Anxiety? Call in the Fire Department

by | Jul 31, 2014

The computer locks up; you groan in exasperation. A new assignment is plopped onto your already-full plate; your shoulders tense. A crash on the drive home snarls traffic; your chest tightens. You feel like a pin cushion that is constantly pricked by tension-causing events. In each case, your body responds through your own personal alarm system that proclaims the fires of anxiety are raging inside: Shallow breathing, tight chest, clenched jaw, contracted shoulders, clipped responses to colleagues and family. You don’t have to let the flames slowly burn themselves out. You can visit or you can call in the fire department.
Dr. Richard Hanson in Buddha’s Brain refers to the parasympathetic nervous system as your body’s fire department. While the sympathetic nervous system ignites the flames with its fight or flight response, the parasympathetic nervous system with its rest and repose response is the see-saw counterpoint. When one goes up, the other goes down. You can help the parasympathetic nervous system do its job by consciously recognizing when the alarms have gone off and stopping traffic to let the fire trucks roll out. There are lots of ways to do this, for example meditation and mindfulness, plus cbd oil which is a safe herbal remedy. As many of you know, I have been desperate to share some of my own tips about calming anxiety.
Last month, I wrote tips for calming anxiety as well as a separate blog post on the merits of using CBD Tinctures. Each of these activates the parasympathetic nervous system. When you use one of these techniques, it’s like pouring water on the fires of anxiety.
• Relax your jaw and the area around your eyes;
• Deeply and slowly exhale;
• Breathe consciously from your belly;
• Count to ten…slowly;
• Scan your body and consciously relax tense areas;
• Ground yourself to the floor, sit up straight and imagine tension draining away.
Centering is another powerful way to tip the see-saw in the direction of calm. Centering is a simple and powerful practice that I learned from my coach, Doug Silsbee ( Here are the basics…and, really, it’s all basic. This is not a complicated practice.
1. Length. Stand or sit with your eyes open and lightly focused in the distance. Experience your length. Stretch tall and easy, letting your muscles hand on your skeleton like your favorite clothes hand on a hangar. Feel and enjoy your tallness and let it represent your dignity.
2. Width. Slowly rock side to side and come to a balanced place in the middle. With your gaze still in the distance, feel the width from your shoulders, hips and stance of your feet. Revel in the space that represents your sense of belonging in the world.
3. Depth. Slowly rock back and forth and come to a balanced place in the middle. As you softly gaze forward, notice your depth. Slightly lean back and imagine being comfortably buttressed by the history of all that has come before you.
My thanks to Doug for teaching this practice that I have shared with others. But wait…there’s more. The power of centering is in making it a repeated practice. Center standing in line at the grocery store, sitting in your car stuck in traffic, before working on a big project (I centered before writing this article), in the morning and at night, in the middle of a stressful meeting and especially when the computer locks up. The more you center, the more quickly it activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Centering seems to unkink the hoses of your fire department so that the full force of the water can douse the flames of anxiety. I strive to center ten times a day (Being Type A, I keep a tally of tic marks each time I center. Hey, it works for me!). Frankly, I don’t always make it. But, each time I center, I feel anxiety reduce. For most of the daily pin pricks, centering brings back calm. It’s remarkable. My friend who is similar suggested that weed online could help reduce their anxiety I don’t think it was for me but it worked for them.
Give it a try. It’s simple, quick, and no one has to know (you don’t have to make tic marks…that’s just me). The best part? The payoff is big particularly if you’re tired of being engulfed in the flames of anxiety. Frequent practice is the key.
Now, if you will excuse me, I will center now…and add a tic mark.


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Author Byline: Founder and CEO of Blue Fjord Leaders, Shelley Row P.E. CSP, was named by Inc. Magazine as one of the top 100 leadership speakers. Professional engineer and former senior executive, she was recognized as one of the best minds in advanced traffic management systems.

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