Have you ever felt anxious? Of course you have. Anxiety is a natural emotion. It is also one of the biggest “disorders” within mental health. Anxiety is vital. You should feel anxious in certain situations; it’s what keeps us alive. For example, a young woman walking alone down a dark alley she is unknown with at night in the middle of a dangerous city should feel some sense of anxiety. What exactly is anxiety, though? Anxiety is what we feel when our body’s sense of perceived threat is awakened. When we are in a potentially dangerous situation, our body reacts – our senses are more keen, blood pressure and heart rate increase, thoughts may be racing, we feel a little shaky. If there is potential danger that turns into real danger, these bodily reactions are what put us in the flight, fight, freeze mode to keep us alive. We will run, fight or freeze depending on how our body reacts to the real danger. Our bodies are in sympathetic dominance. There are a lot of studies indicating when a person’s body is frequently in sympathetic dominance, many health problems can result – high blood pressure, heart problems, etc. If we are not really in danger, it is better to bring our bodies into parasympathetic dominance. Bringing the heart rate back to normal, bringing the blood pressure back to normal, loosening the muscles in our bodies, etc. This is a very hard thing to do when someone is constantly perceiving danger and constantly in a state of anxiety. Often times without really delving into it, we don’t even know why we are perceiving danger and thus in sympathetic dominance. I’m sure you’ve been told to “just calm down.” or “relax.” This seems so simple, but is so very elusive to those with chronic anxiety. So is there really anything we can do to bring our bodies into parasympathetic dominance without medication? The answer is YES! First, the disclaimers…change is very difficult and takes time. You will not decrease your anxiety over night. Second, anxiety is a normal part of life…it keeps us alive; it pushes us to do new things in a practiced manner. You do not want to get rid of all your anxiety. The thing about anxiety management is it is so simple yet so hard. When people say “Just calm down” or “relax” – that is exactly what you need to do….over and over and over a million times per day until your body is able to do it regularly on it’s own. Self-regulation skills and relaxation skills several times per day, while working with your thoughts – am I in real danger right now? This anxiety is my friend, not my enemy, etc. Practice letting go of all your muscle tension many times per day – tighten all your muscles at once, then release them all at the same time. Put your hands behind your head while sitting down, lean back just a little, and breathe several times in and out slowly. Say to yourself exactly what you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste – explain what you sense to yourself. Do a little dance to get rid of some excess tension in your body. The more you can practice this over and over and the more that you notice when you need to do it, the faster the change happens. It sounds silly, but it honestly works if you give it the time and energy it takes to change a behavior. For many people, being overly anxious has been a part of life for most of their lives. You cannot expect it to change because you tried relaxation or self-regulation for a few days one week…or even for that matter one month. It is absolutely possible to live a life that is not filled with anxiety and muscle tension. Give it a try!