Radically Shifting from Anxiety to Strength and Calm

Radically Shifting from Anxiety to Strength and Calm

As this resource posts this morning, I would have been teaching Caring for the Brain – the Neuroscience of Well-Being at the 2020 Psychotherapy Networker Symposium in Washington, D.C. 3,900 mental health professionals gathered to learn how to help clients reduce stress and recover from trauma, among other things. Conference cancelled in the midst of Dept. of Public Health concerns about the COVID-19 virus for gatherings of more than 1,000 people.

Among the many exercises I would have been teaching today to help clinicians de-stress and help their clients de-stress in these anxious times, Shifting Out of Anxiety into Strength and Calm still seems relevant and appropriate for our current overload of justifiable anxiety about staying well.

Any time you move your body and shift your posture, you shift your physiology.  Any time you shift your physiology, you shift the activity of your nervous system and its state of excitement-stress—calm–shut down-collapse.  You can intentionally use simple movements to shift your emotions and your mood. 

You may already be familiar with the movement used in Power Posing to shift the state of the body-brain from one of anxiety or tension to strength and calm.  Made famous by Amy Cuddy’s TED talk, the second most watched TED talk in the history of TED.

1. As you notice stress and anxiety showing up in your body, or before going into any situation that might evoke feelings of stress or anxiety  — a medical appointment, a job interview, a business meeting, a court hearing, a tax audit, a confrontation over serious misbehavior by a family member — find a quiet, private place where you can let yourself feel the anxiety or worry in your body that you want to recondition, even rewire.  Let the body embody the posture that expressed the worry or anxiety. Gently not to overwhelm, and then move into the power pose. Stand tall and erect, feet about hip width apart, chest lifted and head held high, your arms held high over your head, like tadasaba, the mountain pose of yoga.)

2. Let yourself feel strength and energy in your body. Experiment with different poses to learn what allows you to experience these feelings most reliably.

3. Then you can move back and forth between the posture of anxiety or worry and the posture of the power pose, here for one minute, when doing the exercise at home or at work for about 5 minutes.  Gradually letting go of the posture of worry and remaining in the posture of power, strength and courage.

4. Practice your power pose any time you feel stress or anxiety taking over, and in the moments before you enter your challenging situation, and then walk mindfully into that situation with more inner strength and energy. You can even imagine a circle of support, friends and colleagues who have your back, as you enter that situation. With frequent practice, your power pose becomes a natural way to develop and tap into your inner strength, courage, and resilience and well-being.