Our bodies have an ingenious way of protecting us from harm; we encode the sensations of a trauma in our bodies in order to prevent us from stumbling into the same situation in the future. That information, embedded in every cell, can be a lifesaver. It is our fight or flight response. It can also become a problem when that remembered response doesn’t ease up when we are safe, when the trauma is years or even decades in the past resulting in anxiety.
Your trauma may have been a physical, emotional or sexual assault in childhood. Perhaps nothing happened to you directly, but even witnessing violence directed at someone else can leave scars, for instance the battering of one parent by the other. A natural disaster can leave scars on its survivors, rendering them uncertain and anxious. Emotional assault – humiliation, betrayal, neglect, shame – can be as damaging as physical assault.
That preserved anxiety can surface in a number of unpleasant feeling ways:
• Fearfulness: Even when you have no cause to be concerned today, you fear that something unspecified will harm you at any moment. This feeling of fear is actually about the past being triggered, not today.
• Panic attacks: If you’ve had one, you know it. Your heart races, it’s hard to breathe, your palms sweat, and your muscles tremble. You feel that your tongue is swelling and will choke you. You fear you are having a heart attack. This let’s you know the severity of past trauma was great and your spirit is letting you know you need to look at the past.
• Depression: Trying to stamp down your feelings can create depression. Life seems hopeless; you can’t imagine a better time. It saps your energy and your focus.
• Flashbacks and circular thinking: Without warning, you will suddenly be back in the traumatic moment, feeling the terror you felt then. Your thoughts circle and circle around, replaying the incident and reinforcing your fears that something else terrible will happen to you again. Obsessing is also a way to cope with trying to get a handle on and control situations where you feel powerless.
• Avoidance: How many places, people or situations are off limits to you because they remind you of your trauma or bring up the feeling associated with trauma? You may not even know why you are avoiding certain places or people; you just know it brings on feelings of anxiety.
You don’t have to keep living in this misery — our bodies are open to other pathways of healing.
A skilled therapist can help you shift and move through and digest the unresolved feelings that get triggered in your body. We can help you feel safe today and know that you are all right in this moment. Guided imagery can be a powerful tool.
First, notice how you feel in your tense state. It’s not a fun place to be, but you need to be aware of what your anxiety feels like in your body. When you have become aware of what’s going on in your body, you are then ready to allow a positive shift.
Here is a short guided imagery/meditation to start to help lesson your anxiety:
Sit with your feel on the ground and try to get physically comfortable: sit back, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Notice your breathing without having to change it. Is your breathing deep down to your belly or shallow stopping higher up in your body? Allow an image of either a place, a person, animal, or spiritual guide to come to you that gives you the feeling of safety and protection. Picture yourself there in a place where you feel safe – a peaceful room, a meadow, a relative’s kitchen. Feel the warmth of the sun; notice the quality of the light. Let yourself be there and absorb the feeling of safety. Let yourself be a sponge and every pore in your body can take in this feeling of safety. Notice what happens with your breathing and your muscle tension.
Stay there as long as you need to, and relax. Let your muscles loosen, your breathing slow. Notice how you feel, from your head to your toes. Consciously save this feeling. Take a mental picture of this feeling to carry with you throughout your day.
This guided imagery gives your body the experience of safety and starts to change and shift your anxiety on a cellular level which is the basis for all healing. It is a very powerful tool and is used in professional sports and in our armed forces with the troops for PTSD. It’s a tool to positively influence your fear and anxiety. I invite you to make this guided imagery a daily part of your meditation practice. Practicing this imagery let’s your body have a healthy option to choose when you feel like you don’t know what to do. You can have a positive and powerful influence on your own level of anxiety.