What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a specific kind of fear. It only lives in one situation only….the future. Anxiety is the expectation of something happening in the future, in a way that we don’t want.

Anxiety is the, ‘What if…..’ emotion. What if we don’t make it? What if they are angry? What if I can’t do it?  What if they laugh at me?

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It can affect men and women of all ages, like Susan, a 42-year-old mother of two beautiful daughters. Susan has a life that most women would dream of. She has a loving husband with a secure and lucrative job which allows them all the luxuries of life from a beautiful home, luxury cars, to wonderful family holidays. She tells me she has been a bit of a worrier since the birth of her first child 14 years ago. The worrying turned to anxiety and the anxiety has now escalated to panic attacks.

She now finds she cannot even bring herself to drive to the supermarket for fear of having a panic attack.

Susan is not alone. 14% of Australians are affected by anxiety and it’s on the increase.

Mild anxiety is often first experienced as a feeling in the stomach, from a feeling of butterflies to a sense of real dread. Panic attacks on the other hand are characterised by shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, feelings associated, palpitations, sweating to name but a few of the symptoms.

So what is going on in your mind during an anxiety attack and how does that create these symptoms?

If we use the model of a conscious and an unconscious mind we can explain this quite easily. Let’s define these two parts of the mind. The conscious mind consists of everything you are conscious of i.e. everything we notice at any one time. The unconscious mind contains everything else, everything you’re not aware of. Take for example your breathing. You are not normally consciously aware of your breathing, yet it continues to happen without you even thinking about it.

You can consciously become aware of your breathing and you can even alter your breathing consciously but most of the time it is under the control of your unconscious mind. Imagine your unconscious mind is a five year old brother or sister of yours, looking after all the functions of your body, your emotions, your memories, your desires and your fears. I say a five year old child because five year olds are unable to discern what is real and what is not real. If you tell a five year old that a purple gorilla comes out of the bushes and falls asleep on your front lawn every night, a five year old will believe you. That’s like your unconscious mind, it believes everything you tell it.

Here’s how this works. Let me ask you, have you ever watched something scary on TV? Did it make you jump? We’ve all had the experience of reacting to something in TV show or movie. Let’s imagine a werewolf suddenly appeared on the screen when we weren’t expecting it. We jump, maybe scream or at least take a sharp intake of breath. Why is that? We know that it’s not real. We know that it is an actor in a costume, that there is a set with cameras, lights, a director and probably a food truck. We feel the shock because our unconscious mind, our ‘five year old’, believed we were in danger and activated the fight or flight system.

Fight or Flight?

The fight or flight system is there to protect us. It is meant to be activated when we are in a life-threatening situation, like being chased by a lion. If you were chased by a lion he would need to run away as fast as humanly possible. To do this we would need our muscles to work at their optimum level and all other energy reserves transferred to the muscles.

Our amazing body does this by squirting adrenaline into our blood which increases our heart-rate and our blood pressure. Adrenaline also squeezes the blood vessels in our gut, which reduces the blood around the digestive system and pushes it out towards the muscles. This is why we often feel anxiety and nervousness in the pit of our stomach. But blood without oxygen is no use to us,  so the adrenaline also causes certain muscles in the neck to tighten, lifting the rib cage so that we can take in more oxygen.

If we are not using all this extra energy from the fight flight response, we have a problem. The heart is racing, the blood pressure is high and too much oxygen causes your blood to become alkaline which leads to a whole cascade of symptoms eventually ending in a feeling of dread or even a panic attack.

So what can we do about it?

Well the good new is that we can use the very thing that caused the anxiety, to conquer anxiety, the fact that your unconscious mind believes whatever you tell it.

Let’s take the example of anxiety at the thought of giving a presentation to a group. An anxious person expects the worst. They may say to themselves “What if I shake and they see it?”, “What if I forget my speech?”, “What if they are not interested or they laugh at me?”.  Their unconscious mind panics and starts the fight flight process. Now if we make the assumption that this person cannot tell the future then these fears must be made up, complete fiction with little or no relevance to reality.

If we are happy to make up fictional outcomes in our minds then what would happen if we made up a positive outcome?

Best Possible Outcome

Here is a task you can do everyday.  It’s called “The Best Possible Outcome”.

Every night before you go to bed (or you can do it first thing in the morning), write out best possible outcomes for the day ahead. Just make it up. See it, hear it and feel it. Imagine the day working out perfectly with everyone giving you a big smile, people thanking you for doing a great job, getting to work on time, all your tasks completed on time. Maybe even your boss or partner presenting you with a beautiful bunch of flowers as gold tinsel drops from above.  Not realistic?  Neither was you imagining the worst possible outcome.

Do this task every day for 30 days consecutively.  If you miss a day – start again.  You will begin to notice how your thoughts change as you program your mind into habitually focus on the positive. Just like you used to as a child.

How to Overcome Anxiety

The ‘Overcome Anxiety’ online course is an easy to follow on-line program, that is available to you anywhere at any time and shares proven techniques to teach you how to beat anxiety so you can stop the ‘worry cycle’, let go of your fears and start living again.

Anxiety has mental, emotional and physical components. ‘Overcome Anxiety’ covers all three components giving you a holistic approach to overcoming anxiety.

 

 

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