Two Ways to Combat Anxiety
As she looks over to the door, breaking all eye contact and almost squirming in her seat she says to me, “I don’t want to say it. It is really stupid. I just need to get over it”. I feel the discomfort in her body as she tries to hide her face from me. Shame perhaps? This is the result of trauma; she might not recognise it as that. She first emailed me to ask whether hypnotherapy would help her learn how to get over anxiety.
We find many avenues to explore, a multitude of different experiences that cause uncomfortable feelings. We also find things that bring calm. She makes eye contact as if she has just remembered how easy everything feels when she plods around the field nearby. As soon as she walks into it the negativity evaporates, the smells of summer flood through her body. The sun shines on her, even when it does not.
She looks sad again though, she does not think the field should bring this much pleasure. There must be something wrong with her. She is also scared – terrified – of losing that one special place. What if it stops working? Here to learn how to calm anxiety yet finding herself flooded with anxious thoughts even when remembering the positive.
We spend sessions working through the trauma together, visiting it in the safe confines of my therapy room. Processing it, understanding it. An awareness that her mind and body did not expect those experiences. Recognising that her brain processed the experiences by disconnecting, resulting in prevention of healthy brain development. This is what caused the problems today and together we can work out how to stop anxiety thoughts, at the very least how to manage them. How to feel the fear and do it anyway.
How to Stop Anxiety
Anxiety is a natural response to stress. It is not an emotion that is beneficial to stop completely. Small amounts of stress help us progress in life. The fight / flight response is essential for life safety – though we probably do not require it that much – it is not safe to erase it. However, disordered anxiety is not conducive to a fulfilling life. When the anxiety you feel starts to disrupt your life it is time to challenge and combat it.
How to Combat Anxiety
Taking charge of something that overpowers you might be difficult alone. If you have the resources to ask for help, speak to a hypnotherapist or someone experienced in guiding people along a journey of recovery. It is an easier path when you work in a team with someone who has trodden it with others before and knows how to combat anxiety. The first step, in my opinion is always to understand the neuroscience of the autonomic nervous system. This allows you to know what the physical feelings you experience are and why your brain has switched them on.
The second step is to explore your self and your younger self. If you previously experienced a traumatic event, you probably know about it. Could you, have been traumatised but not know it? I link below to some distinguished educators in the field of trauma whose work might help you understand and work through your own stuff if you do not have the resources to spend time with a therapist.
In addition to the two above recommendations there are some changes you can make to your daily life that will help you manage your anxious thinking and calm the anxiety feelings.
Mindfulness means being present in the moment without judgement. It does take commitment and practise. My blog post Three Mindfulness Exercises- to reduce stress and raise awareness will help you understand mindfulness in greater detail. Daily meditation will help you live more mindfully. Meditation will also calm your body so the physical feelings you experience when anxious will ease.
The sympathetic nervous system is the part of the autonomic nervous system that manages the fight or flight response. The parasympathetic nervous system is the part of the autonomic nervous system that regulates bodily functions like digestion, wound healing, sleep and dream cycles. When in your best state the two branches of the autonomic nervous system work closely together to keep you in an optimal state of engagement with your environment and yourself.
Your inhale stimulates your sympathetic nervous system which increases your heart rate. When you exhale you stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which decreases your heart rate. In a healthy state your inhalations and exhalations create a steady, rhythmic fluctuation. Measuring heart rate variability gives a measure of basic wellbeing.
When your autonomic nervous system is well balanced you have a fair degree of control over your response to minor frustrations and disappointments. This enables you to make calm assessments of situations. Changing how you breathe improves problems with anger, depression and most importantly for you, anxiety.
When you meditate practise breathing abdominally (place your hand on your belly button and make it rise) and try to exhale for longer than you inhale your heart rate will slow – easing anxiety’s pounding, racing heart.
How to cure anxiety
Anxiety is not something we want to cure or stop because anxiety is not an ailment. It is a healthy life saving instinct. Problems occur when your brain perceives a stressful event as life threatening and unnecessarily switches your body into the fight or flight response. Anxiety happens when your thoughts focus on the past or future rather than the present. Trauma occurs after an event that your brain perceived as life threatening. Trauma may result in anxious feelings.
Disordered anxiety happens when the feelings take over your life and prevent you from functioning as you wish. Your life will improve when you take steps to reduce the anxiety and eliminate triggering of the fight or flight response unless it is necessary to save your life.