What is anxiety?
When we say we are suffering from anxiety, what do we mean? How do we feel? For each of us the emotion will be different, but there are fundamental parts of the feeling that we all share. The physical symptoms of anxiety – for example:
- shallow breathing
- butterflies in our tummies (technical term!)
- a beating heart
- a feeling of dread
These are feelings we can all recognise, but why do we feel them? When you think about it, anxiety is a fear of something which has not yet happened…. a fear of something that might never happen. It is a fear of an imagined reality and a reality which… is not real. Well…it may not be real, but our Unconscious Minds certainly make us feel as if that reality is here and now…a threat to us and our safety. This triggers our ancient Fight, Flight or Freeze response and our body prepares to run away, hide or start punching!
Our minds look ahead in an attempt to predict what will happen in the minutes, hours, days to come. Our minds are constantly searching for the best way to keep us safe and by imagining possible scenarios in the future we attempt to predict how we will cope with them. We have not always been like this. Only a tiny amount of our time on this earth has been spent living in this way. James Clear writes a fascinating article about this very topic here. I can highly recommend his website and if you sign up for his newsletter you will be sent weekly articles which are fascinating.
The thing is though, by spending time anticipating possible future events, future catastrophes, our minds rob us of the present. Instead of living in the Now, enjoying what we have in this moment, we live our lives travelling in our minds down the road to some imagined catastrophic future….a future where we fail exams, get run over, lose our jobs….the list goes on and, to be honest, just writing about those future imagined realities makes me feel stressed!!
So… how can we stop anxiety?
There are various ways of helping yourself to live in a world where anxiety is recognised, but reduced and controlled. We all have times when we feel anxious, but being able to control anxiety in a way that stops it from ruining your days, is a helpful skill that anyone can learn.
- Recognise that anxiety is a fear of something that has not happened and that may never happen. This thing that has filled your world with anxiety is not real, is not here.
2. Begin to be aware of Now. What are you doing right this minute? This moment is the moment you have control over, so make this moment the best moment it can be. Tony Burkinshaw has made this brilliant short video showing a super easy technique to keep you in the Now. By concentrating on your finger and thumb making circles as shown in the video, your mind is occupied by this moment, not the imagined future peril.
3. Slow down. Stop for a moment.
4. Breathe. There are various breathing techniques that can help. A simple one that I like and that I use with the children I work with, is to draw a triangle, either on paper or in my mind. While tracing along one side of the triangle, slowly and deeply, breathe in. Then, while slowly breathing out, trace along the other two sides. There is something very rhythmical and relaxing about this which focuses the mind.
By the time you have taken time to do these simple exercises your mind will have been drawn away from its fear and your Conscious rational mind can take control again.
There is a homework I set many of my clients which is easy to do and which I do myself each evening. Its called a Happy Book. Each evening, before you go to sleep, cast your mind back over the day and ponder all the good things that have happened. At first you might find it difficult to think of good things…or you might find it easy! Who knows??! Whether you are a ‘glass half full’ or a ‘glass half empty’ person, choose 3 things in your day that have made you feel happy.If you can’t find 3 then find 1 and work on finding more each day. Everyone is different and we all go through times in our lives when things are better or worse than at other times, but by practising finding those nuggets of goodness, of happiness you will be able to find more. Write them down. As time goes on your mind will become primed, during your day, to look for the good things that happen. Each evening you will be reminded about the good things, maybe the events that happened and with which you coped well. If your Unconscious Mind learns that you do actually have the tools within you to cope with events, it will have less reason to hijack you into that Fight, Flight or Freeze response
If you can do this then you are giving yourself good thoughts and memories to ponder on when you start to feel anxious. Focusing on the good, in the moment, helps to dispel fear of the bad. If you can remember the good times when you coped well, no matter how small the event, then your mind will be reassured that you have the tools to cope. You can do this.
Anxiety….its a funny old thing.
Well it is really….isn’t it? Its a made up monster, a fear of something that doesn’t yet exist and may never happen. I gave one of the children I work with a special imaginary sparkly stick to whack away any imaginary Worry Monsters that happened to pass by and give him trouble.( not that I approve of violence, I hasten to add!) You are very welcome to have one too, and lend it to anyone you know who might need it. Anxiety feels real, but the cause of it is not. If you can know that and use the tools above, you will be on the road to calm.
One Last Thing…
We all strive so hard in this day and age to be perfect. You don’t have to be perfect. Be kind to yourself and accept that we are all doing the best we can with the tools we have. Take time to stop, breathe and be in the moment.