By Christina Haverkort (March 2021)
Anxiety & Panic
Anxiety is something we all deal with from time to time; it’s the body’s natural response to stress. We associate anxiety with an abundant amount of uncontrolled energy circulating in the stomach, solar plexus, heart, throat and/or head area – sometimes all of them at once. To manage this chaotic sensation, it greatly helps to breathe deeply into the belly. Just a few deep, diaphragm breaths can immediately calm your body down.
Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a centuries-old instinctive survival response, one that in our modern world is incorporated into myriad modern-age therapies. The diaphragm, a horizontal membrane located just beneath the lungs and rib cage, is the major muscle in breathing function. It is a large, horizontal, dome-shaped muscle that contracts and expands rhythmically and continuously. Most of the time its movements are involuntarily. Upon inhalation, the diaphragm contracts and flattens and the chest cavity enlarges. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is helpful in gaining control of anxiety before it escalates into panic.
To learn how to breathe this way, read more here: https://www.health.harvard.edu/lung-health-and-disease/learning-diaphragmatic-breathing.
Looking at anxiety through the lens of human energy, and the human energy field, the energy field not only is held within the body tissues but also expands outside and beyond the body tissues. Anxiety can begin at any point in your life, especially when you’ve experienced stress or trauma. It can begin at any age, and held in the body at any depth, so the younger the trauma the deeper the anxiety rests in your body. What happens is, the body holds on to the pattern of anxiety, until the emotions and/or trauma is resolved around the issue, and can re-occur at anytime when stress levels or another trauma has occurred in the body. Resolving the initial trauma helps restore the body back to balance.
We know that many stressors can create a negative affect on the central nervous system (CNS). Under the umbrella of the CNS we have the autonomic nervous system comprised two parts: the sympathetic nervous system, and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activates the fight/flight response during a threat or perceived danger, and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) restores the body to a state of calm. General day-to-day stress or ongoing mental, emotional or physical stress over a span of years can create a sympathetic nervous system response, that instead of being a survival response to immediate danger, has morphed into a perpetually hyper-alert state of being. This condition creates mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. When you find you’re having a hard time relaxing – maybe you’re sitting still but your leg is unconsciously jiggling up and down, or you want to clear your mind but just can’t, or you feel like you constantly need to keep busy – these are all signs that your sympathetic nervous system is stuck in the ‘on’ position or like an overdrive.
I’ve been there myself. For a period of time my sympathetic nervous system kept me in a sustained, comfortably heightened state. I didn’t realize it. Such a prolonged state gave me a sense of being disconnected from my body. Although a state like this may be typical for some, it often causes difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and in relaxing both the body and the mind or finding the congruence between the two.. Now, the parasympathetic nervous system allows not only a relaxation state, but the sleep state as well. The best way to ‘get out of your head and into your body’ and balance both systems at once is to form a regular practice of relaxation exercises. Those who have experienced traumatic or life threatening events, or those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generally have their ‘panic’ buttons imperceptibly stuck in the ‘on’ position. When looking at the connection between the SNS and the PNS- imagine the two connected, for example, the sympathetic nervous system is on the 60th floor, or way out in the cosmos, and the parasympathetic nervous system is on the ground floor, or in your belly or your legs. When your body and mind are stressed or anxious, your SNS is in a heightened state and you are in a loop of mental turmoil. The PNS – the lower part of the connection – is down at ground level, connecting you to the earth to enable calmness and relaxation. We strive for a healthy balance between the two to make it easy to transition from a resting, relaxed state to a more physically active one. In deep diaphragmatic breathing, we engage our breath through the movement of our bellies. On the in-breath the belly expands and the parasympathetic fibres instantly help to shift any chaotic energy through the body and into the ground. This achieves balance and the desired sense of being ‘IN’ our bodies.
Thus, managing anxiety and stress is easily accomplished by training yourself to deep breathe and visualize your energy moving down into your feet, and further still into the earth. This energetic connection serves you to your highest good!
Severe forms of anxiety manifest in the form of nightmares, panic attacks, constantly fearful thoughts, and in some cases self-harm. These show that something covert is going on, such as an emotional struggle to cope with some sort of trauma. The psyche, body, and mind are burdened with emotions that need deciphering and care. In such a state of anxiety, there may be excessive thinking coupled with very little – if any – time in stillness and calm. The energy body is known to rise up and hover above the physical body; in this state you are not ‘in’ your body and your heart may be racing, which alerts the endocrine system via the thyroid gland. If this progression continues unchecked, the mind and body may progress into a panic attack, wherein the throat feels as though it is closing. An instinctive survival mechanism kicks in and we feel safer in our minds than our bodies, because thinking is familiar and comfortable; even though the body may be perfectly safe, it is very difficult to believe while in the throes of panic. This can happen with PTSD; clients who suffer from it have expressed fear and a lack of willingness to settle back into their bodies. Someone may not want to return to the physical pain her body is in; it’s safer in her mind because that’s where she can control the environment. Keeping mentally busy feels safer at such times.
How the Energetic Anatomy of the Vagus Nerve plays a part in Anxiety and Panic Attacks.
The vagus nerve is the longest, most crucial cranial nerve in the central nervous system, and is also an energy channel. The energetic disposition of its purpose is all about memory. The anatomy of the vagus nerve is explained here.
Just down from the brainstem on both sides of the neck, the vagus nerve passes through the neck. There is a ventral pathway and a dorsal pathway, each take a side, left is the Ventral sympathetic, right is the dorsal parasympathetic, the energy field shows, fibers in both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The importance of this is when one wants to regulate the system, by holding each side of the neck simultaneously, can calm the system when you are in a state of perpetual anxiety. We already see that as a natural human response to hold behind and side of the neck when in a state of stress or anxiety. The ventral pathway is normally in a sympathetic state in which is not only fight or flight but the body’s consciousness is ‘awake’, interactive, and navigating people, places, things, and the environment. On the right side of the neck at the vagus nerve is the dorsal vagal pathway; a conduit for the parasympathetic fibers. These fibers are spontaneously privy to any body response to threat or trauma, incoming stress first affects the sympathetic nervous system. A fight-flight-or-freeze response is initiated, followed by the PNS (survival) response urging you to take cover, curl up, find safety, restore, digest. This is the body’s inborn response to protect itself from further injury; we see this both in the animal kingdom and in human nature, on many levels. Curling into a fetal position is an instinctive response to pain; interestingly, this very action triggers the dorsal fibers of the vagus nerve pathway of the parasympathetic nervous system. In the autonomic system, the regulatory response is the body folding into a state to heal, to rest, become calmer, and find safety within oneself.
The Parasympathetic Panic Button
The area at Cervical-1, along the jaw line under the chin, the glossopharyngeal nerve or CN IX possesses both motor and sensory functions, is innervated bilaterally, and has sensory, parasympathetic, and motor components. The motor division provides movement to the stylopharyngeus, “a muscle that allows the throat to shorten and widen” (Medical News Today). I refer to this area as the Parasympathetic Panic Button (PPB) like a bumper or buffer zone, a stop sign; a reminder that you are in control. When an anxiety attack escalates to a panic attack, it can feel as though the throat is closing up. Muscles that narrow or widen the throat are activated from the response of adrenaline, and epinephrine and the rate of your heart beat, what may be happening energetically is life force energy is leaving your body, your body’s intelligence signals this area to start breathing NOW! To STAY IN YOUR BODY! And take control, everything is energy.
How the Thyroid plays a part in Panic and Anxiety
From an energetic perspective, it is your throat that gives voice to your heart. The thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland that sits across the front of the throat, energetically stores emotion; we can call it ‘the emotional gland’. Have you experienced anger, sadness, or an inability to express yourself because of the emotion that your heart is bearing? Energetically, the throat and thyroid are emotionally connected to the heart. That is why, when you feel anxious and emotional, you may feel like you’re spiraling toward panic. The energy field shows parasympathetic fibres at the location of PPB and sympathetic fibres located at the lower part of the thyroid. The thyroid gland itself produces hormones that regulate the body’s metabolic rate, controlling heart, muscle and digestive function etc. In order to cope with anxiety, stress, and panic, your mental consciousness needs to be with, and IN, your body. Your heart – one of the most powerful areas of the body, with its own energy field – constantly signals you to stay connected to it. When we lead from the heart and are conscious of our body, that’s where the power is, special attention needs to be placed into the HEART. Habitually leading from the mind takes us ‘out’ of our bodies; forming a habit of leading from our hearts keeps us ‘in’ them. Luckily the PPB signals us and says “Hey! Where are you going?” This is when you come back, breathe slowly and deeply, enter a calmer state, and bring your conscious awareness to your breath, your heart, and your diaphragm, breathing into your belly. Imagine the energy inside you moving downward and connecting you to the earth beneath your feet. Return to a rest-and-digest state of being.
Akin to learning a new language or how to play an instrument, all this requires practice. I guarantee you can achieve it! The more you practice anything, the better you become at it; just so, when we train ourselves to work with our bodies and our energy. The divine intelligence that comprises YOU is consistently seeking and providing pathways through which you can heal. Whenever you steer your conscious attention from your mind to your heart, and direct your breath into the earth, you will align and enhance your entire field of energy.
Determine to grow within yourself, and to communicate with, learn from, and honor your miraculous human body. It is your temple, after all; the place within which you dwell – body, mind, and soul.