Why We Hold Fear and Anxiety in Our Chest and Shoulders

As someone who has suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for two decades, I am very familiar with the many ways anxiety manifests in our bodies, including digestive issues and nervous pooping. When I’m particularly anxious, I tend to feel tightness in my chest and shoulders, and I’m not the only one.

As to why exactly we have fear, anxiety and other negative emotions in our chest and shoulders, it is due to the mind-body connection. “When our mind is in a state of stress and fight or flight, our body is in readiness mode to respond to what it perceives as potentially even a life or death situation,” says Judy Ho, PhD, licensed clinical and forensic neuropsychologist. . “This causes the sympathetic nervous system to activate, your heart rate to increase, and your body to tense up to prepare for action. Chronically, this can cause muscle tension and pain throughout the body.” She adds that other signs of anxiety and tension in the body include chronic headaches, a sore jaw and grinding teeth.

Wherever you have fear, stress and anxiety in your body, there are techniques that can help you release them. Read on to discover some strategies to add to your toolbox.

5 Ways to Release Fear and Anxiety from Your Chest and Shoulders

1. Do box breathing

Breathing exercises, in general, are great for calming down. In particular, Dr. Ho recommends box breathing, which helps dampen the sympathetic stress response. It’s called box breathing because you literally (or mentally) draw a box with your finger while doing the four-part breathing pattern. Here’s how: “Inhale and count to four while drawing your finger along one of the vertical sides of a square in front of your face,” says Dr. Ho. “Then hold for four while drawing the top of the box horizontally, then exhale for four while drawing the other vertical side of the box, and hold for four while completing the box by drawing the bottom horizontal line.” Repeat 10 times to feel the fear and anxiety melt away.

2. Do a body scan

Scanning your body from head to toe is another way to help release stress and anxiety from your chest and shoulders or any other part of your body. Like the breath, a body scan meditation is quick and easy, and you can do it anywhere. Find a comfortable position, then bring your awareness to your body, Dr. Ho explains. Then, starting from your head or feet, begin to mentally walk through your body and notice where you hold the tension. Once you’ve identified specific areas, consciously try to relax that part of the body, Dr. Ho says. She recommends returning to this practice throughout the day whenever you can spare a few minutes.

3. Try progressive muscle relaxation

If you have trouble releasing tension during a body scan, Dr. Ho suggests progressive muscle relaxation as an additional or alternative technique. To practice, get into a comfortable position and focus on one part of the body at a time. As you do this, contract the muscles for several seconds, then release the tension with a big exhale. According to Dr. Ho, this creates a contrast between the tension and the pleasure of letting go and relaxing.

4. Tap into your senses

Another soothing ritual that Dr. Ho recommends adding to your anti-anxiety toolkit is to engage your senses, which can help your body enter a rest and restore mode and turn off the fight response. or leak. For example, lighting your favorite candle, splashing cold water on your face, or eating mindfully and savoring every bite of your food.

5. Stretch it

When your neck and shoulders are tense, there’s nothing like a good stretching session to relax you. There are tons of neck and shoulder stretches you can do.

We like this quick video because it touches on both areas and is only eight minutes long:

Specifically, Dr. Ho suggests those that lengthen your neck and shoulders. Although stretching physically calms you down, she also recommends repeating your favorite mantra as you stretch to help relax the mind. Choose the affirmation that resonates with you right now. Dr. Ho suggests a few options: “I can handle the stress of today” or “I can handle the challenges ahead.”

Doing a combination of the above techniques regularly will help you better regulate your nervous system and help you spend more time in rest and digest mode and keep anxiety at bay.

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