What does a starfish have to do with anxiety?
A starfish is open and susceptible, stretched as far as it can be. It does not curl into a ball when the physical environment around it changes. It does not change its posture when threatened by a predator.
Oftentimes when anxiety is rising or a panic attack hits ourfirst reaction is to take a closed posture. This means we are physicallyclosed-off and defensive with arms crossed, curled into a ball, not making eyecontact with those around us. You may also hear someone with anxiety say “I’mfine” when you sense something is wrong.
The opposite of a closed posture is the starfish exercise, a form of acceptance therapy that I learned in outpatient therapy. Below is the exercise with a slight modification to it that I have found helpful:
- Lie on your back if your physical environment allows it (otherwise close your eyes and pretend you are doing it if in a public setting)
- Stretch your hands, feet and head out to their most extended possible – really stretch out!
- Once outstretched hold the pose and do a breathing exercise – I like four square breathing for its simplicity
One benefit of the starfish exercise is that is inherently relaxing, but the real benefit in my mind is that you are opening up, stripping anxiety of it’s power over you by not fighting it!
I have found that holding this pose for a short period willhelp knock-down my anxiety a level or two. However, this is not an attempt toeliminate the anxiety; it is about accepting anxiety with the thought that the anxietywill not come back as strongly the next time. Let the anxiety happen and overtime your (lack of) reaction to it will reduce its frequency and severity.