Anxiety: Crux Of The Matter

Words: Dr Rajgopal NIDAMBOOR

Anxiety, in simple terms, is related to changes that occur in the body when the mind sees a threat, or challenge. The threat can be real, or imaginary — also, most changes that occur in the body, are primarily due to anxiety, or stressful disquiet. They are caused by the release of catecholamines, or chemical messengers, into the blood stream and nerve impulses. This is famously called as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response — a basic survival mechanism.

We’d segregate such a response into three components —

  • Preparation. The threat is sensed and evaluated in the brain. This is involuntary; almost instantaneous. It does not require conscious control
  • Resolution. As the subconscious brain prepares the body for ‘action,’ a specialised part of the nervous system — the parasympathetic sequence — stirs the body with impulses. In the process, the body produces catecholamines — referred to earlier — which are carried in the bloodstream to receptors located in various glands
  • Explosion. In this state, the brain is fully alert. As the muscles get charged with energy, they propel the body to take decisive ‘action’ — with maximum efficiency.

Fight-Flight Response 

You’d now connect well with the term, ‘fight-or-flight’ response. The ‘doctrine’ has certainly served us well for thousands of years, although the form of anxiety, or stress, we encounter today is starkly different from what our ancestors faced. In earlier times, if one faced a deadly monster, they would be ready in a flash to fight, or flee. Once the threat was over, they would return to one’s normal state — in other words, a state of balance.

In today’s world, the types of anxieties, or stresses, we face are not direct, or physical. The ‘duo’ in our age is more often related to, or caused, by psychosomatic, or emotional factors. So, you may contend that the ‘fight-or-flight’ response of yore is not appropriate to our times? Possibly, yes. Well, the fact also is, you cannot, for instance, ‘blast’ your superior at the workplace, for instance, if you do not quite agree with their line of thought on a given project, task, or situation.

What’s more, the anxieties, or stressful pressures, we encounter today are continual. They are also cumulative. However, our body is designed to function and respond adequately to them. At the same time, it is not uncommon for many of us to stay in a continual state of ‘stressful’ readiness. The reason being most of us are not fully relaxed, or physiologically active to liberate our anxiety levels. This is quite unlike what used to happen to our ancestors who would release their physical reaction for a definitive outcome — end of the battle, or escape from a dangerous creature.

On the contrary, stressful, long-standing anxieties in the times we live in also lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome [IBS], muscular disorders, psychological and emotional problems, among others, including immune malfunction.

All of this and more calls for not ‘medicated’ action, but relaxation — the other side of the ‘low-or-no-cost’ therapeutic spectrum. Relaxation, by way of meditation, or yoga, with a little help from holistic homeopathic remedies, today, reflects, in some way, the ‘normal’ state to which our forebears would return soon after overcoming a known hazard. They also achieved adequate relaxation because the stress of their ‘fight-or-flight’ response with peril was offset by their bodily action.

The situation is varied today, although as the adage goes you can do your best only when you are relaxed. Not when you are tense. It is also a different thing that many people find it difficult to get the time, or interest, for regular ‘de-stress’ sessions. Well, if you don’t ‘fix’ it now, you may have to spare time for illness later.

Need For Relaxation 

Relaxation is a state of mind. It is also a state of the body. When the mind is calm, the body is relaxed and vice versa. A tense mind activates a tense body and vice versa. When the mind and body are relaxed, the body is able to maintain good and/or optimal health and well-being. This, in turn, powers the immune system and helps to repair tissue damage, which takes place in the body in the wake of anxiety, or stress.

Relaxation is a ‘must-do’ to deal with psychological anxiety as much as physical stresses of everyday life.  When the mind is relaxed, the heart and respiratory rates are slowed down to the point of being in steady, serene symmetry. Our blood pressure is also healthy. Our muscles are relaxed. Our internal organs have adequate supply of blood and nutrients. Our ‘feel-good’ chemicals, or endorphins, ‘flow’ with ease when we are relaxed. Endorphins affect our moods. They also give us a sense of well-being, besides acting as our natural pain-killers.

Now, the big question — how do you relax? Here is a simple, but profound practice. All you need to do is focus inwardly on yourself, to begin with. Not your surroundings. Make sure you are not disturbed by children, mobile phone, or blaring TV noise, when you practice the technique. Use comfortable clothes. Also, make sure the room is softly lit and adequately cool, or pleasant, in the tropics and warm in cold climes.

The Process 

Lie down on your back on a firm bed, or comfortable mat. You may place a thin, soft pillow under your head, if you like. Or, below your knees. Place your arms by your side. You may put them across your stomach, if you want to. Either way, try to remain comfortable.

Find out what suits your comfort level best [But, remember — you need time to master the technique. Have patience. When you have mastered the technique, you will be amazed to ‘let go’ at will — anywhere. You will delight in the fact that you are able to stay calm and relaxed even in the face of anxious, stressful situations. Over time, you will know how you can stay in ‘tune’ with your body and also locate where you ‘accumulate’ anxiety or stress, especially when you begin to get tense].

  • Close your eyes. Let your mind go ‘blank.’ Take a few deep breaths. Exhale slowly. Relax completely
  • Start with your right foot. Twist your toes tight. Crunch your foot. Count up to ten. Let go. Relax. Now, shift your focus to your left foot. Repeat until your foot feels warm and droopy
  • Tense the calf muscles of your right leg. Hold for a count of ten. Let go. Relax. Focus on the calf muscle of your left leg. Count up to ten and relax.

In like manner, move up to your right thigh. Count up to ten. It will take time for you to feel relaxed at this stage. Not to worry. Repeat the sequence with your left thigh until you feel both the legs are heavy and immobile. Relax. Let go.

  • Now, clench your buttock [muscles] as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of ten. Let go. Repeat the process with your stomach muscles. You should now feel as if you are sinking into your bed, or mat
  • As you now move up to your chest, take three deep breaths. This will help you work on the muscles around your chest. It also increases the level of oxygen in your blood. Exhale slowly and visualise your emotional tensions being dispersed away. S-l-o-w-l-y
  • Now, move to your right arm. Make a ‘fist’ and ‘grip’ it tightly. Hold for a count of ten. Let go. Repeat until your arm is warm and immovable. Repeat with your left arm. You can also tense both your arms together, if you wish. Now, ‘work up’ your forearm, on either side, like you did with your arms
  • You now reach the most important part of the practice — your shoulders and your neck. Since most anxiety in the body is housed in the shoulder and neck muscles, it may take time for you to relax them fully. So, calm down — if you can’t get it right the first time
  • Now, hunch both your shoulders as far as possible. Hold tight and let them drop back to bed. You can even push your shoulders hard up to your ears, if possible. Hold. Let go. Repeat the sequence 8-10 times.

Once you have finished with your shoulders, ‘rock’ your head a few times from side-to-side — slowly. This will help loosen your neck muscles. Now —

  • Focus on your face. You may grimace, sulk, or bare your teeth to purge, or expel, your anxieties. Hold for a few seconds. Let go
  • Try to take a few deep, even breaths. Imagine your anxieties ebbing away into the distance. Recite a mantra, ‘I feel I’m totally calm.’ Now, imagine your body sinking deep into your bed, or mat.

You may feel drowsy at this point of time. Don’t go to sleep. Rest and unwind — for about 5-10 minutes. Come back into your own, slowly, or ‘shake’ yourself up before you ‘get up,’ and start your work, your chore, or anything else you were doing, or wish to do.

You are now transformed — you are fresh and ‘de-stressed’ from your anxieties and also wholly relaxed.

Dr RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR, PhD, is a wellness physician-writer-editor, independent researcher, critic, columnist, author and publisher. His published work includes hundreds of newspaper, magazine, web articles, essays, meditations, columns, and critiques on a host of subjects, eight books on natural health, two coffee table tomes and an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy. He is Chief Wellness Officer, Docco360 — a mobile health application/platform connecting patients with Ayurveda, homeopathic and Unani physicians, and nutrition therapists, among others, from the comfort of their home — and, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkWellness360.

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