing thoughts.

This happens to a certain degree every single night. As the day dwindles away, my brain is running low on my natural mood stabilizing hormones and dopamine/serotonin stores. I am always at my lowest and most stressed in the evening hours when I am physically and mentally tired. Even though I am consciously aware of this skewed perception at the end of the day, I never fail to fall pray to the thoughts and worries that arise. I know that no matter how serious my problems appear at night, if I just allow myself to sleep on it, I’ll have a completely different and more balanced opinion and perspective come morning when I feel energized and refreshed again.

It’s important for us to pay attention to our moods and thoughts at different intervals of the day, month, and year. Eventually we may notice a pattern. For instance, as I mentioned, I feel more vulnerable to anxiety in the evenings. I also feel much more susceptible of falling into depression during the winter months. I become more irritable and emotional about a week before my period each month. Once we notice these factors and the way they affect our thought patterns and sensitivity, we can begin to acknowledge when we may not be in a great place to make big decisions or judge a problem or situation accurately. Then we can try to adjust our actions accordingly.

Now, I said try to adjust, because even once we notice and acknowledge these patterns, it’s not as easy as you might think to convince ourselves we’re being irrational in the moment. Last night I felt like the world was falling down around me. I couldn’t stop thinking about financial concerns. I was distraught about my elderly dog’s health. I was ruminating on the way the seemingly minuscule issues of today could potentially snowball into unavoidable catastrophes decades in the future. What if my parents die? How will I afford retirement? What if I develop health issues? Should I leave the job I love for a better paying one? What if that’s a mistake? All of these basically unanswerable questions were swirling around in my head demanding to be answered and planned for accordingly right now. All of these concerns felt terribly urgent despite the fact the day before they weren’t even on my radar.

The deceptive part about anxiety is that it does serve a real, evolutionary purpose. Stress feels urgent and important because in our past as a species, it was. We weren’t made to be able to ignore these mental signals. It wasn’t an option to distract ourselves or even simply sit in our anxious discomfort when it was a life or death situation. Back then, we really did need to act immediately in order to survive. So don’t be too hard on yourself if it seems impossible to talk yourself down from these mental states. Your brain and body aren’t broken. They are simply doing what they were designed to do to protect you. It just doesn’t exactly transfer over well to our modern, often long-term, problems.

This is where faith comes in for me. I don’t exactly know what I am putting my faith in exactly. Maybe I am just having faith in myself. After all, how many millions of times have I felt like I was going to burst into flames if I didn’t solve all of my problems immediately, only to realize it wasn’t that bad the next morning? How many times have I feared I wouldn’t be able to cope with a worst case scenario, only to discover I’m much stronger than I ever believed I could be when I actually have to face one? I’ve made it this far. I have to believe in myself and trust that no matter what happens, I’ll be able to handle it somehow, even if I don’t know the exact details in this moment.

It’s may be hard, but in the moments when we find ourselves most likely overreacting or stuck in a distorted perception of ourselves or the situation at hand, we must practice faith. Just try to notice how your body feels instead of trying to “fix” everything so you feel better. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders. Give yourself a massage or activate a few acupressure points. Notice when you get tangled in your thinking mind and gently draw yourself back to the physical sensations in your body. Your brain is most likely telling you: You can’t just breathe. It’s not safe to allow these feelings. We have to do something! Don’t let these worries dissipate. They are too important. Notice whatever inner dialogue that arises to try to convince you of the urgency of the moment. Say to yourself: I know these thoughts feel really big and important right now. But I also know I am not at my best mental state to judge that at the moment. I’ve felt this way many times before. I trust that, just as it was those times, everything is going to be okay. I am okay. I am safe. I have faith in my future self and his/her/their ability to handle each issue as it presents itself. I don’t need to be prepared for every eventuality before it arises.

You’ve got this. I believe in you.

Keep Calm and Take the Anxiety Test! - My Mental Health

Unnecessary Pressures of Monogamy

They gather like wolves on the boardwalk below, they’re howling for answers no wolf could know.

Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume; Mewithoutyou

After realizing on New Year’s Day that my boyfriend has never made me laugh, and might not reveal himself to be funny as I was waiting for him to do, I’ve been sick with anxiety and rumination. I love him. The time we spend together makes me happy. I miss him when he’s gone. But at the same time, I can’t imagine being with him and only him forever if he can’t make me laugh. I just don’t think that would work out in the end. Not only is that a very attractive and important quality in not only my partners but my friends as well. I just know without that lighthearted, playful dynamic, after this little honeymoon phase, I will start to get pissy with him. With nothing to diffuse and mitigate my sour moods, I would surely become a bitter nightmare to be around. I am easily turned towards resentment.

I’ve been in this spot before. Unsure whether to be happy where I’m at and just wait out this concern, or to cut and run as fast as possible to save us both time and heartache. (Not that either would be entirely spared at this point.) Each time I find myself in this stressful situation, I can’t help but feel resentment towards society for forcing us all into monogamous relationships. When I take away that looming threat of “no one else, only this one person must meet your every need and desire for the rest of your life!!!” I feel no issue between us at all. Without that ridiculous, intimidating idea hanging over my head, I am perfectly happy, content, and deeply in love.

Polyamory has always been the perfect solution for me. Not only does it allow me to accept each person in my life for exactly who they are without expecting them to be more, it also relieves me of the pressure of always being available to my partner. No one can be everything for someone else. Even if they possess all the desired qualities, it’s too much to put on a single person, especially for a lifetime. This is why half of marriages fail. It’s a faulty, unrealistic system. It sets up this weird binary where you either want to be with this person every moment of every day until you die, or never speak to them again. It leaves no room for grey area. It tries to smash every relationship and every human interaction into a stupid little box, that to be honest, barely any truly fit into.

I’ve seen so many perfectly happy couples part because of this imaginary pressure put upon them. As soon as that initial spark begins to dim, welp I guess you don’t really love them. Better leave. As soon as you notice an attraction to anyone else, no matter how subtle, you never really loved your partner. Not only must you leave them, it would be cruel to stay with such wandering eyes! Your “soul mate” must be someone else. I’ve always known that my expectations and requirements for a partner are unrealistic. How many atheist, vegan, feminist, liberal, funny, tall, charismatic, outgoing, intelligent men and women could there possibly even be in the world, let alone near me? Even when I find someone with the vast majority of those qualities, I can’t help but feel like it’s a huge sacrifice to give up even one of those qualities forever.

Sadly even though polyamory solves a lot of my romantic relationship issues, it still isn’t a perfect solution. Say my boyfriend was okay with it and we allowed one another to see other people, we would have to either hide this aspect of our relationship from everyone we know and love, or be viciously judged and criticized for it. It would be a spectacle that would constantly have to be explained. Not only that, the structure of society leaves very little possibility that my partner would even be okay with it. When you hear your partner say they want to open the relationship, we have been conditioned to hear: I don’t love you. You’re not enough for me. And no one wants to hear that from the person they love. No matter how fervently you might insist that isn’t true, there will always be a lingering sense of doubt and insecurity spoiling things.

So once again, I’m left alone in my mind with an impossible decision to be made. Knowing I’ll likely find a way to regret whatever I choose, and I’ll definitely be deeply upset either way. I’ve been so distraught and fixated on this issue that I even had a dream that he made a witty reply to me last night. I woke up feeling comforted, only to realize that wasn’t real. I’m left with the feeling that no matter what, from this point on, that blind, blissful happiness of having someone has evaporated before my eyes. And the loss of that has left me in mourning, where I see myself remaining for quite a while, exhausted, frustrated, guilty, and disenchanted.

Toxic monogamy is real—here's how to heal it | Well+Good

Anxiety From the Outside

Even though mental illnesses are be discussed more and more openly, and average people have a better understanding of them than they once did, it is still hard to tell if someone without mental illness really “gets” the struggles faced by those who do. I still remember talking to a client of mine and explaining to him the way my anxiety used to make it impossible for me to talk to people even in the most innocuous circumstances. His own brother was the same way and I was explaining to him that it wasn’t just an excuse for being anti-social as he suspected. Even after hearing my story, he seemed skeptical and unable to wrap his mind around what I was telling him.

Since that day, I’ve become more and more concerned with the way others may interpret my behavior. With both my social work career and my yoga teaching, there are expectations that I am unable to meet even after years of practice. My yoga studio constantly urges me to walk around the room more, watch my students more closely, offer adjustments, etc. The child advocacy center where I work, encourages me to stay in the waiting room with the kids and family the entire time that they are hear not just at the beginning and end of their appointment. Neither of these tasks seems too daunting. Even when I contemplate the idea myself, it seems doable.

However, even with the best intentions going in, I can never manage to do as well as I hope. In the moment, my fear takes hold of me. Nothing besides avoiding the situation seems to matter at all to me at that point. I would do anything to just escape, regardless of the consequences. And usually, I give in to that fear and fall into my usual pattern. I’m not sure even the possibility of losing my position all together would be enough to rival the fear of the action itself.

Not only does this constant internal battle make me feel guilty, like I’m not serving my students and clients well enough, it also makes me wonder what my coworkers think about it. I’ve expressed to them that the reason I resist their advice is because of my anxiety. Even so, I don’t know if they are able to fully comprehend what I mean. I am afraid that, like my former client and his brother, they think I am just making excuses to get out of doing my job. To a certain extent, I even feel like it’s an excuse. But it’s not an excuse to avoid working, or because I don’t care, it’s an excuse to avoid paralyzing fear. I would happily do ten times the amount of paperwork if it allowed me to have less interaction with people. It’s not that I’m lazy and don’t want to do work. I’m just afraid. I’m afraid to the extent that sometimes it really does feel like I am unable to do what is expected of me.

Because I have lived with this anxiety my entire life, it makes perfect sense to me when I see someone else avoiding a task that to others seems simple. But I also see the way others judge them for that avoidance. People who have not experienced this irrational anxiety just can’t comprehend how it feels. Which is why I always go out of my way to accommodate people I meet who are clearly socially anxious. For instance, I have a neighbor that never looks at me or waves or says hi even though we pass each other quite regularly. I know that most people would be offended by that and think he is a rude person. But I find him endearing because I know how he feels. Honestly, I wish more people were like him. It’s a huge energetic effort for me to smile and wave and make small talk with neighbors every time I leave my house.

I understand why these behaviors seem odd and uncaring from the outside. I don’t expect people to be able to understand something so illogical if they’ve never experienced it. I just hope that the people in my life understand that, even when it might not look like it, I really am trying my best. Making a phone call or siting with someone for an hour might seem extremely easy to most people, but just know that there are a lot of us that find it comparable to walking a tight rope or holding a python. Imagine if you had to face your greatest fear each and every day. It’s exhausting at best, and traumatizing at worst. So please try to be patient with us. We really are trying.

Fear vs. Phobia: What's the Difference? | The Recovery Village

Narrowing Our Focus

If there is one thing I’ve learned from my meditation practice, it is the importance and value of focusing our minds. I’ve gotten to the point where I genuinely don’t think it matters what we decide to focus on. The simple act of focusing itself is what brings us clarity and calm. As someone who is easily distracted, it’s hard not to get caught up on the decision of what to focus on, even during meditation. Should I focus my attention on my breath, my heart space, my connection with the earth, a visualization? There are so many options that it becomes overwhelming. I find myself switching back and fourth a lot of the time, unable to settle on just one.

Until recently, I was under the assumption that breath awareness was one of the simplest forms of meditation. I often get frustrated with myself for having such a hard time with it after so many years. But recently I heard a meditation teacher discuss the challenges of this type of meditation, validating a lot of the recurring thoughts that pop up for me during my practice. For one thing, saying “focus on the breath” isn’t a very clear instruction. The breath is a very complex thing. It is fluid, ever changing, and tied to a lot of difficult emotions.

Another problem with breath awareness is the body image issues that often arise with it. Until hearing this person speak about it, part of me thought I was the only one that struggled with allowing a natural belly breath during a seated meditation. (It’s a little bit easier for me when lying down.) People, especially women, are told to suck in their stomach, to flatten and hide it. Yet now we are expected to allow it to expand fully and breathe deeply into our diaphragm? It’s hard to let go of years of emotional baggage in order to do so. I always get distracted by my feelings of shame and self-judgement while trying to breathe into my belly. Then instead of focusing on the breath, I’m meditating on negative self-talk, which is only harming me.

One thing that I’ve found helpful more recently is to get even more specific with my breath awareness. There is so much going on when we think about our breath. There a lots of different areas we can choose to focus on. For instance, I’ve been narrowing my focus down to the way the air feels as it leaves and enters my nostrils. You might also choose to focus on the way the breath feels in other areas of the body, or the temperature difference on the inhale vs. the exhale. Maybe you’d like to focus on the sounds you make while breathing. There are lots of different things about the act of breathing to pay attention to, if you find the “breath” too amorphous and vague.

At least for me, it’s very beneficial to pick something very small and specific if I want to achieve that soothing, flow-state of focus. Even though it’s tempting to bounce back and forth between options, it’s important to commit to whatever you decide to focus on and stick to it. Rest assured that regardless of what you choose, the result will be the same. It’s the act of focusing that we are trying to practice, so the object of that focus is irrelevant.

Racing thoughts are a common part of anxiety. It feels like there are just so many things demanding our attention. It becomes overwhelming. Focusing our minds is a great way to calm ourselves down when we are feeling stressed out. Even if you don’t have time to sit down and do a formal meditation, you can always find a meditative state no matter where you are or what you’re doing. All you have to do is decide on something small to focus on. If you are walking, you might decide to focus on the way the heels of your feet feel when they contact the ground underneath you. If you are drawing, you might focus on the movement of your hand or the sensation of touching your brush or pen to the surface of the paper or canvas. If you are cooking, maybe focus on the way the foods smell as you prepare them, or the sounds of chopping and heating the ingredients. If you’re washing the dishes you might focus on the temperature of the water and how it feels against your skin. Or the sounds of the dishes as they clink against one another.

In today’s world filled with endless distractions vying for our attention, it can be especially difficult to stay focused on anything for very long. If you’re someone like me who has had trouble keeping your attention where you want it, try choosing an even smaller, simpler point to focus on. While it hasn’t made things perfect, it has definitely helped me a lot during my meditation and also when stressful moments arise. Most importantly, practice offering yourself compassion when you’re struggling. I promise you it’ll be worth the struggle. Focus is a muscle that we can build up more and more of over time. The older I get the more I realize just how important our focus is. It genuinely shapes our entire reality. The more we strengthen our ability to direct that focus towards what we want, the more ease we will begin to experience in our lives.

Why Intelligent Minds Embrace the Rule of Focus | Inc.com

Suspicious of Stillness

For the last week or so, I have been feeling overwhelmed with all the things that I want to do that I just don’t have the time for. It feels like this list of “one day”s grows longer every moment, yet nothing ever seems to get checked off. I see it trailing behind me whenever I look over my should like an ominous tail. A tail I feel compelled to measure over and over again to make sure it’s all there and I haven’t lost track of any of it. The most interesting part is, intellectually I know I’m only looking outside of myself in an effort to “fix” something inside of me.

Past experience has taught me that even if I were able to finish all of these things crowding my mind, new ones would easily press in on me to take their place. Not only that, the satisfaction and peace I imagine will be the result of completing my checklist, is never what I expect. In the past it has only been a mere shimmer, a glimmer of contentment, quickly covered again by new concerns and goals to achieve.

You’d think I’d be able to learn from the past, to acknowledge these lived truths. No matter how urgent and overwhelming each item feels, that is just an illusion. Not only that, but that rushed, pressured feeling I seek to alleviate by wiping away all these tasks will not be affected. That feeling is inside of me. Nothing I alter or change in the world outside is going to adequately address that inner turmoil. It may provide a momentary distraction, but it will surely bubble back up to the surface of my awareness.

I was reminded again of that fact yesterday evening. As I was washing the dishes and preparing soup for my lunches this week, a pleasant sense of calm and contentment settled over me. I was enjoying myself. My mind was focused and still. “Everything is exactly as it should be.” Never had that mantra felt more true. I found myself in that delicious flow state, but that nagging little anxiety mosquito would not allow me to rest there. It buzzed by my ears, trying to pick apart that peace.

I caught myself searching for that sense of urgency and overwhelm that I was so familiar with. As if it must still be there somewhere, as if I had misplaced it. I smiled in spite of myself. Why did I feel the need to find my discomfort? Sadly, it almost feels unsafe to be without it. I have learned to trust my feelings of dis-ease more than feelings of peace and stillness. At what point had I decided that the former was more true, a more accurate representation of reality, than the latter? Why did I not feel inclined to do the reverse and seek out that calm state when I noticed myself spiraling?

This was a reminder that even if I were to accomplish every single thing I hope to accomplish and I reach that place of ease I’m longing for, I won’t trust it. I will continue searching for more problems that need solving, and because of that, I will inevitably find them. So when I find myself fretting about all of these random things left undone, I must remind myself that it’s not about whatever I’m fixating on. It’s about the feelings themselves. It’s not a signal that I must act to change the external world. It is a signal that I need to work on trust and surrender.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always had a dysfunctional relationship with trust. I seem to trust others almost to a fault, never even suspecting that they may be untruthful. However, I can’t ever seem to trust myself or the universe to take care of me. Despite the fact that it always has, that I always have. I’m beginning to wonder if these feelings have something to do with my OCD tendencies.

When someone with OCD performs their compulsions, it is in an effort to dissipate feelings of anxiety. I’ve heard people suffering with OCD say that even though they know it’s not true, they feel they must touch the doorknob five times or walk in a particular pattern across the room to prevent some kind of natural disaster or to protect their loved ones from harm. They understand that this is ridiculous, yet they cannot help but be compelled to continue doing it. I feel similarly about my own situation.

It may be a more vague, shapeless sense of dread, but it is still there. I always have this foggy sense that if I don’t stay ever vigilant, if I don’t make sure I keep my life perfectly organized, and accomplish these random things that my reality will descend into utter chaos. I’m not sure exactly how I imagine this will happen, but the fear is always there. I guess I’ve convinced myself of an irrational slippery slope argument. If I start to let things slip through the cracks, for example not keeping up with cleaning my home, then it will continue to get worse and worse until it is unbearable and impossible to set right again. Then expanding upon that unlikely scenario, I tell myself that everything else in my life will start to break apart too. Ultimately resulting in: I will never be happy unless I can take care of all of these tasks I’ve thought of that need done. Even though, like the OCD sufferers, I know it to be untrue, I can’t help but believe it.

Just as with OCD, the only way to alleviate these irrational fears, is to show yourself that the outcomes you fear will not occur. Only through repeated, conscious effort to resist the compulsion can we teach ourselves that we don’t need to be afraid, that everything will still be okay if we let go. The irony of trust is that you’ve got to practice it to strengthen it. Even though those initial efforts to trust seem impossibly scary and reckless. We’ve got to trust that it is safe to trust. Even though that little voice inside is saying: What if it’s not? That is when we’ve also got to trust ourselves to be okay in the event things do go awry. I know that all I can do is try my best to focus on what I am able to accomplish, and practice trusting that the rest will still be there when and if I find the time for it.

8 Ways to Manage Your Stress as a Small Business Owner - DreamHost

Spill

My head is full of floating thoughts
that expand and break apart 
they cloud my heart and contract my lungs
endlessly vibrating in and out of awareness

My head is full, but more flows in
a constant stream of stressful flurries 
piling up inside my mind 
getting denser and heavier each day

It feels as though I will surely crack open
and spill this jumbled mess upon the pavement
or perhaps be flattened under the weight
of everything I've left undone

It's hard to focus while restitching seams in my skull
trying to keep it all together as I'm pulled forward
into a future waiting to pour even more
liquid lists through my shaking fingers

It's all too much, too fast, too busy
the urgency of each moment
tugging at me from all sides
knowing it cannot all be done

Impossible to decide the next step
I want my heart to open like a faucet
and release all this pressure inside 
to spill and spill until I am empty

Until I can hold that blissful space
and replace my lists with trust
a trust without form, just feeling
a brave surrender of the spirit
How Prayer Can Help Mend A Broken Marriage - Valerie Murray

Holding Your Breath

Pranayama Benefits for Physical and Emotional Health

Stop whatever you are doing and take a moment to just notice your breath. Don’t worry about changing it, just observe how you breath when you aren’t paying attention. What is your breath like? For me, at pretty much any given moment unless I’m doing yoga, my breath is painfully shallow. Often I’ll notice that I’ve actually been holding my breath! I particularly notice this tendency when I’m feeling anxious.

For most of my life, I never thought about breathing at all. Breathing is unconscious, it’s a reflex, our bodies are taking care of that for us. These are the things I remember learning when I was growing up. Without yoga, I never would have learned the power that is held inside of my breath. I had no idea that we had the ability to retrain ourselves to have more beneficial breathing patterns or that the breath had any significance besides keeping us alive.

Society tells us that we need all of these magic fixes for our depression, anxiety, fatigue, etc. We medicate and distract ourselves, doing anything to avoid the signals our bodies are sending us. We are never taught how to value and honor our breath for the miracle that it is. In my opinion, pranayama (breathwork) is one of the most advanced aspects of yoga and also the most important.

Living in a world of excess, it seems impossible that there could be so many life changing benefits from something as simple as breathing. Yet there is a breathwork practice for anything that you may want to achieve. Through the power of our breath we can energize ourselves, we can calm our nervous systems, we can elevate our mood, we can cool ourselves down, warm ourselves up, we can even experience altered states of consciousness! And we can do all of this for free, regardless of where we are, regardless of who we are. If you’re living, you can practice pranayama.

Unfortunately, I am still far away from unlocking the full potential of my own breath. Even after years of yoga and meditation, I am still working on just being able to notice my breath as I move through my day. I’ve particularly been trying to focus on checking in with my breath when I feel anxious. When our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) kicks on, the body naturally makes our breath quick and shallow. It is under the assumption that it needs to prepare to either flee or attack whatever threat may be nearby. However, this is supposed to be a short-lived experience. When we find ourselves perpetually in this heightened state, we start to experience various mental and physical health issues.

Interestingly enough, this feedback loop works in both directions. Our mind is usually the one running the show, telling the body it’s time to act. The body has just as much control over the mind though. If we can learn to recognize our stress response, we can override it with our breath. Now, this is no easy feat, and it definitely takes a lot of practice, but it is worth it. Don’t give up. Keep practicing and eventually we can all cultivate a beautiful symbiotic relationship with our own breath.

There is so much pleasure to be found in the simple act of breathing. One of the most valuable parts of my last acid experience was finding a stronger connection to my breath. As I laid in the grass with my boyfriend, enjoying the sun streaming down through the leaves above us and listening to the hum of locus in the background, I became intoxicated with the feeling of my own inhales and exhales. Each sip of air felt incredible, fresh oxygen, the gentle expansion of my lungs. Each out breath was a gorgeous release, a cleansing. I could have spent the whole evening just savoring my own breathing.

That experience has stayed with me since then. I am still able to tap into that sense of gratitude and wonder as I breathe. My breath alone can be better than any drug or addiction out there. And it’s mine to enjoy whenever I wish without consequence. I’ve even come up with a little visualization that helps me get back in touch with my LSD experience. I think it would work well for anyone who has been or still is a smoker.

As you breath in, just imagine you are taking a nice long, delicious drag off of a cigarette, vape, or joint. I genuinely think one of the reasons humans seem to enjoy smoking things so much is because it allows us to slow down and focus on our breath for a few minutes. You may even find it helpful to visualize the air as smoke moving in and out of your body. This would be an excellent visualization to try the next time you find yourself holding your breath or breathing very shallow.

Wherever you may be in regard to a pranayama practice, for the rest of the day, just try to come back to your breath whenever you notice yourself feeling anxious. Are you holding your breath? Is washing the dishes really that unpleasant or is it because you are unconsciously trying to not breath until you’re finished? No matter what is sparking that anxiety in me, checking in with my breath is always a huge help.

Let me know what your experience has been like regarding breathwork. When did you first realize the significance of the breath? What are some of your favorite pranayama practices? If you decide to try my little visualization, let me know how it went for you.

Pranayama for Anxiety: 4 Breathing Exercises to Try | YogiApproved.com

Calm Amidst the Chaos

Even when I don’t have a lot of free time in my day, I always make time for my yoga and meditation. Some days that’s a half an hour, others it’s only 5 minutes. I try not to let myself get caught up in an all or nothing mentality. Just because I can’t find the time to do my normal routine, doesn’t mean that those five minutes I do have won’t make a difference.

Today I noticed myself getting caught up in a totally different problem, though. I was exceptionally pressed for time. I had to squeeze my meditation into the 15 minute span before a new client was coming in for an appointment. As I tried to drop into my breath and let the world around me fall away, I couldn’t help but become preoccupied with what was going on in the rest of my office. I was fixating on every little noise, anxiously anticipating the client to show up early and force me to jump up and greet them. I was worried my coworkers were irritated at me for still being closed away in my office so close to our appointment. I considered giving up on my meditation all together. I wondered if it was just a waste of time, if I was too on edge to meditate.

I’ve found myself in this situation many times before. Sometimes I can’t find a quite place or I keep being interrupted or whatever other kind of inconveniences the world likes to throw at us from time to time. Occasionally, I will actually decide to forget about meditating all together. I tell myself that it’s not the right environment or I’m just too distracted or uneasy.

For some reason, the ridiculousness of that reasoning really struck me today. How silly it sounds to say: I’m too anxious to meditate. I can’t meditate because I feel rushed or it’s too loud. These are all perfect times to meditate! Meditation and yoga aren’t things that we need ideal conditions to practice. One of the most beneficial and important parts of these practices is to learn how to use them to cope with hectic times in our lives. Through these practices we can learn how to sit with these moments of discomfort. We can use them to step back from our own drama and distress and simply observe ourselves from a calm neutral perspective.

If you are just beginning to incorporate mindfulness into your routine, it may seem impossible to meditate unless you are in the right atmosphere or headspace. Developing a designated area where you can feel calm and relaxed is an excellent way to help you stick with it in the beginning. However, if you have been practicing for a long time like I have, it may be time to challenge yourself a bit more. You’ve laid the foundation, now it’s time to test it. I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Give yourself a chance to notice what it feels like to be rushed, or irritated, or interrupted. Get curious about this experience. Ask yourself questions. What is happening in your body? In your mind? What is your internal dialogue telling you in these difficult moments? How is that self-talk exacerbating the already tense situation? What might be a kinder or more gentle form of self-talk you can implement instead? This is the perfect time to start changing patterns of thought that are not serving you.

Meditation isn’t always supposed to be easy and effortless. No matter how long you have been practicing, you are going to find yourself struggling from time to time. Going through phases of discomfort internally, externally, or both is all part of the human experience. The incredible experience that we are all here to witness. Meditation is about learning to be present through it all, not just the calm, clear moments, but the rough and tumultuous ones as well.

Getting Older

Late 20’s/early 30’s is a strange stage of life to be in. You no longer fit in with the “young” people which you still have the tendency to consider yourself a part of. You still feel young, but I remember thinking 30 year olds were super old most of my life. You also aren’t embraced by the older generations who tend to view you as an immature child and make light of your concerns about being older. I’m so used to eye rolls and scoffs from boomers if I dare to mention feeling old. It’s an awkward middle ground between youth and middle age. It feels like no one quite understands you. At times it feels like you don’t even understand yourself.

I know I should focus on being grateful that I even made it this far. I’ve had an extremely easy, wonderful life for nearly 28 years now. I’ve never had a serious illness, surgery, or even a broken bone! Throughout most of human history, it would have been a miracle that I even made it this far. Rather than feeling like a blessing, aging has just started to feel surreal to me. I’m sure as children, we all imagined growing up and living independent, adult lives one day. However, when you’re 10, “adult” means 18-20. That’s all the further out I really pictured. It was hard to even conceptualize being older than that. It started to get weirder each consecutive year after my 21st birthday.

You find yourself waiting and waiting. Wondering when you’ll finally start to feel like a real adult. It used to seem inevitable that one day you would wake up and just get it. You’d understand what you’re supposed to do, who you are, where you’re going in life. After a while, that expectation changes to questioning if you’ll ever actually experience that confidence and self mastery you had always anticipated. At a certain point you start to ask yourself where you ever got that impression of adulthood in the first place.

It’s also strange to consider if this is a natural part of getting older, or if this experience is unique to your generation. After all, things have changed quite a lot since my parents were 30. The baby boomers were all having children and buying houses around this age. Whereas my generation isn’t exactly able to enjoy the same privileges. Instead, we are burdened by crippling debt, useless degrees, being stuck living with our parents, unable to shed those aspects of our childhood that are still so prevalent in our lives. I’ve been playing Pokémon every evening for months now. I doubt I’ll ever outgrow that particular interest.

Apart from all the psychological aspects of aging, it’s also quite scary to realize that my body is getting older too. As a woman that is particularly frightening. Despite knowing that my worth is not tied to my age or my appearance, I am aware that society does not reflect that fact. Is my life going to become more difficult once I’m no longer a young, attractive woman? I’ve already got a few wrinkles between my eyebrows and a handful of grey hairs. Will I still think I’m pretty ten years from now? Will I still be able to do impressive yoga poses or intense cardio workouts? When will I begin to notice aches and pains that never quite go away? How much longer will this strong, healthy body last?

The concept of aging is certainly a bizarre one no matter how you want to look at it. I only hope that as time continues to pass that I will grow older with dignity and grace, with gratitude in my heart. Even though it’s scary, I am still hopeful. I am curious to find out what the rest of this miraculous life has in store for me.

What Is (and Isn't) Normal Aging