How do I calm these anxious thoughts?
the practice of slowing down
My chest feels tight, with a constant buzzing under my sternum. The feeling makes it hard to catch my breath. I feel fidgety and it’s difficult to stay seated. My heart starts to race and my hands are clammy.
Your first thought may be that this is a description of me in a highly stressful situation.
Except that I wasn’t. I was just going about my normal evening routine: washing dinner dishes and talking to my kids about their day.
I was in the midst of a panic attack. It wasn’t one that was debilitating, thankfully, but it left me confused as to it’s cause.
I did the usual thought trail, thinking back through my day and different situations to see where the trigger may have been. I came up empty.
How we handle our thoughts is important to how we handle our anxiety. But equally so is our ability to communicate between our mind and our body. Our mind may believe that we are safe, but our body may not have received the message. Such was the instance for me in the kitchen that evening. I knew I was safe and there was nothing to worry about, but my body hadn’t gotten the memo.
get the conversation started
Neural pathways made up of neurotransmitters, hormones and chemicals connect the brain and body together. These pathways transmit signals between the body and the brain to control our everyday functions, from breathing, digestion, and pain sensations to movement, thinking and feeling.
An example of this mind-body connection is how your body responds to stress. Constant worry and stress over jobs, finances, or other problems can cause tense muscles, pain, headaches, and stomach problems. It may also lead to high blood pressure or other serious problems. This constant stress can make the body think it isn’t safe and thus can trigger panic/ anxiety attacks.
So, if we struggle with this, what do we do about it? In Romans 12:1-2, Paul the apostle encourages the believers with this,
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
God wants our heart and mind to serve to Him, but he also wants our body to as well. In the times of early Christianity, there were many religions that we separating the significance of our bodies from the rest of our being. They saw our bodies as shells, worthless, something to be used by themselves and others – not something to be treasured and a means to glorify the Creator.
Paul is revealing a radical thought to the Roman church – what we do with our bodies matters to God. By seeking Christ to renew our minds, we can also allow Him to show us how to present our bodies as living sacrifices. Below are 3 practices that we can implement when we need to make that mind-body connection and to communicate to our bodies that we safe.
3 steps towards a calmer self
Present your body for worship
Many Christ followers can shy away from the thought of doing yoga. With it’s roots in Eastern Mysticism, that can be understandable. While yoga aims to empty the mind and disconnect, our aim can be to fill our mind with Christ and connect our mind and body together. The one aspect of yoga that is important for all bodies, even those of Christ followers, is the importance of stretching. Give yourself 10 minutes in the morning or evening, play worship music or the audio version of the Bible, and do long slow stretches. It’s important to go through the motions slowly and calmly. You are communicating to your body that there is no danger, so there is no need for rushing and worry.
Do not conform to this world
In the midst of a panic attack or stressful situation, we can start taking smaller breaths, and at times, even hold our breath. Less oxygen taken in leads to a rapid heart rate, jumbled thinking, and increased feelings of impending doom. In these moments it’s important to stop and focus on your breathing. Deep diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the Vagus Nerve and reduces the stress response associated with “fight or flight” mechanisms. To take advantage of this technique, close your eyes and take a deep breath that expands your abdomen with each inhalation. Exhale slowly then repeat. Find a verse in Psalms that you can memorize and repeat it over to yourself as you go through this practice. Psalm 27 is a good place to start:
“The Lord is my light and my salvation: of whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?”
Seek Jesus for the renewal of your mind
We can implement good mind-body practices and combat the anxiety that tends to rise in us. But, we will only make it so far without Jesus. Take an inventory of your day. Do you have time each day that you set aside to spend with Him? Are you beginning your day with Him or rushing right into whatever obligations you have? Grounding yourself on the Rock of Christ is the foundation for a life that is focused on Him. Seek Him to renew your mind each day, then move forward with the confidence that you are held in His hand.