You have two minds. Your critical conscious mind and your habitual subconscious. Your subconscious mind controls your anxious thoughts and feelings because it is quite simply what it is there to do. When you are suffering from anxiety your habitual subconscious is doing its job of keeping you safe and very often it gets it wrong.
The physical and mental symptoms of anxiety are difficult to bear, but here is one of the answers to changing how you feel and that is you have to learn to resist the temptation to fight your thoughts and feelings and instead embrace them. See them quite simply for what they very often are FEAR – false evidence appearing real.
Anxiety in its simplest form is the fear of something, whether real or imagined and it is the survival mechanism which has been handed down from generation to generation via DNA. Your ancient ancestors only had to deal with fighting for survival from the sabre-toothed tiger, hunting for food and procreating. You, on the other hand, have to deal with a myriad of things quite alien to your subconscious, like driving in the rush hour, fighting for your place in the modern-day rat race of life, being something you are not comfortable being, how many friends you have on social media and the list goes on. Therefore, the only course of action to your subconscious is to deal out bucket loads of anxiety because it doesn’t recognise what is bad and what is good. But, remember you didn’t choose it, it chose you.
But, you must also understand that feeling anxious about something is not necessarily a bad thing, because those thoughts and feelings can be a warning sign that something is definitely not right and you could be in real danger and that is what I mean when I suggest that you embrace your anxiety, work with it and not against it.
I’d like to leave you with some hacks in relation to working with and not against your anxiety.
#1 – When the anxious thoughts and feelings overwhelm you breath in and out through your stomach, not through your chest as this will exacerbate the anxiousness. This technique can be difficult to master, but once you do it will be instant relief from your anxious thoughts and feelings.
Settle yourself quietly in an armchair or you can do this exercise lying down, though sitting is slightly better). Now place your hands, one over the other, on your solar plexus just above your navel and relax as much as you can for a few moments. Breathe normally, that is, without thinking about it – if you force it you might induce hyperventilation and that can make you feel quite lightheaded. As you breathe in each time, you should feel it through your hands as your stomach rises and falls gently with each breath. If you don’t feel your hands moving then you are breathing by using the chest muscles and it has been shown that this can actually increase anxiety levels considerably. So, it’s a good idea to practice ‘stomach breathing’ whenever you can to lower your general anxiety. The only times it would be ‘normal’ to breathe via the chest would be:
• During physical exertion.
• As a response to genuine fear triggering the ‘fight or flight’ response.
#2 – Napoleon Hill (1883 – 1970) once said: ‘What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.’
It is one of life’s great truths that you cannot know how you would be if you were not as you are – so you need to make sure that you know how you want to be before you start the process of change! Begin by thinking about how you really want to be.
Read the instructions on how to do the exercise, so you know exactly what you need to do.
Think of a situation which makes you feel uncomfortable, and one which if you had to talk about would cause you discomfort or embarrassment (we all have something buried way that we would rather not remember). It is really important to the success of the exercise that you get to grips with the situation and feel fully involved in it, even if it conquers up some unwanted thoughts and feelings, and despite how unwanted or uncomfortable it might be to experience those thoughts and feelings, don’t fight them.
Close your eyes
Thinking of how you want to be, see or imagine yourself as if you are watching yourself from the outside (that’s called ‘dissociated’) on a short video clip. Make it vivid. When you can see that clearly in your mind’s eye, or just vividly think it, then shift the focus so that it is as if you were actually there seeing what you would see and hearing what you might hear and smelling what you might be smelling (which is called ‘associated’).
Do that several times until it stops getting easier – in other words, until you can do it without having to think too hard about it. There’s no need to rush. This is not a race and you need ‘thorough rather than fast’. So, to recap:
1. Think of a situation where you feel uncomfortable.
2. Vividly imagine how you would like to be.
3. See yourself in dissociated mode.
4. See yourself in associated mode.
5. Repeat from (3) until it feels easy.
The more you practise this exercise the easier it will get to use it in any situation you might find yourself in.