What is the shape of your anxiety?

Several years ago, I was sitting in my therapist's office explaining how I struggled to manage my anxiety with work, my relationship, and the stress of adulthood. I was fully prepared and ready to dive into the specifics of my current situation, but before I could jump in, he paused me.  

He told me to close my eyes and pause for several moments. He then asked me to identify where in my body I was feeling the anxiety when I was debriefing him. 

I sat there in silence and scanned through my body. “I guess my stomach kind of feels like it’s in knots and unsettled and tense. I can really feel my heartbeat as well and my shoulder blades feel so tense.” 

Thinking this was the end of the exercise, I was caught off guard when he guided me to focus on my stomach and asked, “what is the shape of your stress? What color is it?”

In the moment, I was quite confused and not yet convinced that this was helpful. I decided to give it an honest shot and scanned my stomach: “It feels like it’s this heavy, sharp anchor and, I don’t know why, but I feel like I see purple.” 

As I continued to explore and explain the shape and feeling, my brain started flooding with forgotten memories from childhood when I had experienced a similar type of anxiety. I had completely forgotten about most of these memories. The interesting part is the remainder of that session focused on exploring the link between those childhood memories and the anxiety I felt now. 

A few months later, I asked him about that particular exercise and if he could explain the process to me. 

He explained that when we feel an emotion, there is a physiological activation in our body. If we concentrate on that sensation, for example, tightness in the chest,  the brain starts linking the sensation with other information (parts of the memory) that were stored out of context when experiencing that emotion. The more sensory information gets connected to the sensation, the easier it becomes to activate other parts of the memory.

When he asked me to name the color and shape of the sensation, he was trying to elicit the sensory information stored with the sensation.

This follows more of a “bottom-up” modality and theory of therapy which focuses on the body-to-brain connection (as opposed to an alternative that focuses on the brain, such as cognitive behavioral therapy). 

I thought I’d share this story with you to give you an idea of one of the many different types of frameworks we study and learn about at Kindred Minds. We work with life coaches, therapists, and scholars with different backgrounds to build our curriculum to manage stress, anxiety, and strong emotions. 

While our program is not a replacement for clinical intervention, we do help you build community and learn tools and techniques to continually sharpen your mind and spirit. If you haven’t done so, I’d love for you to join a free introductory session

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