There are always physical responses in the body to the emotional activity of the mind. Usually if you are suffering with anxiety, panic, depression, or similar you’ll consider these physical feelings to be ‘just normal’ or you get so used to them they are almost invisible – easy to overlook.

However, they are what good poker players can see when they look for body language signs. It’s not like in the movies where the character taps their finger or rubs their ear. They’re more subtle to see – a tightening of jaw muscles, change in abdominal muscles, eye movements and so on, are much more common yet still obvious to those trained to spot them. I’ve worked with a few professional poker players and they are amazing in their ability see the physical reactions. If they can see them, you can certainly learn to feel them and then to control them.

The mind creates reactions in the body to help keep you alert and aware in a crisis. The problem comes where a bad feeling creates the same reaction, without a real crisis, and then those feelings and sensations kick off a stress reaction in the body that tells the mind to keep worrying, panicking, or feeling bad.

The usual sensations to watch for are:

A knot or ‘churning’ feeling in the stomach or gut

Tightness in the chest or shoulders

Heart pounding faster than normal

Heat or blushing

These often kick off a ‘racing’ in your thoughts.

At that point it’s a feedback loop. The mind keeps noticing the physical elements and the racing thoughts and concludes – I need to keep things in a high stress level as this feels like danger. Your mind is on your side and is trying to keep you alert and stressed in case you are in danger, so that you’ll react. It doesn’t take chances with that and it will keep you wound up as long as whatever it is feeling feels like a danger.

Notice this physical feeling and you will have a tool to feel better. Take control of the muscles around the feel-bad area and physically relax them – move them the opposite way to the feeling. If your chest is tight, roll your shoulders back and out and expand your chest. If your stomach is tight push the muscles out and breath in very deep and as low into your abdomen as you can. If your heart is pounding, take a few minutes, sit quietly, visualise your heart beating and see it in your minds eye slowing down a bit, becoming more comfortable. Every time you visualise, you bring 20,000,000,000 brain cells into play and focused on your objective. That’s a lot of brain power suddenly working to your command.

Being aware of these reactions can cut your stress massively. Usually we exist in a state that continues the reactions because we don’t really notice what is going on.

Our goal now is to spot what’s happening in our lives and to make positive changes.

If you find you’re having a lot of big reactions you should hunt down why that’s happening. There are loads of people out there trained to do that, but you can make your life a bit better just by noticing the physical actions of what you’re feeling and then working to reverse those physical elements.

Careful awareness of the ordinary – what you experience day to day – can change your life. Stop and take a good look and also be aware and feel! What is driving you or stopping you? It’s the emotions and the physical aspects of them that win.

Understand the playing field and you can win too.

Change is easier than you think.