Anxiety can start young.
The town hall was crowded. Mums and Dads, teachers and tutors and most importantly nervous kids. I was one of the kids and we were there to recite poetry to the eager audience. Little did I know that this day would give me a dose of anxiety that would last for years.
I watched and waited as the others kids walked to the front of the stage. They went up the steps and then turned to face the crowd. Increasingly I was becoming more nervous. Palms sweaty. heart pounding. Cheeks flushing.
Then it happened, I heard my name called and I stood up and began walking to the stage. It was like an “out of body” experience. Somehow I arrived at the stage and turned to begin reciting my poem and…
Nothing, nothing came out.
Standing in silence and totally frozen.
I COMPLETELY bombed, I couldn’t breath, my memory totally failed me and in front of several hundred people. I wished something, anything would make this experience stop.
For the next roughly ten years I’d experience palpations and anxiety speaking to even small groups of people. Even amongst friends I’d avoid speaking to groups like the plague. This social anxiety was totally frustrating and it was stopping from pursuing things I enjoyed.
Then in my early twenties something happened.
I began training Tai Chi and Qigong. These ancient healing arts began to have a profound effect on me and one of the many benefits was my social anxiety started to slip away, to my complete to delight I might add. Later I’ll even show some of the techniques I used.
Some sad and sobering numbers about anxiety in the UK.
- In 2013, there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK
- At present 40% of disability worldwide is due to depression and anxiety
- An estimated 13% of the adult population will develop a specific form of anxiety known as a phobia at some point in their life
(Stats found at mental health.org)
You probably know someone with anxiety issues.
These are stunning figures and having had several friends and many clients who’ve suffered with quite serious anxiety it is also a sad situation.
A serious case of anxiety can be debilitating and cause the heart rate to increase, bring on rapid shallow breathing or hyperventilating, it can also trigger the fight or flight responses and cause weakness, excessive perspiration or dizziness, tingling in the hands, and even a sense of impending danger.
There can also be a range of triggers for anxiety. For me it was an intense negative experience in child hood, however it could also be excessive stress, a bereavement or loss of a friend or family member, it also could be a host of subtle events that conspire into the perfect storm, like a big change at work coupled with a family feud.
Some level of anxiety is useful
As you are probably aware anxiety in normal levels is a perfectly acceptable aspect of everyday life. It is designed to protect us from the inherent dangers of existence. If we didn’t get anxious when exposed to some form of threat, like a tiger, we might not take life saving action.
The problem is when negative affects of anxiety become a pathology. If this happens it can stop us from enjoying a fulfilling life, from earning a living or having a healthy relationship.
I’ve listened to stories from friends who’ve described debilitating cases of anxiety that put theirs and others health at risk, or that has forced them to take leave from their work.
The good news is that there are a variety of tactics you can use against anxiety. One tactic (or technically two) that I highly recommend to friends and clients is Qigong and Tai Chi.
Tai Chi and Qigong, powerful tools to annihilate anxiety.
If you take the MO of both arts it actually makes a lot of sense why they are so effective at easing anxiety.
For a start, Tai Chi is an internal martial art. It’s techniques rely on being able to focus and relax under pressure. It has training methods designed to bring about this qualities and may find it will seep into other areas of life. You can get better at keeping calm, or rather your nature will be calmer.
Qigong has been designed over centuries for many applications. One of Qigong’s must fundamental benefits is to bring about Yin Yang harmony in a practitioner. In practical terms, this means to bring about a state of balance. If you are over excited it can make you calmer, if you are low energy, your energy levels should increase. It re-balances you.
Once I began serious training in both arts I noticed that I could feel normal in situations that used to cause me anxiety. However, something else happened too. I also noticed that I could feel comfortable in situations in which many people experienced extreme discomfort in. For instance being on stage in a band, speaking to large groups of people and competing in martial arts.
I felt if I could do it, others can too.
Today, I have helped hundreds of students attain a deeper feeling of calm and several clients achieve control over their chronic cases of anxiety.
Below I’m including some useful techniques, that I use almost on a daily basis to stimulate calm.
These are literally battle tested techniques, as many of them are used in martial arts for keeping a cool head in combat.
Number 1) Become aware of your breath and then learn to regulate it.
When you master your breath, you master your emotions. It’s as simple as that. If you have any doubt about how breathing can alter your physiology, just have a think about the breathing pattern of highly stressed and anxious person. It’s shallow and fast, and normally locked in the top half of the body. So what is the antidote?
Slow, smooth and deep breaths. In through the nose and out through the mouth. Breathing in through the nose brings oxygen into the brain which has the effect of cleaning the mind. Breathing out of the mouth has the effect of emptying the lungs effectively to clear steel air it also adds to the feeling of “letting go” of tension.
While you do this, become aware of tension in the body and let it go.
This process works like magic.
When you train this, good , long and smooth breaths become the habit. I have spoke to many highly experienced martial artists and many tell me they practise this sort of breath regulation while driving or traveling to and from places to make calmness and clarity habitual.
Number 2) Become aware of your centre a.k.a. The Dan Tien
The Dan Tien, is the energetic centre of the body. If that statement is a bit “Woo Woo” for you then think of is as your centre of gravity. It is located roughly an inch and half below your navel and and inch or so inside the abdomen. When you bring your attention to this area you feel literally more balanced.
When we see someone in the height of anxiety we observe their upper body in tension. The breath locked up and shallow. It’s like they lose their connection to their physical base, typically with negative thoughts racing around there head. They can seem like they are stuck in their head.
Thinking of the Dan Tien draws the attention down, and as the old saying goes:
“where intention goes, energy flows”
If you spend some time regulating your breathing and gently focusing on this point you will often experience and immediate state change. You’ll feel more rooted, more centred, more confident.
You can even go for 2-3 minute walk just focusing on the breath and dan tien, you’ll be supposed just how effective this is.
Number 3) Plant your feet and get big with a movement or posture.
In the animal kingdom, confident animals take up space, submissive or threatened (highly anxious) animals get small and employ self touch to soothe themselves. This starts a feedback loop of hormones in the body that can confirm this state.
As Amy Cuddy has pointed out in her fantastic TED talk (though some have questioned the science behind it) getting big, or adopting power poses increases confidence and reduces anxiety and stress.
Regardless of what critics say, I have found in my direct experience to exactly correct.
A Secret Long Known Among Masters.
Assuming a big posture makes you feel better in times of stress.
Qigong masters have known this for centuries which is one many Qigong movements open up the body, or involve large opening and closing movements.
The thing I would add is that you can not just boost confidence with large expansive movements you can also “cleanse” negative emotions. Note I said with expansive “movements”, which is different to staying in an expansive “stance”.
So here I include a fantastic movement for cleaning negative emotion and boosting confidence, that I also included in my 3 movements for busting stress post here:
– The Bird
An excellent movement for releasing negative stress and tension in the body.
- Breath out stress
- Stretching and flexing the spine, (especially useful if you’ve been sitting all day)
- Getting your blood flowing
Stand up and take 3 quality breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth
Gently bend forwards at the waist , don’t bounce, stretch or strain yourself
Gently bend backwards and breath out making and audible “ahhhhhh” sound while open your opening your arms skyward. Repeat 5-10 times
A Call To Action
Whether you suffer from anxiety or not. I highly recommend you give these exercises a try, you’ll find they can also boost your performance no matter what you do.
If you have any friends wrestling with anxiety, please show this post.
Finally I run a workshops that specifically deals with the issues raised in this blog post you can find out when the next one is here: https://www.infiniteflow.co.uk/workshops/
See you soon