The Emotional Twisties

The Emotional Twisties

The “twisties” is a term popularized during the Tokyo Olympics when Simone Biles pulled out of her best events because she lost her sense of balance in mid-air. After years of competing at the highest level, her rhythm was suddenly off, and she couldn’t connect her body and mind to complete skills she had mastered long ago. What followed was a wave of self-doubt, confusion, and a loss of confidence. Every time she failed to land a routine, that disconnect compounded, further eroding her self-confidence and eventually forcing her to the sidelines.

Although most of us don’t launch ourselves into the air at dizzying speeds, we do develop a similar kind of disorientation that I call the “emotional twisties”. The emotional twisties is characterized by the same disconnect between the body and mind that Biles experienced. For anyone who has experienced extreme anxiety, it can be very disorienting. We begin to feel off-center and can’t course correct. We obsessively think about what’s wrong in a vain attempt to come up with a solution. At some point our preoccupation with “what if” scenarios intensify the anxiety loop and we become even more anxious. Our heart rate increases, breathing quickens, we become hyper vigilant and consequently we can’t rest, sleep or calm down. Anxiety can also trigger many physical symptoms including stomach pain, dizziness, vertigo, memory loss, constipation, blurred vision and tinnitus.

As if those symptoms weren’t enough, anxiety also creates a negative bias; a selective mechanism we use to focus on those things that confirm our anxiety while overlooking those things that do not. As anxiety takes over, our sympathetic nervous system shuts down the connection between our mind and body until we find ourselves lost in an overwhelming jumble of symptoms and fear. Subsequently, we fixate on negative events deepening the already intense anxiety loop. Over time we literally feel like we’re losing our mind. We’re not really losing our mind; the mind and the body just forgot how to work together, which creates an emotional imbalance.

So, what do you do if you’re stuck in this extreme anxiety loop? Researchers agree that the best way to deal with the emotional twisties is to calm the sympathetic nervous system with deep-breathing, mindfulness, meditation, healthy eating, and grounding exercises such as walking, hiking in nature or sitting quietly. As we calm the nervous system, the trust between the body and mind slowly begins to return. At the same time, adding cognitive reminders such as, “this state is temporary” and “I’m OK” can be helpful. Additionally, if we can mention it, we can manage it, so make sure you talk about your anxiety. Researchers found that “emotional outsourcing” through social support and connection helps to manage anxiety.

One final note, paradoxically, the more you resist your anxiety the greater it becomes. Rather than suppress anxiety, try to embrace it. Biles talked openly about her anxiety and the fear that she was letting the nation down. She didn’t try to hide her shame or minimize its impact on her life, which ultimately gave her control back. Anxiety often carries a deeper message that we can only hear if we listen to what it’s saying to us despite the fear we feel. So, the next time you’re feeling escalating tensions be mindful of the hidden message contained within the twisted knot of anxiety. It just may allow anxiety to be your friend rather than something to fear.   

Five Minute Articles For Your Consideration6 comments

  1. Pete di Girolamo says:

    Thanks Larry, I think I’ve lived with the twisties for quite awhile; sometimes just getting up and mindfully getting on with the day is a good start to balance.

    • Larry says:

      Hi Pete,
      Thanks for the comment. I think we’ve all been a little twisted lately. With all you’ve been through you’re untwisting rather well!

  2. Jacquelyn Earnest says:

    Larry, we are currently doing a somatic meditation class from Reggie Ray, a Buddhist monk using his Youtube videos. It is the first time in all my years of meditating out of the body, I have experienced taking the body with me & using it to expand into the earth. It is very grounding & it uses your principles of mind/body mindfulness very well. He worked with Peter Levine & I believe he created the practice. I am seeing great results with anxiety. All the best to you & keep these blogs coming! Jackee

    • Larry says:

      Hi Jackee,
      What a great experience! Thanks for sharing. Peter Levine’s work lends itself beautifully to getting to anxiety management. It’s something we can all benefit more from these days.

      All the best to you and Richard!

  3. Maureena Duran-Rojas says:

    Hi Larry; Every once in a while when I least expect it there you are. Nice article especially because you’ve touched on truths and good information. I like the term twistiest it’s a new term that I can focus on. I’ve had anxiety issues since childhood I’ve found what your saying here to be true. I’ve gone for years without a major indecent and then something will trigger an anxiety attack that can last for an evening or months. The most important thing for me to remember is that I’m not ok but I will be ok. I’ve a bag of tricks which I’ve learned to heal myself. A lot of them you’ve mentioned. Every time it’s a battle but I plan on winning each one. Thanks for your article. Be well my friend. PS. Did you ever fined JP.

    • Larry says:

      Hi Maureena,
      Thanks for your thoughtful and inspiring comment! Twistiest, for sure. As long as you’ve learned how to manage your anxiety, you’ve won the battle. Anxiety comes and goes and as it does our consciousness expands to meet the next challenge.

      I never got in touch with JP. I can’t find his phone number and he’s not on social media. If you ever hear from him let me know.

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