“I have anxiety”. This is something I hear frequently from clients. Many people would describe themselves as an “anxious person”. This does not however need to be a label which we wear as a badge, something to define ourselves by or a life sentence to living in an anxious state.
We need anxiety. It is a normal emotion. Without it, we would walk outside and get hit by a car. It is there to protect us from danger. We all have a “fight or flight” response to perceived danger or threat. There is some science to explain this response and the unpleasant feelings which we experience. If we perceive some danger, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in preparing for us to fight or flee. Our brain sends signals from our amygdala (the part which deals with emotions) and hormones are released. This results in physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing, bladder relaxation, tunnel vision, shaking, dilated pupils, flushed face, dry mouth, slowed digestion and hearing loss. All these physical symptoms prime our bodies for action to protect ourselves in the face of danger. Some of these symptoms are familiar to those who suffer from panic attacks.
Anxiety, becomes in a problem when we struggle to manage the thoughts and feelings and they overwhelm us, becoming part of our daily life. Anxiety makes us apprehensive and fearful or nervous that something bad may happen. We become hyper vigilant and over think, trying to trick ourselves that if we think about every possible eventuality we can protect ourselves. Sometimes this is in social situations or relating to others or can simply be in relation to life in general. Often we don’t even know what we are feeling anxious about but the feelings can be overwhelming.
It is important to remember that anxious feelings ALWAYS pass. Emotions have motion. It is difficult to remember this when caught up in the feelings and thoughts. It may feel endless but if you think about previous experiences, you will see that it has always passed. There are often triggers for our anxious feelings and it may be that we experienced something which was frightening or shaming in our past. Sometimes it may be obvious but it often doesn’t even need to be anything particularly serious. It could be, for example, an incident in the playground where we felt so awful in that moment that we never want to feel like that again. It could be that we have been hurt in previous relationships. To avoid feeling like that again, our brains are wired to protect us from those feelings. We are alerted to potential dangers of re-experiencing those feelings and the anxiety kicks in to protect us. The reality is that the feelings induced by the anxiety are often worse than the feelings we are trying to avoid. We may have grown up with anxious parents and felt that the world was a dangerous place, with lots to worry about. We may learn anxious responses from those around us and this can become our default position.
Even if you struggle to manage your anxious feelings and they are making daily life difficult for you, it is important not to be defined by this. You are not an “anxious person” but may suffer from periods of, what feels like, uncontrollable anxiety. We can however learn to manage our anxiety. We can retrain our brains to respond differently in the face of perceived danger. You can start by thinking “I am feeling anxious”, rather than “I have anxiety”.
You can learn relaxation and mindfulness techniques to bring you into the present. With my clients I often ask them if they are “time travelling”. Our anxious feelings are usually about something that has happened in the past or something which may (or may not) happen in the future. If you notice that you are time travelling in moments of anxiety, grounding yourself and bringing your attention to the present moment in time can help to reduce the unpleasant feelings immediately and at least break that relentless cycle. This can be done by simply focussing on your breathing or counting breaths. This will stop your racing heart. Alternatively you can concentrate on your sense using this simple technique
Name to yourself :
5 things you can see
4 things you can hear
3 things you can touch
2 things you can taste
1 thing you can see.
Once grounded, you can reassure yourself that you are safe and have a clearer head to begin to start to make sense of your feelings.
Counselling can not only help with learning to manage your anxiety but can help you to understand sources and triggers. I can also teach you EFT talking which is effective in managing anxiety. Anxiety can impact on our lives and relationships but it does not have to be a life sentence.