How to Listen to Your Body When Trying to Identify Anxiety
By Jeanette Lorandini
Have you ever stopped what you were doing to purposefully pay attention to your body?
Give it a try (even while you read this post).
Take note on whether your muscles feel tense or relaxed. How is your breathing—fast or slow, deep or shallow? Do you feel any aches or pains that you can’t explain?
Consider that what you may be experiencing—shallow breathing, tense muscles, aches, and pain—to be anxiety.
When it comes to anxiety, of course, mental symptoms such as racing thoughts or constant worry are what most people try to spot.
Yet, many people overlook the physical symptoms of anxiety. That’s why listening to your body is just as important for your anxiety treatment as attending therapy sessions.
What to Look for When Listening to Your Body
When listening to your body to identify anxiety, there are several physical symptoms to watch out for. The first and most common is muscle tension.
If you are anxious, you will likely hold that energy in your muscles. This makes them feel tight and achy.
Another common symptom is rapid breathing. This can especially occur when you are feeling triggered by your anxiety. Feeling nervous and anxious, your autonomic nervous system activates the part that increases your breathing rate, sending oxygen flowing through your body.
Other physical signs of anxiety include:
- Shaky or trembling hands
- Rapid heart rate
- Increased sweating
- Stomach pain or other problems with your digestive tract
- Sleeping Issues
However, the problem with anxiety is that you can get so distracted by the current issue, you may not even realize that there’s a bigger co-occurring problem.
In fact, many people simply ignore these physical symptoms or discount them altogether.
Slow Down to Identify Anxiety
The first thing to do when attempting to identify anxiety is to slow down.
I know that you may be thinking slowing down sounds really hard—maybe impossible! However, mindfulness techniques can help get you to hit the brakes.
For starters, sit quietly in a calm and inviting space that’s free of distractions. Close your eyes and breathe slowly in and out at a steady but slow pace. Allow yourself to focus on your breathing.
The idea behind this practice is to encourage self-awareness, empowering you to listen to your body.
Identify Anxiety with a Body Scan
Next, lie down on your back or side (whichever is more comfortable) using cushions or a pad for support. Continue the breathing technique, but now start focusing on your body.
Begin at your feet with the tips of your toes, and work your way up the body. Some things you can do include:
- Visualize each part of your body and take note of any sensations.
- Wiggle your toes, feet, fingers, and hands.
- Imagine you can see your blood, muscle tissue, or bones.
- If you notice a problem, stop and concentrate on it. What’s wrong?
- Make sure to include both the front and back of your body.
A full body scan allows you to truly focus on your body. If you consider how often you really pay attention to your entire body, it’s probably not much. For most, a passing thought when they feel a twinge…if that.
The body scan allows you to truly listen to your body, perhaps even for the first time ever.
What to Do If You Sense a Problem
If you are very concerned about a medical issue related to anxiety, it can help to talk with your medical provider.
Some other ideas include:
- For muscle tension, get a massage or taking a warm bath.
- Practice yoga and stretching.
- Avoid caffeine.
- Eat foods that are gentle on your stomach.
- Make sure you get enough sleep at night.
If you’re like most people, when you think of anxiety treatment, it’s usually in the form of mental health counseling. That treatment is very important, of course.
However, to identify anxiety, it’s also critical to pay attention to physical symptoms.
If you’ve been feeling that something was off in your mind or body, please reach out to me. Therapy can help to identify anxiety that may be impacting your life.
Contact us today or visit here to learn more about our services.
Suffolk DBT proudly provides quality dialectical behavior therapy, a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, at their offices in Manhattan and Long Island, New York and online. Their experienced NYC therapists specialize in serving teens, children, adults, and college students struggling with depression, borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, and self-harm. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills and treatment can help you or your kids to manage emotions and work through life’s challenges.