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  • Writer's pictureTehmina Meherali

Re-Thinking Anxiety

Updated: Apr 8, 2021

Have you noticed how sometimes words become so overused they begin to lose all meaning?


Like the word to describe anything has become a 'piece', or that everything is about 'mindfulness', or the latest word that seems to be in over-use mode is 'anxiety'.


It's not the meaning of this word that is irksome. Far from it. I have great compassion for all of us who struggle with anxious feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. And yes, the prevalence of this state certainly feels like it is on the rise, especially in children and youth.


While there is a place for diagnoses, which for some may be quite helpful, can we stop pathologizing 'anxiety' for a couple of hot minutes?! Can we stop saying it repeatedly to the point of frightening alarm?


Everyone has anxious feelings. It's a survival mechanism of the nervous system after all. When we perceive threat, experience trauma, or confront painful emotions, our nervous system feels wobbly. We feel wobbly. Our heart or thoughts may race. We may have difficulty breathing. We may want to avoid everyone and everything. We may act out. We may feel as though we're going to die.


Our nervous system is sending loud distress signals to us. It's a smoke detector going off.

Or in pseudo-science-speak, we're in a state of emotional dysregulation.


Would it be helpful to use this descriptor instead? Dysregulation. Too clinical?


Well, I don't know about you, but 'dysregulation' irks me far less than saying, 'Oh, you're experiencing anxiety'.


Why?


Because I can accept that my nervous system is wobbly or dysregulated at times.


Why?


Because I know there is hope and an almost absolute likelihood that I will be able to regulate myself again.


Why?


Because I have agency over my own body.


Whereas, if I'm told I'm experiencing 'anxiety', I feel hopeless. Like I'm stuck with this condition in a bottom-less pit of helplessness.


Shudder.


Shall we look further at the terms regulation versus dysregulation for a moment?


When my nervous system is regulated, I am breezing through life. I feel grounded, happy, optimistic. I can conquer anything.


When my nervous system is in dysregulation, I'm not functioning at my optimal. I'm worried. I'm having trouble calming my many competing thoughts. My body feels funny. In other words, I'm losing my s***


And if I'm taking it out on others, I'm contributing to their nervous systems taking a hit, too.

Why?


Because the people I'm close to are my co-regulators.


Huh?


Oh.


It may be a good time to talk about co-regulation.


The people in our lives have the ability to 'co-regulate' our nervous system. This is due to a phenomenon called 'mirror neurons'. We are wired to mirror the emotional states of our fellow humans. It's a survival strategy. Think of a mother looking lovingly at her child and the effect that it has on the child's emotional state. Ah. I am safe. Ah. I am loved. Ah. I am cared for.


Mirror neurons are also responsible for individuals being able to feel empathy for each other.


Similarly, the people in our lives can act as regulators of our emotional responses. Or not. It all depends on whether their nervous systems are in check, too.


A parent, an educator, a therapist who is calm and grounded from the inside out will be able to exude that to the person in his/her charge.


Co-regulation in effect.


However, an individual in the role of 'co-regulator' cannot be outwardly calm and inwardly a duck rapidly pedaling water.


Why?


Because that's not 'co-regulation'. That's just faking it. It's a wobbly nervous system hidden from plain view.


And two wobbly nervous systems make not a healthy-regulated-combo.


I hope by now it is becoming clear there is actually an energy component to all of this: the more grounded we are on the inside, the more space we create to help others feel grounded too.


So where do all these fancy concepts really leave us?


Let's work towards regulating our nervous systems, people!


If that means taking medication for a period of time to help our nervous system along, then by all means.


We can also look at incorporating simple approaches:

  • Walks in nature

If you feel really emboldened, try walking on grass with bare feet. That will literally connect/ground you to the earth.

  • A bath or warm shower

If you want to jazz it up, add plain Epsom salts and some drops of pure lavender oil, or any pure essential oil that you like.

  • Ambient music

YouTube is a goldmine. Ideally, you're looking for music without lyrics. Something soothing and repetitive.

  • Herbal tea

Find one that does not have 'natural flavors', just pure and non-caffeinated. Peppermint. Chamomile. Hibiscus. Lavender. Find a plant that translates well to your taste-buds.

  • Move your body

Stretching. Gentle yoga postures. Dancing like no one's watching. Using a rebounder. Leisurely bike ride. Hoola hooping, anyone?

  • Play

Whether you have kids or not. Play on a swing-set at the park. Play-doh art. Color. Finger-paint. Get on all fours with your (inner) kid (or real) and get in there.

  • Give a hug/get a hug

A genuine embrace is magic. Don't have a huggable person hanging around? Hug yourself. It's a thing. Not buying it? Ok, how about a tree-hug? Trees can feel them. I kid you not.

  • Stroke your pet/an animal

No instructions required.


(Sadly, alcohol and caffeine didn't make the list. But I digress...)


You can add to this list and move it towards more sophisticated territory. Like getting a massage. Having a reflexology session. Fill in the blank _______________________.


But at first, the simpler the better.


Oh yeah. And BREATHE, too.


And if you're a 'co-regulator', don't tell the people around you to breathe. They don't like that. Just breathe deep inhales and exhales for them as you're doing your co-regulation-mirror-dance.


Overall, it's important to be in check of your own personal rhythm on a daily basis. Once you are, you'll be able to identify more quickly whether you're in a state of emotional regulation or dysregulation.


Or perhaps some of you will want to skip the lingo and just ask:


How's my nervous system today?



Copyright Tehmina Meherali, April 2021








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