Yoga & Coping with Anxiety
The author discussing using yoga to cope with anxiety.

Since the start of the pandemic, my anxiety has gone way up. I’ve noticed it in my racing thoughts, my tense muscles, and my difficulty slowing down. As a therapist who speaks with the outside world, I know this is something a LOT of us have been experiencing!

The thing is, I’ve dealt with anxiety for a long time prior to this rollercoaster year. And I’ve played small because of anxiety. Anxiety for me has usually surfaced the most as response to living with chronic pain. Anxious thoughts involving catastrophizing, jumping to the worst possible outcome, assuming, generalizing, exaggerating, black & white thinking…

These are automatic negative thoughts that we all have.

A few examples for me have included…

“I’m always in pain and I’m always going to be in pain”
“Other people think you’re faking it”
“If I leave the house today I’m bound to be in pain so I’m just going to stay here”
“Might as well just stay in bed because it’s going to be bad if I get up”
“Ok you got up so now you have to push yourself and get everything done today”
“Don’t even try, you’re going to fail anyway”

All of these thoughts of course make me want to avoid the thing that makes me anxious (for example, leaving the house, or at times it’s just leaving the couch – because I fear pain getting worse). If I can’t KNOW I’ll be ok, then it’s too scary to try so I just won’t.

In other words, I avoid because being uncertain of the outcome is fear-inducing. Living in the present is hard. This doesn’t just have to be with chronic pain – it may be something different for you. What do YOU avoid because of fear, worry, the “what ifs”?

For me, the avoidance has kept me from living my life at times.

To cope, I return to the tools I’ve used for a long time. I have learned it’s not wise to stray too far from the basics, the things I know work. That is: the grounding work for my mind and body.

This looks like using my five senses, deep breathing, gentle yoga, meditation, rest, listening to my internal world of thoughts and emotions (and at times not listening to it – distracting myself from it), and slowing down to be present in this moment.

There are barriers to relaxation. Taking time to rest can feel uncomfortable and like a waste of time. It’s uncomfortable slowing down because we’ve forgotten how to relax with the world feeling so stressful these days.

As one client put it: during the pandemic, we’ve been in survival mode.

What I find comforting is knowing that even a little bit goes a long way. Even a few minutes of a relaxation activity (like yoga, mindfulness, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation) can get you started with feeling more balanced and grounded. These are all paths toward managing anxiety in a positive effective way. When we slow down our breath, we create calm in our bodies and find more space between our thoughts.

I have found relaxation to be a real gift to give myself during times of stress, but more importantly as an ongoing form of self-care and self-inquiry that offers me peace, pain relief, and a deep sense of calm.

Contact us to learn more or set up an appointment with one of our therapists.