If you’ve ever experienced anxiety (and really, who hasn't?), you know how unpleasant it can be.
Physically, anxiety presents in many ways: a clenched jaw, headaches, increased heart rate, an uneasy stomach, lethargy and tightness in the chest or shoulders, just to name a few symptoms.
And there are just as many emotional ramifications — racing thoughts, fear, forgetfulness, lack of motivation and more.
Luckily, “in the same way that we can ramp our own anxiety up, we can also ramp it down — but we have to be conscious of it,” says Valerie Oula, Director of Vibrational Energy Healing at THE WELL. Through awareness and tapping into your body’s innate ability to soothe itself, you can slow down the cyclical nature of looping, anxious thoughts.
One way to harness that anxiety-reducing ability is through energy medicine — various modalities that utilize energy frequencies to encourage healing and improve emotional well-being.
What is Energy Medicine?
To understand energy medicine, we first have to think about what we can’t actually see.
Says Oula: “Quantum physics proves that when you break things down to their smallest molecular particle — whether that's a chair or a human being — everything has a frequency and is constantly vibrating and in motion. Energy medicine is really just about tapping into these different frequency levels.”
“Our energy is constantly responding to and interacting with the world,” says Catherine Foley, energetic healer and herbalist. “Energy medicine is a way of conceptualizing the movement and flow of electromagnetic energy generated by our biological processes (what may be called our biofield or life force). It considers how this energy is modulated and regulated within our body and how it is interconnected and communicates with all living beings and organisms in our ecological landscapes.”
Ultimately, Oula put is this way: Energy medicine is “really just about learning to listen in a different way.”
It's also a very old and a very new concept. It’s an ancient healing practice and promising new research is emerging in the field. Take this study, for example: Researcher William Bengston, PhD., used energy medicine to not only shrink tumors in lab mice that were bred to have fatal cancer, but to cure them.
How does anxiety impact the body’s energy?
In general, anxiety is a constricting force in the body, explains Foley. “It pulls our energy in tightly in response to a perceived stressor or threat.” It physically impacts the vibrations in your body — you begin to take shallow breaths, your heart rate increases, tension spreads, all of which impact your body’s energy.
But while anxiety can be draining for our energy, it also “holds incredible intelligence that should be respected,” says Foley. And Oula agrees, saying: “It’s an opportunity to look at old emotional wounds that are surfacing and ready to be healed.”
Usually, anxiety starts when we’re triggered by something and then can’t stop thinking about it. “We start looping it — we’re running the thought through the same neural pathway over and over again,” says Oula.
When we default to the same anxious thoughts over and over again, anxiety can actually become familiar, if not comfortable, to us. It’s that “old ratty sweater that you know needs to be thrown out but you keep it because you’re used to it,” says Oula.
“Anxiety keeps us from really stepping forward and showing up in the ways we’re meant to — it doesn't serve us."
Still, it takes a lot of energy to keep anxiety in place (hence that drained feeling), which is why it’s important “to learn ways to discharge anxiety so that we don’t stay locked into a patterned response,” says Foley, adding: “We can teach our nervous system to have more flexibility by building a relationship with the rhythm and flow of our energetic system.”
Ultimately, says Oula: “Anxiety keeps us from really stepping forward and showing up in the ways we’re meant to — it doesn’t serve us.”
Energy Medicine Treatments for Anxiety:
First piece of advice: Listen to your intuition. As Oula says: “There are all kinds of different methods and practitioners, what’s important is to find the one that speaks to you.”
Below, a few of the modalities you can turn to — whether on your own or with a practitioner.
Tapping (also called Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT) utilizes elements of Chinese medicine, neuroscience and psychology to disrupt the energy of looping thoughts.
“Tapping is amazing because it gets you to interrupt the pattern of anxious looping thoughts — and the more often you can interrupt that pattern, the better,” says Oula. “When you’re ‘practicing anxiety,’ you’re strengthening that part of your brain, but if you can actually interrupt that, reroute yourself and do something different, you open up different energy.”
RELATED: All About Tapping
Yoga is an incredible practice because it helps you shift energy that’s being stored in the body — and the body holds so much energy. “If you’ve ever found yourself doing a hip opener in a yoga class and you’re suddenly in tears, that’s released energy,” explains Oula. “There was something stored there, that you opened up and were able to release.”
RELATED: 6 Yoga Poses to Lower Anxiety
This Japanese healing modality uses light touch (sometimes with hands on the body, sometimes with hands off the body) to balance energy in the system, describes Oula. “Through reiki, the practitioner is acting like a clear straw for your body and system to draw whatever universal energy it needs, to bring your system into balance. You’re drawing energy through the person facilitating, however there’s no actual exchange of personal energy,” Oula says.
Though you can work with a reiki practitioner, you can also do reiki to self-heal, explains Foley who suggests “finding places on your body where it feels good to have your hands.”
“My favorite position is one hand on the solar plexus (the center of your belly just below your ribs) and one hand on the chest. This engages the vagus nerve — the longest nerve in our body — which regulates our stress response. When we have our hands here, we are letting our nervous system know it’s time to downshift. You’ll notice your body start to relax almost immediately.”
RELATED: All About Reiki
4 Craniosacral Therapy
Another subtle, beautiful healing modality, craniosacral therapy requires, what Oula describes as, light touch with deep listening. “Using light touch, we are listening to muscle, bone, fascia, tissue, cerebral spinal fluid and tuning into the body because it holds so much — experiences, memories, emotions,” says Oula.
“The body breathes — it has a rhythm with which it breathes. In craniosacral therapy, we’re helping to restore the rhythm of how the body is breathing and how the cerebral spinal fluid is flowing,” she adds.
Oula likens it to therapy: “In the same way that therapy makes you feel better because someone has acknowledged you and whatever [emotional] pain or wounds that comes up, your body also wants to be heard. With craniosacral, we create that space to listen and allow the body to unwind what it needs to.”
5 Sound Healing
“Sound healing utilizes sound vibration to open up and balance out energy in the body,” explains Oula. “Tapping into different frequencies with instruments (such as gong, sound bowls and tuning forks) is extremely healing and relaxing for the nervous system because sound vibration soothes and activates the parasympathetic nervous system.”
An easy way to utilize sound healing at home is by chanting or listening to mantra or healing frequencies which “strengthens the vagus nerve and soothes anxiety,” explains Oula.
“One of my favorite sound healing tools is the gong which works through the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system,” says Oula. “Initially the sound of the gong can be very jarring and loud. It stirs things up to begin a disintegration of blocks or stagnation in your system, followed by reintegration into a higher frequency, cleaner and clearer.”
In New York? Join us for a gong bath, led by THE WELL Director of Vibrational Energy, Valerie Oula.
RELATED: All About Sound Therapy