What do you do when you feel anxious and simply can’t access that place of inner peace? You know deep in your heart that you want to banish the worry—but there it is again rearing its ugly head once again.
One way of dealing with the anxiety is to be proactive and take action about whatever it is that is creating the worry. When that’s not possible it makes sense to learn how to cultivate the ability to be calm—at will.
So many of us operate with a chronic anxiety or stress level that we have become used to this state as being normal. What’s important here is raising our consciousness about what it really means to be able to self soothe. This may mean learning how to identify and internalize a feeling of true calm, so that we can enter this nurturing space purposely and with greater frequency.
Equanimity comes from the combination of the two Latin words, ”aequus,” meaning “equal” and “animus” meaning “mind” or “soul.”
According to the Merriam–Webster definition the word “equanimity” means mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper—especially in a difficult situation.
That is, equanimity is about learning to accept the good and bad with grace, presence of mind, composure, calm, level-headedness, or poise. “Learning” is the operative word here.
Neuroscience teaches us now that developing equanimity or remaining calm under pressure is not necessarily an inborn trait, but rather a skill that anyone can develop with practice over time.
What do you do to calm yourself down when the sirens begin to lure you down that scary, anxiety riddled path?
Photo by Larry Glick
Understand the science
Stress or the “fight or flight” response our bodies way of responding to what we perceive as a threatening situation. This response begins in the brain where the messages are sent to the body to prepare to take action
Our physiology immediately begins to change when we feel threatened..
Some physical changes that occur include shortened breath, an increased blood flow, heart rate and high blood pressure etc.
This is a good thing when an actual threat is present. For example, if you’re being followed by someone suspicious or you smell smoke. Then this state of preparedness and heightened vigilance is important and warranted.
Unfortunately in most cases when we experience threat—our minds are perceiving situations that may not really be problematic. For example, if you think someone is rejecting of you or speaking poorly of you behind your back—you may feel anxious or threatened.
If you personalize this kind of thing, you may get anxious and not really know what to do with this pent up energy.
This creates a stress level that compromises your psychological and physical health. Compounding this is that we become so used to living with chronic stress that we begin to accept it as being the norm.
The good news is that we can train ourselves to learn the true feeling of calm with practice over time. Then, when challenges arise, we can assess whether we can handle them with ease or whether we need to step up and take action.
What does it mean to cultivate a true sense of equanimity?
1. Slow your breathing.
Become aware of your breath and slow it down by breathing abdominally and deeply. You are interrupting the feedback loop that is involved in your cycle of anxiety or worry.
These deep breaths bring more oxygen into your lungs, bloodstream and brain, which produces an effect opposite to that of the fight or flight reaction.
Now your parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated which essentially tells. your body and brain that it’s okay to calm down and assess the situation.
2. Name the emotions.
The key to calming yourself or inducing a relaxed state of mind begins with the breath. By taking some abdominal breaths and making them slightly deeper, longer, more rhythmical you will immediately begin to change your physiology initiating a relaxation response. Belly breathing interrupts the feedback loop that stimulates your experience of stress and anxiety. If we practice the abdominal breathing we can become proficient at quieting our stress and anxiety levels.
Another way to reduce the stress response is to assign names or labels to the emotions that you experience as you encounter them—one by one. Observing or reflecting emotions and naming them can also have a calming effect on the mind. This practice gives us the space to free up thoughts and feeling so that we are better able to think more clearly about the issues at hand.
3. Re-name your emotions.
You’ve now learned two ways to interrupt the feedback loop: with the breath and by naming emotions. In this third step, you can add another dimension to ease the stress response and learn to collaborate with your brain in a more effective way.
In this phase of the exercise, go through the list of emotions that you identified in the second step and rename these emotions from a positive perspective rather than a vantage point that is fear based. For example:
Fear or Anxiety=Excitement, Worry=Concern, Dread=Caution, Alarm=Curious
When you re-label your emotions in a more positive way, you are making suggestions to your brain that are more likely to support rather that scare you. Essentially you’re reminding yourself to slow down, observe and tap into your capacity to be curious rather than judgmental. Then you are poised to reassess the events of your life as they arise rather than simply flipping into feeling stressed, anxious or threatened.
As you continue to pair the belly breathing with the positive naming of life circumstances—you’ll likely feel a heightened sense of equanimity and joy.
With practice over time this will become more natural. You’ll undoubtedly experience more grace and ease—feeling like the master or CEO of your own life.
What do you do to take charge of your emotions when anxiety or stress take hold?