This is Part III of a series of SharePosts that identify what kinds of things you can look for that might be triggering your anxiety. In Part I (Out of the Blue to Blues Clues: Finding Your Anxiety Triggers Part I) of this series I explained how thoughts and images could trigger anxiety. In Part II , I outlined how feelings and memories can trigger anxiety. Today I will discuss the final category of internal triggers (triggers that occur within ourselves), Physical Sensations.
We are constantly experiencing physical sensations and sometimes we are aware of them and many times we are not. For instance, what do you feel in your body right now? Are you sitting in a chair, reclining in a hammock, or lying on the beach? If, for example, you are sitting in a chair, what does it feel like? Is it a soft, comfortable chair that feels good on your back and legs? Or is the chair too high and your feet are dangling above the floor? Perhaps you are hungry or tired but have been so absorbed in reading that you haven not noticed until now. Wherever you are at this very moment, take a minute and notice what is happening in your body.
What we feel in our bodies can lead to numerous thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. You most likely do not have any significant thoughts and feelings about sitting in your chair, however, there are many other situations where the opposite is true. Jackie* (see Part I), for example, gets anxious when she is too warm. The physical sensation of being too warm is uncomfortable for many of us, however, for Jackie it was accompanied by the thoughts, "Here I go again. I don't feel good. What if I have a panic attack?" These thoughts tended to escalate into "catastrophic" thoughts such as, "If I have a panic attack here and now, I will really embarrass myself!" As I discussed in a previous SharePost about the vicious cycle, catastrophic thoughts in turn increase the experience of the physical sensations and can ultimately lead to a panic attack.
Did you know that some people have experienced anxiety and even panic attacks after becoming relaxed? That may sound strange to some, but it happens. The reason is that relaxation is a physical sensation, and for some people it is an unfamiliar body feeling. Unfamiliar body sensations are scary for some people and hence can be the starting trigger for a panic attack.
A first step in identifying body sensations as the source of your anxiety triggers is to start paying more specific attention to them. You can use a Body Sensation-Feeling Diary as a start:
Situation Body Sensation Feeling
___________ _______________ _______________