“The difference between misery and happiness depends on what we do with our attention.” ~Sharon Salzburg
Anxiety is something that nature has provided human beings with to survive in dangerous situations. In prehistoric times, a felt sense of fear made one run faster from the charging tiger or react to any sign of danger more quickly. In more modern times, anxiety remains a fear-based emotion, but one largely related to fearing something specific that may happen in the future.
In spite of this development, it is possible to distinguish between healthy anxiety and unhealthy anxiety. Healthy anxiety helps one reach personal, professional, or academic goals. Its what gets one motivated to study extra hard for an exam, thoroughly prep for a job interview or important meeting. Unhealthy anxiety, on the other hand, will likely stop one from doing something that is perceived as too threatening, too dangerous, or just too difficult to tolerate. Unhealthy anxiety can be experienced in myriad ways such as persistent worry, racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, stomach aches, migraines, a pounding heart beat, obstructed breathing, the need to fight, freeze, or simply, run away. Do any of these experiences sound familiar to you?
So how can you tap into your own capacity and find more ease and resiliency, even when your experience of anxiety begins to get the best of you? Consider doing a little “orienting.” The simple act of looking around in your current space can have a calming effect on your nervous system. By paying attention, on purpose, to your actual surroundings, you provide an opportunity for your body to move from a “fight or flight” experience to a more balanced state. When you orient and look around, the actual movement of your head and neck, as well as the external focus of your eyes, stimulates neurotransmitters to send messages to the brain that all is well. Orienting is one way to help your nervous system naturally settle into a feeling of safety and relaxation.
Here is how you can “orient to the environment” and take control of anxiety before it takes control of you:
STOP. Take a pause, on purpose, from whatever you are doing.
Let your eyes wander freely, where ever they want to go.
Allow your head to move side-to-side, up and down. Pay attention, on purpose, to the space around you, including shapes, colors, textures, or whatever you are drawn to in that moment.
Notice how you are feeling in your body. You may already feel your breath naturally deepen, or feel a softening or sense of relaxation in your body.
If not, perhaps a little mindful breathing will help s-l-o-w things down. As you continue to orient, engage in 4/5 breathing. Inhale slowly for 4 counts. Exhale completely for 5 counts.
That’s it! There is really no specific amount of time to orient and no special place where you need to do this practice. The best thing about “orienting,” is that its free, and accessible anytime, anywhere. Give it a try and be curious to what might unfold.