“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:8,9,18
During the season of lent, we remember Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. It was through his death and resurrection that we are able to find peace and eternal life.
There’s a lot of advice out there for anxiety. If you look to the root cause of most cases of anxiety today, it’s mostly psychological and has to do with your mindset. As a Christian, I hear a lot of advice like “give your burdens to God”, “have faith”, “pray”, “trust”, “be still and know.” Anxiety is a natural response to stress; it gives us that necessary adrenaline boost to get us out of a dangerous situation. However, when our anxiety gets out of control it can become immobilizing even in everyday situations–this requires a paradigm shift to correct and possibly the assistance of medication.
Today, I’m talking about the type of anxiety that gives you shaky legs before a presentation and makes your chest tighten when overwhelmed by emotion. The first step professionals will tell you is to recognize and acknowledge that the anxiety is normal, and thereby, stop yourself from spiraling out of control.
For the longest time, I believed that anxiety was something that could be controlled with my mind. But even when my mind is clear and I don’t feel nervous, my body shakes uncontrollably, my heart pounds rapidly, and my chest tightens so that I can barely breathe, let alone speak. Growing up, people would often mention that I was shaking, even when I didn’t notice it. The specialist said it was a minor “tremor” and would likely go away on its own. It didn’t. When I nearly collapsed while giving a presentation, the doctor gave me miracle pills that slowed my heart rate and stilled my tremor. After only a few times using the pills, their magic disappeared. To this day, I’m still trying to figure out how to control my emotions and my body.
Anxiety is definitely impacted by thought, but we must also acknowledge its physical reaction. For me, there’s a disconnect between my mind and body. Even if my mind is clear and focused, even if I feel confident and calm, my body may be shaking uncontrollably.
Grounding meditation is a practice used to train people going into protests or hostile situations. It is not as focused on the mind but rather on the physical response of the body. Unlike meditations that displace you from reality, this practice is meant to make you completely aware within the situation without getting overwhelmed.
Let’s try it: Grounding
Throughout the meditation keep your eyes open. In dangerous situations, you cannot close your eyes or you don’t want to close your eyes. It’s important to practice self awareness with the distraction of visual stimuli.
You can start in any position, but you may want the space to lay out flat eventually.
First think of something that makes you angry or stressed out. Allow your body to tense, allow yourself to cry, allow your natural response to come. Recognize what is happening to your body: which muscles are tensed? what position are you in? how did your heart rate or breathing change? As you turn your focus to your physical response, allow yourself to set your anger or stress aside for the time being. I do recommend going deeper into thought about your stress and anger, but at this time, focus on your body, not your thoughts.
Take a deep breath noticing how it feels for your lungs to expand. Do not worry about if you are doing it right; just note how your body is behaving.
Tense your whole body for 30 seconds, then take a deep breath, relaxing and releasing the stress as you exhale.
Spend the next moments tensing specific parts of your body for 30 seconds and relaxing. Focus specifically on parts that you noticed tensed during the beginning of the exercise. Pay close attention to the feeling of release. Move from the top down starting with your face, shoulders, then arms, fists, chest, belly, butt, legs, feet and toes. Tense and release, tense and release, tense and release. Go through tensing and relaxing until you become familiar with the feeling of release. Use breathing practices if it helps you to relax.
Then, lay flat on your back or stomach and focus on relaxing from your toes to your head, allowing everything to sleep and remain motionless. Stay completely still and relaxed for a few minutes. Thoughtless. Feeling the emptiness and peace in your body with your eyes still open.
If there are some parts that you cannot release, consider getting a massage or stretching that muscle. When we have prolonged stress, our muscles can get knotted up and need some help to get untwisted.
Hopefully, after doing this practice of grounding regularly, you will learn how to control your body because you will become familiar with your physical reaction to situational stress and how it feels to release that tension. Then, you’ll be able to release the tension in the moment and move forward. This practice is most effective in the situation when paired with other practices for centering, focusing, and calming the mind.