Anxiety is most commonly framed as a psychological problem, and helping people with anxiety has traditionally been seen as the territory of mental health professionals.
However, through over 20 years of clinical experience as a bodyworker I’ve discovered how safely connecting to the body is a key tool to slow down feelings of anxiety and panic.
Anxiety is strange and complex – it is so much more than faulty emotion circuits. Anxiety is rooted in physiological responses inside us, which means that we can learn to reframe sensations and be free to respond differently.
The map of Orient – Ground – Move can serve as a useful guide to working in an embodied way to bring a creative response to anxiety. OMG is a good mnemonic to help remember how to work with feelings of activation due to anxiety. It works well as a set of principles for therapists and individuals. (It can work in acute situations, but it’s better to practice it in easy times).
When we feel anxious, our body can feel activated – our threat detection systems (our inner “guard dogs”), tell us we aren’t safe, and catastrophic thoughts can take over. Slowing down and orientating ourselves in our environment and to safe people can help to create safety by balancing the Autonomic Nervous System, down regulating the sympathetics, and increasing activity in the new vagus nerve.
1. Go Slow
Pause and give time. Acknowledge what is happening: ‘I notice there is a big charge here’ or ‘I notice there is an urge to go quick’ or ‘I notice it seems hard for to be here, it is easy to drift away’.
2. Orient to the environment
Can you hear the rain or wind? How many lights can you see above you? Do you like the pictures on the wall? Do you like the earrings/ jumper of the person you are with. Distract yourself away from the edge of fear.
3. Orient to a safe person
Find someone you trust (a supporter) to help you come in to safety. For therapists/ supporters; you need to be the safest thing in the room, the therapist needs to be present. Skills for the therapist/supporter include; use a low, slow voice, lots of eye contact and authentic facial expression, hand holding can be really useful.
Moving is an important way to mobilise ourselves out of the protective ‘freeze’ immobilisation response to anxiety, where we seek safety by withdrawing and dissociating.
1. Simple movements can be very beneficial
Can you wiggle your toes, tense legs, tense arms? You can also sit up, stand up or walk around if needed
2. Generate a sense of power through movement
Use new strong movements to generate a sense of power in the limbs. Push your feet into the floor, push your hands together.
3. Move to ease overwhelm
Take control and stop cycling processes, instead of pausing you may need to be nimble and quick to break the cycling overwhelm. You can also visualise slowly completing frozen movements.
Grounding is about creating safety and connection in the present moment. It helps you feel real. And, essentially, grounding is about connection with the body.
1. Ground in your body
Orient to body sensations, to redirect attention from thinking and emoting into safe sensations. Check the weight, size and shape of limbs. Can you feel your belly? Can you feel the back of your body? Ask yourself, ‘how does that feel in my body right now?’. Focus on simple descriptive words, and avoid interpretation. Feeling your feet can create a downward focus away from a hot, active, busy head.
2. Ground with your breath
Change your breathing pattern – make long slow out breaths to stimulate the new vagus, hold your breath.
3. Ground through Self Touch
Put a hand on belly, a hand on heart, rub your hands, self squeezing down the limbs.
Whether you experience anxiety yourself or work with clients who have anxiety, it’s a complex challenge to work with. I hope the OMG mnemonic helps to create ease.
Join me for a free anxiety webinar on April 27th?
If you’d like to learn more research-based embodied approaches to managing anxiety, I invite you to join me later this month for a free webinar to introduce some models, rooted in science, that have helped many people shift their anxiety experience.
I’ll teach simple, practical tools that can help take the edge off anxiety by understanding and relating to our physiology, as well as how you can support others to find agency and choice in meeting their anxiety.
Free Webinar – Anxiety is Really Strange, with Steve Haines
Time: 27 Apr 2022, 6.30 – 8.00pm UK timezone
Cost: Free via Zoom Webinar
(We will send you a recording if you cannot attend live.)
We will explore:
➡️ How anxiety is rooted in protective gestures of speeding up to survive – it is much more than a psychological problem.
➡️ Embodied approaches to managing anxiety.
➡️ How to understand the hidden stories and protective reflexes that can be working hard to protect us, through anxiety.
➡️ How to self regulate intense feelings. (Feeling is hard, but if you can’t feel, it is very hard to heal).
The first hour will be an interactive talk on anxiety. It is suitable for people living with anxiety or therapists working with anxiety.
The last half hour will be explore how to use Relational Touch and embodied approaches to anxiety. This section is aimed at people interested in training with Body College in Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy.
Anxiety is Really Strange: 27 April
Trauma is Really Strange: 26 May
Touch is Really Strange: 23 June
Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Intro Days
TRE Training (Online and In-Person)
TRE In-Person Certification Training *New dates*
Module 1 London: 23-24 April
Module 2 London: 25-26 June
Module 3 London: 17-18 Sep
TRE Online Certification Training
Module 1 Online: 21-22 June
Module 2 Online: 4-5 Oct
Module 3 Online: 13-14 Dec
TRE Advanced Training