Rebound Anxiety: A Conversation On Expansion & Contraction

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Yesterday, I was riding Nadia in the arena when I felt the flicker of old patterns bubble their way to the surface. We’ve had some crazy bonkers weather here of late; hotter days followed by cold dips interlaced with frequent and persistent periods of rain. In response, the grass has turned a specific shade of luminous, the sweet sugars suckling their way to the surface ready to be greedily inhaled by my waiting, four legged beloveds.

I notice the grass affect all my horses in different ways. Nadia remains polite with a slight hint of desperation to get things right, as is her way. But when you added the certain pep of sugar, the threads of anxiety that used to dominate our conversation and are now little more than background trickles make ripples in the pond of what is mostly now still water.

The emotional component is most obvious. If I was to sing it out loud, it would go something like,

Lalalala, isn’t it a lovely day, lalala, OMG where are my friends!!! Lalalalala

Like Nina Simone for the main verses with a hard, heavy metal chorus, an experience that is somewhat jolting, leaving you fumbling with the knobs on the radio in an attempt to tune back into the previous song you were listening to.

But this is not a conversation on grass affectedness. It’s a conversation on something I refer to as ‘rebound anxiety’, a phenomenon I witness frequently in both horses and humans, and a regular experience of both who spend more of their time in a state of contraction than a state of openness. Nadia has been my greatest teacher when it comes to both understanding and navigating my way through this.

My definition of rebound anxiety is when the system, primarily the body, begins to relax and the tight binds that have physically, mentally, and emotionally held it in a firm little ball begin to unravel. Broadly speaking, the contracted state is one that is typical of fight flight (or a sympathetic nervous system state) ; a state of openness is synonymous with parasympathetic.

Our state of homeostasis is determined as the average point of wherever we spend the most time. So, if I spend most of my day in fight flight, my balance point, or point of homeostasis will sit between the average range of my fight flight experience.

Put simply, the experience of contraction becomes my normal, my comfort zone. It might not be ideally what I want, but it is ultimately what I know and am most familiar with. Which means anything outside of that- even if I understand that to be more beneficial, healthful, or desirable- challenges that experience within me.

Rebound anxiety is when the system starts to open and unfurl. As a result, the body feels different; the rebound anxiety response is a reflexive response of the mind to re-contract. The openness makes us feel vulnerable and unsafe, even if the reality is that we are more attuned to our environment and experience, making us effectively more able to discern what is needed with a greater degree of accuracy.

I witnessed this in Nadia yesterday. We trot around with the Nina Simone vibes. She starts to blow out, flow through, relax. And then all at once, the experience feels unnerving, and she binds back up. Our heavy metal chorus.

Like I mentioned before, this gentle navigation between expansion and contraction used to be the norm; now it is few and far between, exacerbated by external forces that add an extra something something to old patterns.

It’s an experience we are playing with in my membership all the time, the practice ground being the movement work where we are essentially only needing to look after ourselves. We get to play with new sensation in the body, create new stories and expand our capacity to hold increasing degrees of openness within the edges of our skin without feeling overwhelmed and creating unhelpful thought patterns as a result.

If contraction has been your norm, it takes a while to accept openness as a safe place to rest. It’s a gradual and continual conversation. Getting pulled back into old patterns- like Nadia- is not a sign of regression or devolution. It’s just…. life.

A process of negotiation, understanding and feeling that you gather more and more tools to work with.


❤️ Jane

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