A Quivering Ripple of Anxiousness
A number of people have asked me about my anxiety experience and sharing with me their own story. I told someone that I could tell when my anxiety feelings were rising because I could feel this “quivering ripple of anxiousness” forming inside me. It was not a full blown impending doom experience but just this tiny nervous quivering like hearing the distant rumble of thunder or feeling the sudden coolness just before the dark clouds of a storm roll in. For decades I ignored this warning and then the storm would roll in and I would be in the midst of IMPENDING DOOM. The quivering ripple of anxiousness sucked me in because I would wonder to myself – What is this feeling? What is causing this uncomfortable ripple down in my stomach? And wondering where it came from and why I was feeling this way I began to conjure up images of fear, worry, anxiety – memories from the past would appear and this ripple became a wave of fear now rolling through me. Then I would think about some future failure I anticipated and now my insides felt like the ocean in full storm with massive waves threatening to capsize me and overwhelm and sink me. The storm would eventually blow over and there would be a calm until another quivering ripple of anxiousness arose in me. Sometimes storm after storm of impending doom would arise and blow through me. Through it all I felt like a helpless victim of my thoughts.
Relax Your Core
Five years ago I met Eric Gentry who came to Lima and taught a two-day course on trauma for mental health professionals. He was teaching us how we could take care of ourselves. One of the things he taught us was how to relax our core muscle – the one deep in the abdomen. He told us
the Vegas nerve which attaches to the brain is wrapped around this muscle and by simply relaxing that core muscle and saying, “I am perfectly safe. I am in no danger,” I could send a message of calm and peace to my brain that would be transmitted through this big nerve bundle. It was the first time someone had given me a practical tool I could use.
A few years before that I’d discovered Jon Kabat Zinn and his book, “Full Catastrophe living.” Both Eric and Jon had introduced me to mindfulness practice – a practical way I could create and maintain an ongoing sense of peace, calm, and serenity. This was another earth shattering revelation for me. I always believed that I was trapped by my brain, a hostage to my dark thoughts that demanded attention, a victim of worry, anxiety and fear. Now these two guys were telling me that I was free and the answer was fairly simple. But the solution just seemed too easy to me, too simple. “You mean after all these years of suffering with ruminating thoughts and feelings of impending doom, all I had to do was breathe, relax my core muscle, and say, ‘I am perfectly safe!’ No way! I resisted trying it but I did keep reading because it was just too incredible. I was curious. “What if it did work?” This little voice kept saying.
I Am Perfectly Safe
Then one evening I felt the quivering ripple of anxiousness begin. I felt it right there in the pit of my stomach and I knew this was the harbinger of a big anxiety storm brewing. And I was fed up with it. So I sat down, focused on my core muscle, breathing deeply into my abdomen, focusing on slowly relaxing that big muscle and picturing those nerves calming down. I breathed and relaxed and then I said, “I am perfectly safe. I am in no danger.” And after a few minutes I felt good. Another day I was out trimming tomato plants and I felt that quiver start again and so I stopped right there and began to relax my core muscle and say to myself, “I am perfectly safe.”
Unbelievable! I felt better almost immediately. I couldn't remember what I was starting to worry about and I told myself, “I don’t even want to know. I don’t want to remember.” And I didn’t. With that simple experience I couldn't get enough about mindfulness, guided meditation, breathing practice and I began to include mindfulness practice in my presentations. At one event where I was speaking to over 100 secretaries who were out for a day of fun I had the whole group settle into a mindfulness guided meditation. The entire room was silent; you could hear a pin drop. It was a little scary. One hundred secretaries breathing deeply a listening to just my voice and I lead them in the “Lake Meditation.”
I love this practice and over the next five years I practiced more, explored yoga, and of course I did a lot of journaling about this experience I was having, relishing the longer periods of inner peace, tranquility, calm, and a new energy and optimism. The quivering ripples of anxiousness
still arise in me and occasionally a storm of impending doom rolls in but not so often and not so long as before. I practice mindfulness every day and sometimes again during the day, even at work, during a meeting! And when that quivering begins I breathe into it and relax my core and I do feel safe and calm.
The journey of recovery is never over and I don’t want it to be over because recovery is fun but it involves practice. Then I stumbled on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and the book: “The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety.”
Next: Mike learns to move his hands and feet.