A certain level of anxiety is very good. But it becomes a problem when we go too much into emotional responses—from the physical sensations of anxiety, into the fear of fear cycle.
The way we live today, it’s become like a friend we just put up with—anxiety. We feel trapped by it, medicate it, celebrate it, watch dramas and sitcoms about it. But when was the last time we had the chance to explore it with a genuine goal of learning about it?
I recently sat down with to discuss anxiety with Anouk Prop, yoga teacher and licensed psychologist. Seemed like a good idea for a blog, but her answers did more than inspire me to write. I hope they offer something special to your life, too:
E: I think a lot of us know what anxiety feels like, but I’m just wondering how you—as a professional handling these conditions—define anxiety. What you would say anxiety is, and is not?
A: So anxiety is one of our primary emotions. We have anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, happiness … anxiety is actually a mechanism to protect ourselves. When you go back a thousand years, when we were living in the woods and we had to protect ourselves when there was any danger, then this mechanism started to work, resulting in the fight or flight response. We use this in any situation of danger. It helps us to either fight, whatever the confrontation is with danger, or fly, just run away. So that’s actually where it comes from.
And we still use it. For example in traffic, when you want to cross the street and it’s very busy, if you wouldn’t have any fear or any anxiety, you would just walk that street and maybe a car might hit you. So a certain level of anxiety is very good. It becomes a problem when we go too much into these emotional responses to anxiety, away from the physical sensations, which causes more anxiety. For example when your heartbeat goes up, this is one of the symptoms of anxiety. We feel [emotionally] we are not really grounded, and that causes, again, another, higher level of anxiety. Then comes the fear of the fear.
E: Emotional meaning imagined? Or what would you say is the emotional response?
A: No. When there’s a feeling attached to the physical response to anxiety. The story behind it. If you could see it as: “Okay, well my heart rate goes up. This is just something to protect myself for this situation,” then it will be fine. But if you go into: “Oh this is fear, and I had this fear before in this situation,” and maybe you relate this to past experiences, in which there was danger, and then sometimes this whole traumatic (when it’s related to trauma) experience comes up, then you are going to relive these experiences.
E: Is it fair to say, then, that sometimes these experiences are associated in the mind with a trauma? And then when that same physical experience happens, the person almost starts to relive?
A: Yes. But if we are able to detach from this emotional link to these experiences, then it’s okay. We need a certain level of anxiety. Some people want to push it away; they don’t want it to be there. And that’s another thing. The harder you push it away the harder it comes back. But very simply said, anxiety is just a physical response to a dangerous situation.
E: Have you seen people release it?
E: What are some ways you have experienced that have helped people release it?
A: Anxiety is very related to the breath. So whenever you see a person who is anxious, you see that there is very shallow breathing—a lot of breathing in the chest but not really deep breathing in the diaphragm or lower in the belly. Through deep breathing exercises and relaxation techniques to release the breath—into a natural breathing pattern—a lot of anxiety can be released from the body.
E: Do you find people have emotional releases when they breath?
A: Yes. And a lot of people are not in touch with this area [upper abdomen], because this is where the emotions are being stored. The area is numb to them. So they are really getting in touch with their emotions and their breath, there’s an automatic release of stress and tension. And also an emotional release—I see that very often.
If this interview resonated with you, check out these useful resources. We’ll publish part two in the near future, which will include insights on technology and how Anouk, personally, handles anxiety.
This published on the Samahita Retreat blog in June of 2016—the website has been revamped and much content remains archived or under construction.