Exploring fear, anger, anxiety in the body

Honesty time. How are you feeling?  How are you thinking you should be feeling?  I’ve been up and down.  There’s been a deep unsettledness, a struggle to focus on anything.  Occasionally that old familiar descent, the bleak beckoning to darkness.  Then, unusually for me, irritation, flashes of anger.

At first I beat myself up about it.  I’ve written a shedload of books on wellness, yet my mood is skittering like a…skittering thing.  Then I thought, shit no – these emotions are valid, all emotions are valid.  Suppressing how we feel is not a good thing – squashing down ‘negative’ emotions isn’t healthy.  But equally, it’s not great to feel consumed by them.  There needs to be a way to acknowledge them; to release them; to…hell, why not, honour them.

For those of us who may be struggling with things like meditation and deep breathing right now, there’s another approach.  It isn’t an either/or scenario either – even if you’re an uber-meditator you might find this helpful.  Basically it’s about watching our ‘negative’ emotions rise up with curiosity.

1. Close your eyes. Spend some time calming your breath down until you’re breathing as deeply and evenly as you can manage.  Try the deep abdominal breathing I shared earlier.

2. Imagine your breath is a hunter, moving through your body tracking down any areas of tension or discomfort. This could be physical tension (aches, pains, stiffness); emotional tension (uncomfortable feelings) or mental tension (worry, anxiety, recurring thought patterns).

3. Where do you feel this tension in your body? Once you’ve found it, intensify the feeling. So if it’s anxiety and you feel it in your belly, amplify the anxiety in your belly.  Make it bigger, more distinct. I know that sounds counter-intuitive but bear with me.

4.  Really investigate the feeling. What colour might it be? What shape? What’s its texture (smooth, rough, pitted, spiky)? Is it burning hot, freezing cold, maybe lukewarm?

5.  Now it’s up to you.  You could move your body in whatever way feels good, exploring the feeling.  I’m big on writhing around on the floor, snarling, groaning, and bashing cushions.  You may prefer to dance it – if your anxiety were a dance, what would that look like?  Another great technique is to paint it – not a pretty painting but put a big solid border around your sheet of paper and then splurge your anxiety onto the middle.  Or you might want to write it out.

6.  What do you notice happening?  Sometimes I find insights coming when I do this practice.  I realise I’m not so furious with that person on Twitter – I’m actually angry with myself.  Or I’m letting myself get caught up in things I can’t control, rather than focusing on what I can control.  Sometimes, I don’t really think anything much at all but it just feels good to acknowledge the feelings, to get them out there.  Moving releases physical tension as well as emotional constriction.

I like this process because it’s focused in the body.  It bypasses the stressed-out mind.  There are other, more cognitive-based practices we can explore but do give this a go.  Children often respond really well to this and it’s a great one to do if you suspect your child is keeping the bad feelings suppressed.  Children are little psychic sponges – if you’re feeling tense, ten to one your child will be picking up on it.

This beautiful illustration is by Amalia Wahlström, taken from my new book The Energy Secret.