ANXIETY is in fact of one of the most common concerns in the 21st century and is the biggest cause of absence from work.
It is also likely to be an issue that is high on the agenda as lockdown continues to ease and more and more of us begin to re-enter teh world outside
Anxiety can seem debilitating at times. It may be reoccurring for you. Most humans will experience anxiety at some stage in their lives but understanding why it happens and how to change the patterns can really help. There are a few tools you can use if you find yourself there.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT
The emotional brain is called the amygdala and it reacts first before the logical thinking brain (Human Givens: The New Approach to Emotional Health and Clear Thinking).
Before the brain has even thought the logic through, the fight or flight mode has kicked in; this is a human faculty originating from pre-historic man.
As humans we are always trying to establish if there is a threat. In years gone by that might have been a threat of being chased by a tiger or a lion.
We might not be chased by a tiger or a lion today, but we may be threatened by what people say or don’t say about us on social media.
We might be threatened by losing our job or our marriage is not going the right way.
We might feel unfulfilled or disconnected from society. When we feel this way our anxiety levels may increase. Adrenaline and cortisol is released into the brain.
Our heart beats faster and our blood pressure rises. The blood thickens.
This goes back to early times, it will clot more quickly to protect against cuts, etc.
The digestion is suppressed and this may have an effect on our appetite.
There is also an inflammation caused internally that you can’t see, this is increased further by stress. At this point your mindfulness reduces and your ability to think logically and cleared is inhibited (Padraig O’Morain: Daily Mindfulness, 2020).
When an anxiety or fear arises immediately the brain will pattern match to a previous memory. Often with that memory, there is an emotion attached, for example if you feel rejected in some way, you might hark back to the previous rejection and all the feelings that accompany that memory. If you recall that emotion, maybe the previous feelings of anxiety will arise from the time before. There are ways to reduce these feelings though with a few simple tools where you can break this pattern.
LOCATE YOUR FEELINGS
Firstly, where about in your body do you feel the anxiety? Is it in the throat, stomach, chest perhaps? Is there a shape, a colour? Is it a fizzing sensation or a tightening? It's hard to think straight when you're in that zone, so try and take some deep breathes firstly to calm the emotions and thoughts and try not to react or get angry towards yourself or others. The best way is to take seven deep breaths in and 11 deep breaths out (Human Givens: The New Approach to Emotional Health and Clear Thinking), the inbreath stimulates activation and the sympathetic nervous system and the out breaths calm the parasympathetic nervous system.
TAME YOUR IMAGINATION
Remember our imagination will be running wild, picturing all the terrible consequences and things that could happen, building up your anxiety further. Our imagination is such an amazing gift, but it can also be your worst nightmare at times, running scenarios through our head, creating catastrophes that are very unlikely to happen.
When we regularly use controlled deep breathes throughout the day, we can begin to control anxiety. If we introduce regular meditation (Headspace, Daily Calm, Meditation with Adriene) into our lives we can also slow down the fearful feelings and can as a result feel much more in control and in the moment. The more tools we give ourselves then the more likely we are to be able to step away from the fear and dread, as a result the intensity will abate.
Practising mindfulness calms the emotional brain, it brings a sense of calm, it feels better and there is more positivity in our lives. The brains of those who are in a bad mood have a very active right side of the brain at that time. When you are in a good mood, the left side is active. Mindfulness activates the left side more. It pushes you in the direction of being positive. It is helpful to those who are suffering from depression. If someone is in a bad mood then the right side of the brain is triggered, they then believe that everything is wrong (Padraig O’Morain, Daily Mindfulness, 2020).
For many of us when a worry, concern or anxious feeling arises the temptation is to text or ring our friends or family in a moment of panic or even going into a full panic attack and feeling that we are losing control. This doesn’t have to be the case. Take 7 breaths in slowly and exhale 11 breaths out. Place your feet firmly on the floor. Feel the air coming in and out through the nostrils, maybe you can feel it in the chest or the tummy. Just observe the breath in this moment right now. Maybe say in your mind ‘breathing, breathing, breathing’. The breath will return to normal gradually. Focus on this moment right now with kindness to yourself. This is okay, it will pass on. You are not your thoughts.
OBSERVE YOUR FEELINGS
Another way to manage is to observe the anxiety. Often when we feel a fear or anxiety, we see it through our own eyes which intensifies it further. Beginning to watch yourself in that memory rather than actually through your own eyes reduces the stress enormously. Try this over and over, the intensity will reduce (Neuro Linguistics Programming). This might seem like an unusual suggestion but actually sitting with the feeling without reacting is incredibly powerful and a great habit to form.
When you do get to that place of calm, it may take a while which is fine, try and see what comes up. What is causing it? It might be a number of things. Maybe write them down somewhere no one else will see and ask yourself what you're really anxious about. Is it fear, rejection, anger or dreading the unknown? You might need professional help to really understand that. This is absolutely normal and acceptable in today’s society.
OWN YOUR ACHIEVEMENT
Finally, be pleased with yourself that you have had the courage to face a big anxiety and maybe even acknowledge it to yourself. You may have been covering it up to yourself or those around you in your home or workplace. It might have been with you for a while. Anxiety doesn't need to be your travel companion everywhere you go. Ditching an anxiety is thoroughly empowering and equipping yourself with the tools is very possible and accessible.
RECAP: YOUR TOP TAKEAWAYS TO HELP BEAT YOUR ANXIETIES
Recognising that anxiety is there. What is the feeling like? Is it a tightening, a squeezing, a sick feeling, swirling, fizzing? Where is the feeling? What is the shape like? Is it moving up and down? Has it got a colour?
Acknowledging that it is there, take seven breaths in and 11 breaths out, try and place your feet flat on the floor. You can do this anywhere. In your car, in your house or at your desk. Feeling the breath coming in and out.
Begin to visualise a really good memory where you feel happy and accepted. What can you see in this memory, what can you hear? Spend some time in that memory, is the picture moving? Are you in the picture or an observer? Keep this treasured memory safe and each time you are feeling anxious then you can return to this good memory when you need it most.
Seeing anxiety through your own eyes actually intensifies the problem whereas if you can step out of the memory and be an observer gives you a sense of detachment and makes it easier to deal with. You may have to practise this several times, return to it over and over.
Investigate what is causing the anxiety. Are you afraid of something, maybe rejection or being laughed at or not being good enough? Comparing yourself to friends, family? Whatever it is for you, maybe write it down somewhere safe. Try and get to the bottom of it and when calm, we can be much more rational. Our thinking brain functions much better when the emotional brain (the amygdala) is calmed down.
Nurture. Most importantly be kind to yourself. For many this can be one of the hardest parts. Our internal dialogue can be really mean to us sometimes, berating ourselves. One way to address this is to change the tone of the voice that we hear. Is it actually your voice or a loved one’s voice? Changing the tone of our inner dialogue to a more, loving and tender one can help us massively. You should be pleased with yourself that you have the courage to face something that might be a reoccurring pattern, something that is holding you back. It doesn’t have to be there and the great news is that anxiety can be cured and controlled so that you can live the best version of you.
Pauline Ronan has been a teacher for 20 years and is training to be an NLP Life Coach and a Psychotherapist with Human Givens. Pauline is the owner of Holistic Self-Care Solutions.
Pauline’s new book is called ‘The Pocket Book of Positivity and Re-Framing’ and will be available for purchase shortly. To order a copy in advance, email [email protected]