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3 Practices for Calming the Anxious Self

Do you wake up at 3am in a cold sweat, suddenly remembering your regrets and worries? Do anxiety and agitation flood you when the alarm clock goes off in the morning? Do you have the sense that your body’s fuel is cortisol, and that you spend your days managing burning tension, shame, anxiousness, exhaustion and low-grade dread and horror?

This struggle with anxiety is so common that it is almost the air we breathe in our industrialized world. There are personal, moral, political, global and spiritual issues overwhelming almost everyone. In such a world, what does Nonviolent Communication have to offer? How can NVC bring remedies and medicines to a world full of stress?

These are the questions I have been wrestling with in my own 3am awakenings, especially as I’ve been feeling the sensations of anxiety in my chest. What has been arising is my deepening understanding of the effects of insecure attachment patterns on the regulation of the heart. This understanding has lead me to especially notice my heart when I am anxious.

The way we are parented affects the way our hearts beat, how quickly our heart rate increases, how easily we shift into fight or flight, and how long it takes to calm down again. When we receive resonant parenting, resilient neurophysiological structures that handle stress well are nourished. We end up not having to mobilize as much cortisol to deal with everyday problems. We are more easily able to reach out for support – we even carry support within ourselves, rather than having to deal with it all on our own.

For example, if I have had consistent experiences of my pain being met with warmth and understanding, my heart won’t have to beat as quickly if I have to talk with my boss, enter a lunch room full of strangers, or undertake other difficult tasks. My body will be more able to take nourishment from rest, food and accompaniment. My life will actually tend to be longer.

The implication of all this is that for those of us with anxious hearts, we need self-resonance. We need to turn toward ourselves with empathy. There are three entry points for empathy that I have been experimenting with:

  1. Body-based resonant language self-empathy, i.e., “Sarah, of course you are so anxious. Do you need acknowledgment that everyone’s body gets really alarmed and agitated when there are so many things and people at stake? Do you need acknowledgment of your love and of how much you try to catch everything?”
  2. Visualization of holding the heart very snugly, of wrapping it in light, of swaddling it with perfect pressure, or of holding it so closely like a beloved baby.
  3. Time travelling into the future to pre-install resonating self witnesses to catch us as we move into the events that we worry about or dread.

Each of these three approaches brings a resonant response to the anxious self. Each response takes practice, even a daily practice of self-accompaniment. There are other things that get in the way of clearing anxiety, like traumas, or vows of vigilance, that have less to do with daily practice, but the practice creates strength and resilience, and is part of a robust, NVC-based exploration of well-being. I wish you luck and joy on your path to healing.

s h a r e