Calming the Anxious Heart

By Megan Muñoz IMH

In the blockbuster Bollywood movie, The Three Idiots (2009), three friends find themselves at a top-notch engineering college, confronted with the pressures and anxiety of rigorous academic expectations. All the students fall prey to the high pressured atmosphere except one: Rancho Chanchad. Rancho stands out from the rest because he is the only student not driven to anxiety in the face of heavy expectations.

In an early scene, Rancho explains to his friends that the heart scares easily. In order to calm it down, you have to tell it “all is well, all is well.” His friend asks, “Does that solve the problem?” and Rancho answers, “No, but you gain courage to face it.”

Rancho found a phrase he could repeat to himself every time he was feeling anxious. This phrase did not eradicate his anxiety, but rather calmed his mind enough to think through what he needed to do next.

In this scenario, Rancho does two important things: he recognizes when he feels anxiety and utilizes tools to regain control over his mind and body. The first step to working on anxiety is to become aware of what triggers it and what it feels like inside of you. The second step is to utilize healthy tools to slow down the anxiety response you noticed so you can think more clearly about what needs to happen next.

Why does this work?

Anxiety is our body and brain’s alarm system - its physical and chemical response to fear. Its role is to alert us when something feels scary or threatening. When this happens, our brain pulls away from our higher thinking functions and puts more energy into survival responses. This is important in situations where we are in imminent danger. But often times, we find ourselves overtaken by anxiety in situations where we would prefer to think with more intentionality. In order to get back to a place where we can think more clearly and utilize more consciousness in the face of fear, we have to become more aware of our alarm system.

What can we do?

  • Learn to notice what form anxiety takes in your mind and body. Does your chest get tight? Do you stop breathing? Do you feel like you cannot think clearly? Do you notice that every time you are around a person  that reminds you of someone who hurt you, your internal alarm system goes off?
  • Once you notice your anxiety alarm system going off, utilize helpful tools to calm your body and mind. Practice deep breathing from your diaphragm. Choose a short phrase to repeat to yourself such as: “I can get through this,” “I am ok,” “I’m not alone.” Listen to an inspirational song.
  • Decide what needs to happen next and how you would like to respond. Calming down your anxiety does not make the problem that triggered it disappear. Instead, it gives you back a fuller capacity to handle what you need to do next. 

Towards the end of the movie, a brief summary of Rancho’s past experiences are revealed. His friends begin to realize that Rancho’s life perspective is a product of what he experienced in his developmental years. Like Rancho, our strategies for coping with anxiety are often shaped by our earlier experiences. It can be helpful to talk with a counselor about these formative experiences while continuing to learn healthy coping strategies like the ones mentioned above.

To schedule an appointment with Megan Muñoz,
Please call our office at 407-647-7005.

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