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What Anxiety Can Do to Your Body & How to Calm Your Mind

Woman Meditating

“Our bodies communicate to us clearly and specifically, if we are willing to listen.” ~Shakti Gawain

I woke up screaming—not just any scream, but a blood-curdling sound that could have woken the dead.

My throat was searing with pain, and my pajamas were stuck to me from being so damp. After a minute or two, my heartbeat slowed and I lay back down, still shaking. It wasn’t a nightmare; I couldn’t even remember what I had dreamt.

This behavior sounds weird, but it was not an infrequent episode in our house. The week prior I’d woken up in the bathtub.

My mum would often say, “Do you remember what you did last night?” I would have no recollection whatsoever—unnerving and also frustrating.

I was experiencing what doctors refer to as “night terrors.” As a child it was just the norm—sleep walking and waking up screaming in the middle of the night. It’s only looking back now that I can provide a logical explanation for it.

You see, I had a fairly average upbringing, nothing traumatic about it, except I was always a worrier.

I felt different from other children and liked to keep myself to myself. There I would be in the playground reading a book, while others played. I was a bit of a loner and I got singled out for it. I was also quite plump as well.

The Beginning of My Anxiety

I went through many changes with my parents getting divorced, moving a few times, and both my mother and father remarrying again very quickly, all within a short space of time.

I took it all in my stride and never consciously felt any real stress or tension—or so I thought.

In hindsight, I am well aware that my brain was in constant overdrive and found a way of dealing with the anxiety that I had managed to suppress. This all came bubbling to the surface subconsciously during times of deep sleep.

Although from time to time I still wake up screaming, the sleepwalking has stopped and the night terrors have subsided. What helped? I’ve learned how to calm my mind, and now I no longer have heart palpitations and panic attacks during the night.

The brain is so powerful, and the one major organ in the body that cannot be fully explained. Through my own personal experiences, have discovered ways to work with my brain so I have more control over my thoughts and behavior.

I will elaborate on this, but first I would like to tell you another story to prove just how powerful our minds are.

The Mind/Body Connection

Last year, one of my closest friends began to feel tingling all over her body. It would come and go in waves but was mainly focused on her hands, feet, and back.

I’d known my friend for years, and she always struck me as confident, strong, and ‘together.’

For months she suffered these symptoms and saw several doctors, consultants, and neurologists. She had numerous blood tests and scans, just to be told there was nothing wrong with her.

My friend was at her wits end, constantly on Google and convinced she had a severe neurological condition such as MS. Nobody believed her and everyone (including myself) assumed she was being a hypochondriac.

My friend did not give up. She continued in her pursuit, getting a third, fourth, fifth, and sixth opinion—as many as it would take until someone could give her an accurate diagnosis and actually help her.

Eventually, she found a specialist and neurological consultant in London, who explained that she did have a neurological condition, but it was more of a disorder than a disease.

My friend had an unstable childhood and always felt unloved and unwanted. Having carried around many insecurities for years, and having excessively worried about everything, she had developed a disorder whereby her nervous system was in a constant state of shock, known as the “fight or flight mode.”

She was diagnosed with a psychosomatic illness and then referred to a counsellor.

In laymen’s terms, there had been a severe psychiatric disturbance in my friend’s brain, which had built up over years primarily due to stress and anxiety. With no means to channel or express these feelings, her nerves had become highly sensitized, mimicking symptoms similar to those of MS and Parkinson’s disease.

Also known as Neurological Anxiety Disorder, this disease affects many who are not even aware they have it.

For example, you could be suffering from severe headaches. You go to work every day to do a job that you detest. Eventually, you leave this job and find another one. Simultaneously, your headaches stop. It wouldn’t occur to many individuals to connect the dots.

There are countless of examples just like this, which affect thousands all over the world, every day—all because of built up stress.

I’m sharing my friend’s experience and mine because I believe it is important for such conditions to be openly discussed and understood.

Although liberal in most parts, we still live in a society that thinks a mental condition defines the individual as being mad and unhinged—it’s a taboo subject. Unfortunately, this compels victims to suffer in silence due to the fear of being judged.

Calm Your Mind

We all have our emotional issues to bear. During the whirlwind of daily life, it is paramount that we learn to relax more frequently. Relaxation and peace are qualities that are neither expensive nor difficult to obtain, if we prioritize and make time for them.

The best time to relax, I find, is in the evening, a few hours before I go to sleep. I have a routine that has helped me to have more of a restful sleep, enabling me to feel refreshed when I awake in the mornings. Very straightforward, it can be applied by anyone.

Three Tips to Relax Before Bed

1. Unplug.

At least two hours before sleep, stop watching TV, using your phone, or engaging with any technology. Get into the habit of winding down by reading, listening to relaxing music, or having a hot bath. Any creative hobby is good, as long as it’s relaxing.

2. Keep a journal.

Reflecting on your day and writing about your problems, worries, and irritants can help unload your mind so you can go to sleep with a clearer head.

This process can also help you find solutions. Try writing all your problems in order of priority and deciding how you will tackle them, one by one. This will give you a sense of control, help you seeing what is really important, and enable you to put the smaller worries into perspective.

 3. Meditate lying in bed.

Here’s a simple technique I use: Imagine being in your favorite place. Travel to the most idyllic location or scenario you can picture in your mind’s eye. Visualize all your worries and concerns becoming more distant, a world away from you and your blissful, special place.

These steps are simple but extremely effective.

So often we go to sleep emotionally charged, with our brains still buzzing. Finding time daily to unwind prevents long-term anxiety, stress, tension, and, yes, illnesses.

A restful sleep has a big influence over our brain activity and determines how focused and energized we are physically, mentally, and emotionally the following day.

Incorporating Serenity into Your Day

1. Practice deep breathing.

Our breathing and physical state have a huge influence over our mental state. During the day, when you are feeling overwhelmed, get into the habit of stopping and focusing on your breath.

Take five minutes and do nothing—be still, try to quiet your thoughts, and focus only on your breathing; in through your nose, out through your mouth. Do this a dozen times and you will feel better and more composed.

2. Tap your way to peace.

Tapping several times on pressure points such as your wrists, the inside of your finger tips, neck, and chest can also help relax you. While tapping, imagine you are sending tranquil energy directly into your body. It only takes a few minutes, and you can do it anywhere and as frequently as you like.

If you believe that you suffer from an abnormal level of anxiety or have experienced symptoms like my friend’s or mine, is important that you seek help.

We all need to de-stress and focus on becoming more balanced. If we don’t get into the habit of fostering inner peace, we could experience severe consequences that take a lot of time to rectify in the long run.

We need to nourish our minds by providing the tranquility it needs to function efficiently and proactively.

Meditation silhouette via Shutterstock

Profile photo of Holly Lochinger

About Holly Lochinger

Holly is the founder of thinktranquility.com, a website focused on personal development and finding peace amongst life’s chaos. Holly is studying a life coaching course and plans to go full time next year. Her goal is to help people establish their purpose in life and reach their full potential by sharing her own experiences and breakthroughs with self help.

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  • Lovely article Holly – and I applaude your attitude towards stress and anxiety! I hope other readers gain some valuable insight and lessons from this piece!!!

  • Austin

    Thanks for the article, I find it useful in the avoid stress message and ways to be not stressed.

    “During the day, *if* you are feeling overwhelmed”
    What is it with people saying “when” in situations like this, does it not make it a habit to assume there will be stress? Could it just be avoided altogether? I think it can be avoided.

  • I find that one of the most effective ways to manage anxiety and stress is to change the way you relate to your emotions and thoughts. What clearly creates more suffering, more anxiety and more stress is fighting with your thoughts and emotions or trying to avoid them. What leads to real change and healing is when you learn how to make friends with your anxiety. This means developing a much bigger part of your self – Buddha mind – that can contain emotions and thoughts but not become identified with them and not become reactive, causing suffering. This is the secret to not becoming overwhelmed, and this is what we cultivate during Mindfulness Meditation.

    This is what I recommend to my students. Hope it helps.

    Peter Strong

    Boulder Center for Online Mindfulness Therapy

  • I completely relate to your experience. I truly believe we must pass along this knowledge to the next generation. There are so many tools we can turn to in order to get back to a balanced state. It sometimes takes a lot of time and patience. Thanks for sharing your journey and tips with us.

  • So many people suffer panic attacks and anxiety. I am glad you offered these valuable techniques.

    As you bravely show in disclosing your story, and in the story of your friend, childhood trauma causes triggers to develop. It’s really necessary, in my opinion, to go back and dredge up these early experiences. I like to compare this dive into the dark side with composting–how garbage is transformed into gold.

    A book that you and your readers may enjoy is called “Play It Away,” by Charlie Hoehn . The author documents how he tried every alternative modality he could find, then created his own–taking regular “play breaks” from the work routine. You can get this on Amazon.