In part one of this conversation, Amanda Huggins defines anxiety and describes her own challenge to integrate the mental, physical, and spiritual in her personal life. She helps us get to the emotions underneath the umbrella term anxiety—fear, guilt, imposter syndrome—and lets us know the difference between the stories we tell ourselves (unpacking how beliefs began) and our truths. We conclude with some affirmation practices, the power of grounding, and valuing our worth.
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0:02:02.4 Darren Buford: Welcome to the ABMP Podcast. My name is Darren Buford. I'm Editor-in-Chief of Massage and Bodywork Magazine, and Senior Director of Communications for ABMP.
0:02:09.8 KC: And I'm Kristin Coverly, licensed massage therapist and ABMP's Director of Professional Education.
0:02:15.5 DB: Our guest today is Amanda Huggins. Amanda is a respected anxiety and mindfulness coach, certified yoga instructor, brand ambassador, writer, and keynote speaker. After successfully spending nearly a decade in the startup space as a content and communication specialist, Amanda broke her past fears to follow her calling for helping people break past their internal barriers of self-worth, fear and anxiety. Her unique blend of spiritual, scientific, practical and accessible approaches has helped hundreds of clients move beyond their anxious minds and into a state of profound holistic success. For more information, visit amandahugginscoaching.com. Hello, Amanda, and hello, Kristin.
0:03:01.3 Amanda Huggins: Hi, you guys, I'm so happy to be here.
0:03:03.7 KC: We're so happy to have you here. Thanks so much for joining us. We are really looking forward to this conversation with you about anxiety. It's such an important topic that I think all of our listeners will be able to relate to either personally or because they have a family member, a friend, a client who experiences anxiety as well. It's so prevalent in our society today. I'm gonna start though, before we dive into anxiety as its own topic, by asking you to share a little bit of your story with listeners. How did your life experiences lead you to become a professional anxiety coach and mentor?
0:03:36.6 AH: Oh, that's a great question. I have a lifetime of experience with anxiety. One of the reasons I care so much about sharing this work is because for, I would say, a solid 10, if not more, years of my own life, I was just walking around assuming that the way that I felt was normal, that way being deep in anxiety and depression, deep self-doubt, fear. And from that state, I was in environments that really weren't supporting me. I was in jobs that really weren't a part of my calling, friendships that perhaps were not as supportive to make growth as I needed at that time. And so I found myself in a couple of really low lows, like on the couch, three bottles of wine, deep, deep depression, like a very bad state multiple times.
0:04:33.0 AH: I wish I could say there was one particular time where I was like, "Yeah, this is the wake-up call," but it was really a series of quite a few equal lows. And my frustration point originally on this mental health journey was that I was reading all of these books and attending a lot of classes, but I was struggling to integrate. And one of the things that I aim to do with my work is to integrate not just like the mental perspective, or not just the body perspective, but mind, body and spirit, because that's really what helped me the most, and that's what I intend to share with people.
0:05:10.6 DB: Terrific. Okay. Amanda, let's do the 30,000-foot view. What is anxiety?
0:05:19.7 AH: If we wanna look at it just from the body perspective, it's our natural stress response. It's when we go into fight or flight after being triggered, but as I just mentioned, we can't look at the body alone. It is mind, body, and spirit. So, the way that I work with people is, yes, we absolutely look at the body and how we respond in our physical state of anxiety, but oftentimes what really needs to be looked at are the emotions underneath that anxiety. The way that I explain it sometimes is I view anxiety as this umbrella term. So, when a client comes to me and says, "Amanda, I am so stressed, I have anxiety," first thing I ask them is, "Say that to me in different words. What are the emotions you experience before, during and after?" And most often, it's fear, comparison, impostor syndrome, guilt, shame, all of these emotions that we know are very heavy, we store them in the body. And so, yes, we release them through somatic movement, but we also have to unpack them so we understand how we can best move forward and not continue to repeat our patterns.
0:06:27.0 KC: There's so much there. Listeners, I'm just nodding my head in agreement as I'm listening because I think we can all relate to everything that you're saying, especially that connection and relationship between anxiety and the physical body. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
0:06:41.0 AH: Yeah. This was one of the things that was awesome information and mind-blowing to me when I first started studying and researching what anxiety actually is doing inside of us. I always thought the brain controlled anxiety, and what I came to learn and a part of this was due to research by the HeartMath Institute, the heart sends more signals to the brain than the brain does to the heart. And that is really important to understand, because once we experience a trigger, and that could be something like in the physical world, we can have something psychosocial, a thought about something, our heart rate speeds up, sending messages to the brain, "Hey, something is not good right now." And whether that trigger was valid or not, the brain then says, "Yep, I'm gonna go find something to validate that." And this is where it shifts from just a body experience to now it's really mental and emotional, because that validation piece, once the brain has gotten the "Okay, something is indeed wrong," we're gonna go into our memory bank and look for all of the reasons from our past that can validate why this present experience is no good for us. This is where we get trapped in a lot of self-doubt, a lot of judgment, all of those emotions that just feel really uncomfortable in the body.
0:08:00.1 DB: Can you elaborate on that a little bit? Is that... I know you've talked a little bit about the story that we tell ourselves and the truth and how those things may not be one and the same.
0:08:15.6 AH: So, I will call myself out with an example. I taught yoga for about seven years, I miss teaching it deeply, I miss it every day, but like anything when you're new to it, you walk into whatever that job or that offering is a little bit insecure. You're still getting your feet wet. And because, when I first started teaching yoga, I was so deep in my own self-doubt with everything else in my life, I was stepping in under the ground. I wasn't quite in a state of belief in self at all. So, I would teach a class... The class might have been good, I don't know, but the story I told myself, because I was so wrapped up in my own self-doubt, was, "It wasn't a good class, I'm not a good teacher, these people don't like me." And it didn't matter that I was getting repeat students and that I might be getting accolades or people thinking after class, none of that. The external didn't matter because I was so rooted in that story.
0:09:11.7 AH: And so this is where truth in story becomes really interesting, because it's not so much about the proof in the material world. You can have all the proof in the world that the narrative you are feeding yourself isn't real, but if you believe it, that's the issue, so the work then becomes an unpacking where that belief started. So, as much as that story or that trigger was me teaching class and feeling like "Am I a good teacher," it was really rooted in all of the not-enough-ness that I had forced myself into believing because of prior life experience.
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0:10:23.4 KC: And, Amanda, I think one of the places where we stumble, and I will absolutely say this is where I stumble and it's a challenge, I might be aware of the anxious thoughts, I might even be aware that there is a high probability that I'm writing a story that is not true. And somehow all the stories we write are so negative, I don't know... It's where our brain defaults, right? But I can still get stuck and not move through it, not move past it. So, what happens? What can we do if we're observing the fact that we are having anxious thought patterns? How do we practice then coming back to truth? How do we move through that?
0:11:00.2 AH: A piece of that answer lies in something that you just said, which is... And I might butcher your exact phrasing a little bit, but you said something to the effect of, "I know the human mind defaults to the negative." We know that, there's more than enough research in existence that proves that, and we all have the lived experience of it. It is very important to ground down in that first. It can be a tenuous path to... What we're doing is re-training our brain to choose truth, and when we forget about the other truth that we will default to the negative, it can feel like we're fighting this impossible battle. So, there is a little bit of willpower that has to come in at the very beginning to say, "I know that this part is tough."
0:11:46.8 AH: And it's so funny that you're asking this question in this way, because I was just chatting with a client yesterday, incredible woman, going through some huge career highs, and one of the things we were working on was self-worth. And in the beginning, and I think this may be important for listeners, she didn't believe the practice of coming back to truth or an affirmation practice. "Yes, I am capable. Yes, I am amazing." And you don't have to believe with 100% certainty that that is true. You don't, in the beginning. Because what we're doing in the beginning is priming our subconscious mind to at least be okay with receiving this as a different option. Over time, when we're committed to that process of "Nope, I'm gonna redirect my thoughts. Nope, I'm gonna redirect and come back to truth." It does start to become easier.
0:12:43.7 DB: So, is it like using a mantra, like in meditation or something like that?
0:12:48.5 AH: That's exactly right. And I would expand on that, too, because when I first learned about mantras and affirmations, I was introduced to them through yoga and meditation, and that's incredible. And it is not enough to just say an affirmation one or two times during the day. Let's take this self-worth example. An excellent affirmation might be, "I am worthy, I trust myself," etcetera, but that also has to become a lived reminder throughout your day when you mess up at work. "Nope. I know that I am still okay." When you run into a trigger, it's in those moments where it is most effective, it's one of the most effective, and I'll share the other one in a moment. But really what we're doing is we're training ourselves not in just the good moments but in the periods of time where we wanna go back into that story, that's when we come back to those self-affirmations.
0:13:46.5 AH: Now, one of my favourite statistics that I just ate up when I saw it, it was from... They were really setting children, and obviously children's brains are more malleable, but our brains still have a certain level of plasticity, so when it comes to neuro reprogramming, it takes about 400 repetitions to solidify a new neural pathway. So, that's a lot of us fighting against our negative thoughts. However, and this is my favourite statistic, when we choose to remind ourselves of those affirmations, or really that new direction we wanna move in from a state of joy, or when we are engaging in play, it can take as little as 20 repetitions to begin forming that new neural pathway, which is incredible.
0:14:34.5 KC: I'm curious, Amanda, about the affirmations. If we can do a little deeper dive into those. I'm wondering, number one, do you find that there are some beautiful universal affirmations that a lot of people can apply and use, and they're effective? Or is it more powerful if they create their own? And then should they really focus on one affirmation, or have a couple that they use? Does that muddy the water, or is it... I'm so curious about what do you find through all of your work with clients to be most effective?
0:15:06.4 AH: That is an excellent question, and is one of the first questions clients often ask me. This almost is gonna sound like a non-answer because it's D, all of the above. But to make that a little bit more clear, there is a couple of frameworks that I really enjoy and I suggest to people. One, I actually have tattooed on my wrist, which is "Soham," that's the Sanskrit version of "I am... " Or "I am" really is the Sanskrit translation of "Soham" is more appropriate. We use "I am" mantras. I like to look at them as a fill in the blank opportunity. And you fill that blank in based on the emotion that you do not fully experience. So, if you are in a state of not-enough-ness, or if you struggle with believing that you are worthy of love, then that becomes the "I am worthy of love. I am enough."
0:16:02.4 AH: And to that second half of the question, where you asked about can you muddy the waters. No. As long as you're speaking kindly to yourself, of course not, but I do find it really helpful for people to think about, "What are my big themes within my anxiety or my mental health journey?" And within that theme, brainstorm a list of statements, or proactively, if you know you go into some really specific stories, proactively write out some statements that I would suggest are in your voice. So like, I joke around with myself all... I love to make fun of myself, so my "affirmations" aren't always "I am loving and peaceful and successful." It's, "Amanda, get it together. You're great, don't forget it." And it's okay to do that, where we don't have to be so sanctimonious about it. It's our lives.
0:17:01.3 DB: Okay, Amanda, what about when our anxiety is telling us the truth?
0:17:07.5 AH: That has been one of the biggest questions that's come up in the past year, because we have good... The entire world was just dropped into this pandemic and fear. Fear-based anxiety has been prevalent. And what's interesting about that is, for many people, that is a real experience, we're seeing people around just get sick, we can't go out into the world as we used to. So, when we are experiencing anxiety based on something, that there's truth there. Whether perceived or real, and that's personal experience, there is something there. So, you can't control the external, but what is the one thing you can control? Internal in your response. And a younger version of me hates that answer because I wanna be like, "No, but that's not fair. I don't wanna control my response." But it's the choiceless choice. You've got to look at that and say, "Okay, if this is the reality, how can I accept the truth that is here?" And then from that truth, "What adjustments might I want to make in terms of how I approach myself, the world around me? And then how do I approach my inner dialogue?" And really what we're coming back into every time is, "How do I create safety within myself?" That is it. It doesn't matter if we're talking about COVID or anything else, whether the anxiety is coming from a real place. It's emotional and physical safety where we ground in.
0:18:37.2 KC: And if someone is dealing with an anxiety that's fear-based, that's caused by fear, legitimate fear, there's a relationship between the two. So, if someone is trying to address that, would you recommend they address the anxiety, the fear? Is there a combination? They address both at once?
0:18:55.4 AH: I would recommend first addressing the experience of anxiety in the body, because it is very difficult to look at what can I do or what thoughts do I need to change when we're in a stress response? And often people will say, "Well, Amanda, I don't like meditation or I'm bad at meditation," which is hilarious. We're all bad at meditation and we're all really good at it, because all it is is breathing. But it doesn't have to be a sit-down, 30-minute meditation experience. It can be as simple as a practice, like box breathing, or just focusing on your exhales, really anything that can stimulate the vagus nerve because, as we know, the vagus nerve releases a tranquillising substance onto the heart, it asks the heart to beat slower. And from what we said earlier, if the heart is beating a little bit more slowly, it sends less freak-out signals to the brain... Not the clinical term, but less freak out signals to the brain. So now we have more space, and that is where we can look at, "Okay, what is my next best step emotionally or mentally?"
0:19:57.0 DB: Amanda, how do we navigate anxiety in times like right now, which it generally feels out of control for a lot of people?
0:20:05.6 AH: Grounding. Grounding is a really general term, and I kind of roll my eyes at myself, but that is the best answer. It's on the individual to understand what grounding actually means though. For example, my understanding of grounding in my body is I have a pretty regular time that I wake up every day, I do have a meditation practice, and I aim to take care of my physical body. And I love my work, so I get that done, and I play with my dog. So, there's productivity, there's joy, there's recoup, and then there's space for the 20% of unknown, when we can establish any sense of grounding. And so yours might look very different for you, Darren, or you, Kristin, but we need to have something that we can come back to that is owned by us so that regardless of what's happening in the external, we have a safe place.
0:21:03.6 KC: And, Amanda, what are some actionable steps? I love that you always include action steps, tactic... The way that you phrase it, I love it. It's scientific, spiritual and tactical approaches. I love that three-prong approach. Let's talk now about some actionable steps that listeners can take to better understand the messages that their own anxiety is sending to them.
0:21:27.0 AH: Yes. Journaling, journaling, journaling. Journaling is this incredible tool, but I find it's only effective or it's most effective really when you know the right questions to ask. I have three back pocket questions that I still use to this day to help me ground down, if I'm feeling a little bit anxious or I feel uneasy and can't quite place it. Question number one: What is triggering my anxiety? Question number two: What is the story I'm telling myself? And question number three: What do I need to remember in this moment? So, that is a call back to truth. And there is always a little bonus question because I can't not have an extra one, which is, if I need to take a tangible next step, what does that look like? For example, if we're triggered by a friend or a partner, we can do all of that inner work by ourselves, but that next step to really close that loop might be communication. I like to add that one just to make sure that we're really grounding down rather than just scribbling the notes and then forgetting about it without addressing anything.
0:22:37.0 AH: And then, of course, I can't not come back to meditation. We can do the mind work, but we've also got to do the body work and the surrender. That's the other piece that we haven't really woven in that is really important, coming back to this reminder that you don't have to do all of this yourself. Breathe out, whether it's universe, higher power, people have their own language-ing, but letting go of what is not yours. And there's a softening that can happen in there, and that's softening creates some space for us to actually look at what is ours that we can take on and process.
0:23:16.7 DB: I wanna thank our guest, Amanda Huggins, for joining us today. To find out more information about Amanda, visit amandahugginscoaching.com. Listeners, this concludes part one of our podcast on anxiety with Amanda Huggins. We'll be back next week for part two, in which we'll dive deeper into somatic tools and practical approaches and ideas. Thanks, Amanda. And thanks, Kristin.
0:23:40.1 KC: Thanks so much, Amanda. Can't wait for part two.
0:23:43.0 AH: Thank you, guys.
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