“Reframing” Physical Sensations

This past week, I’ve been trying an experiment. I’ve been having a bad bought of health anxiety, and as such, my mind has been hyper focused on what’s going on with my body. So, I’ve decided to try and use that hyper awareness to my advantage, and try to direct it towards other parts of my body–specifically my neck, back, and shoulders.

That seems random, right? Why those parts of my body?

The truth is, anxiety causes us to tense up, specifically in those areas. That tension can cause this tight, constricting feeling that incidentally can play a role in health anxiety. If your chest feels tight, and you’re feeling like you’re having trouble breathing, that’s an alarming sensation, and it only increases anxiety. It’s an exhausting cycle.

So during the last few days, when I feel anxiety or panic about some bodily sensation, I stop what I’m doing and get curious. 

Instead of fixating on a sensation that has probably passed already, I’m investigating my physical feelings, and reframing them in much the same way we’d reframe a negative thought. I direct my awareness first to my back, then up to my shoulders, and then to my neck, progressively trying to relax those muscles as I work my way up.

I won’t lie, it’s not a comfortable sensation. It doesn’t hurt, but boy does it ache. Bringing all that tension into focus will really make you realize just how tense you are, and you somehow didn’t even notice. But, in a weird way, it’s almost a relief because then it’s obvious where these physical sensations that have been giving you so much anxiety come from. How can it not feel like you’re having trouble breathing when you’re so tense it feels like your upper body is going to implode?

Like anything, though, the hardest part is the first step. It’s easy to get stuck in this cycle of panic and obsessive thinking, but it’s harder to come out of it. But if you approach it with the mindset of being curious, and practice when you’re more relaxed and feeling safe, it can quickly become second nature.

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