Your Friend, Anxiety
By Hope Pugh
Uneasiness, excessive fear, obsessive worry, repetitive thoughts, problems concentrating, shortness of breath, tight chest, knots in your stomach, an inability to be still and calm, numbness, nausea, fear of going completely crazy…..
Any of the above feel familiar? I know they do to me.
These are the common experiences of anxiety - inhabiting our mind and controlling our thoughts and fears.
I'm sure all of us can relate to having experienced the crippling effect of anxiety at some point in our daily lives.
It may be through stress at work, like working long hours or dealing with a big project. It might be balancing money priorities or navigating common ups and downs of relationships, social struggles or the stress of raising a family. It might be stress from emotional trauma such as the loss of a loved one, general life shift and changes or dealing with medical issues. And, of course, it might be the daily pressures many of us women face in this modern world expected to balance family, work, social life all while looking like a movie star.
Yes I hear you all:
ARE YOU KIDDING ME! HOW IS THIS EVEN POSSIBLE...?!
(Sobbing into our glasses of wine...)
Okay, so the first thing I’m going to do is let you all in on a little secret…
This thing called 'Anxiety'... It is very normal and common to experience. Yes, you heard me right...
You're not broken or going crazy!
Working with the classic ‘Knowledge is Power’, the first step I take in working with my clients is to help them understand what on earth this 'Anxiety' (often appearing to the party with no invitation!) actually is.
In order for us to gain power over our body, mind and experiences we first need the knowledge that feeds this power.
So here goes…..
Anxiety is our survival system!
You see, since the earliest days of humanity, the approach of predators and incoming danger has set off alarms in our body and allowed us to take evasive action. A rush of adrenaline in response to danger causes these reactions. This adrenaline boost is known as the fight or flight response.
When it occurs, our body releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These are the little buggers that cause the often scary and annoying physical symptoms I mentioned at the start. However, it is this that helped humans survive under harsh and dangerous conditions.
So... this makes sense back in the stone age, but why is this fight/flight visiting us now as modern women when running from large animals and imminent danger is less of a concern?
Firstly, this survival system is already biologically built within all of us. Secondly, there is still danger apparent, except instead of sabre-toothed tigers, we know it better as ‘The Modern World’.
This modern day predator can appear as the stresses and pressures revolved around work, money, family, health, body issues and social expectations all providing a platform for anxiety to be alive and kicking within all of us.
So, now that you have the knowledge and understanding of what anxiety is, why it occurs, and the effects it can have on us, the next step is to look at how we can use this knowledge as power.
Power to make sure this survival system only occurs when it is needed instead of being active in controlling and running our daily lives.
I'm about to tell you a key to obtaining this power… And I won't be surprised if your first thought is...
‘Right, she is totally ca-raaazy...'
...Are you ready for this?
Anxiety is your friend!
(Yep, you heard me right! I did say friend.)
I want you to take a moment to close your eyes and imagine someone in your life past or present that looks out for you and warns you when something is wrong.
They aim to protect you, keep you out of trouble, remind you of all the things you have to get done and may sometimes be on the cautious side: warning you away from taking too many risks, helping you deal with difficult situations and making wise decisions.
Can you see someone in your mind like that or who has played that role for you?
This is the role of your anxiety. It is a friend that has probably often helped you without you even realising. It is our friend, anxiety, who warns us to modulate, to think of alternative behaviours and to re-evaluate.
The problem is that this well intentioned friend can begin to get ‘too friendly’ and ‘over-protective’. It can trigger too easily, when it is not needed or by mis-reading the situation...
Just in the same way that some friends and relatives can worry too much about us and be over protective.
It is at this point that we need to learn how to manage this friendship with anxiety and remind it that we are in control.
The first step in doing this is giving your anxiety a name, an identity.
If you could imagine it as a person, what kind of person would it be? What gender? What might it look or sound like? And give it a name accordingly.
My anxiety is called Annie - 'Anxious Annie'.
As soon as you name this part of yourself it can often feel instantly less monstrous and more human. Using your inner voice, talk to it like a friend.
Start with saying:
Thank You for ‘trying’ to warn you,
Accept that it is there wanting to help,
Gently ask what it is trying to say to you or warn you about,
Then take a moment to gently remind it (and yourself) to keep things in perspective,
Ask yourself if the warning is a true representation of a current and real danger or if it is an over reaction, over protectiveness or a misread situation,
Use humour - ’ohh its you again!’ Humour is not perceived in your subconscious as a threat or an attack, so the intense subconscious reaction to your anxiety is decreased.
This might sound a bit wacky, but studies have shown that talking to yourself in the third person is a highly effective way of reducing emotional intensity.
Speak reassuringly in a soft and kind voice just as you would to a small, frightened child. Frightened children do not respond well to being ignored or yelled at, so how can we expect our friend anxiety to react positively when we treat it in this way? The more you take time to accept it, listen to what it's saying and try to understand it, the calmer it will become and the less power it will hold over you.
From this you may even be able to discover that anxiety is not only a friend but that it can also be used as a powerful resource that helps you accomplish your goals, helps us make wise decisions and feel more confident.