Jess’ Favorites will be a recurring series that features some of my favorites in categories such as coping skills, recipes, travel, exercise, tips & tricks, and more! I hope that you enjoy them as much as I do!
Do you suffer from anxiety? Social or specific anxieties? Panic attacks? I feel you. I suffer from crippling anxiety that keeps me at home when all I want to do is go explore my city and meet people, but my head plays out a million situations that will probably never happen, but what if they do? I have to be prepared for every one of them, so it’s easier to just not go at all. This happens all the time. All the fucking time. Sometimes it gets so bad that my body literally breaks down to the point I think I’m having a heart attack- chest squeezing, breath leaving or hyperventilating, hands going numb, mind shutting down while also somehow racing, dizziness, disorientation… I know I am not alone in this battle. And I feel your pain.
I deal with it in a myriad of ways. I’m on more milligrams of Klonopin and Vistaril than I would like to be, I am in the midst of TMS treatments, I do yoga several times a week, I try to meditate daily, I go to therapy, and I have good coping skills. One of my all time favorite coping skill that I’ve learned has been in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy and is called Earth, Air, Water, Fire. It has helped me reduce my reliance on as-needed anxiety medication, gain control over my anxiety levels, and even get on a tiny airplane in Paducah, KY.
A Brief History
This technique was developed by Elan Shapiro, an EMDR specialist and researcher. He was attempting to develop EMDR techniques to be used to help the innocent bystanders of war in Northern Israel. These were women, men, and children that had to rush to bomb shelters at a moment’s notice every time the alarm sounded—usually without knowing where the rest of their family was, as the alarms would often sound while children were at school or fathers were at work—during the Lebanese War. As you can imagine, people would get there and their adrenaline system would be pumping, and they wouldn’t really have anything to calm these people down with while they waited. Earth, Air, Water, Fire is the technique that was developed to help.
How to Complete Earth, Air, Water, Fire:
First Rate Your Anxiety on a scale of 0-10
Earth: GROUNDING/SAFETY in the PRESENT/REALITY
Take a moment or two to stop and land. Place both feet on the ground. Feel the ground beneath your feet. Walk your feet up and down a few times to really feel the earth. Feel the seat beneath you. Feel how sturdy it is. Feel the material. Is it hard? Soft? Feel how supported you are. Feel yourself, your body, safe and supported in this moment. Notice three new things as you direct your attention outwards to your immediate surroundings.
Air: BREATHING for BALANCE and CENTERING
Next, move your attention inward. Work your way up to your abdomen. It may help to even put your hand there. If you have a favorite deep breathing exercise, this is the place to do it. If not, I like the 5-5-5 rule: easy to remember and gets the job done. Inhale through your nose for a slow count of 5, making sure to really expand your abdomen (push your hand out, if it’s there); hold for a beat; then exhale for a slow count of 5 through your mouth. Hold at the bottom for a beat before repeating at least 5 times (5 in-5 out-5 times). You can stay here and do some extra breathing, or come back to this step if needed. Listen To Yourself and do what feels right!
Water: CALM & CONTROLLED. Switch on the RELAXATION RESPONSE
Third, move your attention up to your mouth and throat. This step is all about turning off your fight or flight reflex, or sympathetic nervous system. When fight or flight kicks in—which is what is happening when you’re experiencing bad anxiety—it shuts down “power” to all the systems that are deemed unnecessary at that time, such as your digestive system. One way to help kick that switch in the other direction is by simply producing saliva. The process of producing and swallowing saliva helps your body start turning back on the parasympathetic nervous system, and turning off the fight or flight response, so your anxiety goes down. If you’re having trouble producing saliva, some tricks I’ve used are thinking of my favorite foods or sucking on my cheeks. If all else fails, drinking water will do it, too.
Fire: LIGHT up the path of your IMAGINATION
Finally, you need to spark the fire of your imagination. The traditional thought here is to imagine yourself in your “safe space,” someplace where you feel same, comfortable, happy, etc. I was taught a different way. I was taught to picture someplace I feel calm and confident. These would be very different places for me, but I like picturing my confidence place more than my “safe/happy place.” I think it has helped give me more confidence and overcome more of my fears.
The choice is of course your’s to make- picture whatever place will bring you more peace. Whichever place you pick, really close your eyes and look around. Move around in that place. Take a few steps. What do you smell? What are you thinking? Spend a few moments there, and when you’re ready gradually drift back to the present.
Now Rank your anxiety on a scale of 0-10
I hope you find Earth, Air, Water, Fire as helpful as I do! The more you do it, the more it will help. Here’s to better coping!