‘Knowing where the toilets were in every place I was going was an imperative – I had to have somewhere to “escape” to if I started to panic.’
‘I could see, I could feel things with my hands but I could not think. My mind was numb, numb but fizzing with nervous energy.’
These are things that my clients experienced. They can feel that they are struggling alone, no one else knows what is going on in their heads. But the exhausting competition for attention in the mind is alive and well – although invisible to others. It’s those feelings of always being on edge, going the long way around to avoid the dogs – just in case. Sitting at the end of the row in the cinema – just in case. Going on the bus or tube (if brave enough), being by the door – just in case. Washing your hands again……. and again – just to be sure.
It is often the case that every next second and its potential escape route had to be mapped out. Just in case. Anxiety is the “what if” disease – what ifs that may or may not happen. But powerful and controlling just the same. The mind has all the power and control.
The good news is that the mind thinks it is doing a favour – it just doesn’t realise that there is a conflict between what is real and what is not. Let me explain. The main job that your mind has to do is to protect us – protection and procreation are its two main responsibilities. The protection bit comes from what is known as the fight or flight response – where the mind detects danger and gets us ready to run or fight. This is done mainly through the production of adrenalin and cortisol – preparing us to fight the danger or to run from it – to protect us.
Fight or flight
But the fight-or-flight response, as explained by Mark Williams and Danny Penman in Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace In a Frantic World, “isn’t conscious – it’s controlled by one of the most ‘primeval’ parts of the brain, which means it’s often a bit simplistic in the way it interprets danger. In fact, it makes no distinction between an external threat, such as a tiger, and an internal one, such as a troubling memory or a future worry. It treats both as threats that either need to be fought off or run away from.”
This means that the mind works in the same way even where there is no real threat or danger. But the effect on the body are the same, the problem being that if we don’t need to fight, we have unhelpful hormones coursing round our body, making us hyperventilate, feel sick and all those feelings we know well.
Breathing can help
A quick way to manage this is to concentrate on our breathing. We might notice when we’re feeling anxious, that our breathing will be shallow and quick. To slow the breathing down, and importantly, make the out breath longer than the in breath makes all the difference. Things can calm things down a bit. This is because that action will trigger the release of positive hormones. Hormones such as endorphins which are known as the restore and renew chemicals. While we are doing this type of breathing it is really important that we breathe right down into our tummy. It helps if we breathe in for the count of 7 and out for the count of 11. Not only does this give us something else to think about, it also ensured that the ‘out’ breath is longer than the ‘in’ breath.
There is often an underlying reason why people feel anxious in certain situations and sometimes people need a bit of help to understand this. Only then can the anxiety really start to change.
Whatever is holding life back, imagine how changing those feelings would help. Then seek out someone with the right skills to help that. There are lots of people out there who can help you to make real changes. Changes for you, changes in thinking and feelings.
I’m always happy to talk if you would like to know more.
Change is possible