Anxiety is a healthy part of everyday life. We need a healthy level of anxiety to manage risk, it’s a survival mechanism from our caveman days when it stopped us from barging in on tigers in caves, from eating poisonous berries or from over exposing ourselves to the elements. Nowadays it stops us from barging into our bosses office and asking for a weekly raise, from eating junk food to excess or crossing the road without looking.
I clearly remember this safety mechanism kicking when I was about to bungee jump for the first (and last) time. I stood on the ledge I remember my head trying to compel myself to take that thrilling leap but every part of my inner being was screaming at me to stay safely on solid ground. Did I leap? Well I had had a bit of practice at this stage to know that whilst our inner instincts seek to protect us that sometimes this resistance is based upon fear rather than being founded in the reality of the here and now.
So I stepped off the edge and had one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. Looking back I could have quite easily stayed on the edge indefinitely, stuck between that wrenching place of wanting to leap and wanting to stay safe. I just knew though if I wanted to get more out of life I needed to push past my fear and open myself up to something totally outside my comfort zone.
Difficulty is a part of life, everyone’s life. Some people have really significant and traumatic events happen to them, others might have had a string of smaller yet stressful and unpredictable events occur. If you have not had the opportunity or assistance to process these challenging situations they can become stuck in our psyche and as a protective mechanism our anxiety goes into overdrive. This can be experienced by people in the form of hyper vigilance, constant and intrusive worry, a propensity for control, panic attacks, physical pain, headaches, sleeplessness, constricted breathing and more.
Left unchecked anxiety can take you into an endless abyss feeling hopeless and helpless. I have personally crawled out of the pit of anxiety several times in my life and know first hand the effort that it takes to climb your way out. There is a poignant poem by Portia Nelson that I love called “There’s a hole in my sidewalk” that captures the essence of the progression so beautifully.
So how can you overcome anxiety?
- Breathe …
Again a very normal physiological part of the fight, flight or freeze response is shallow breathing. I would estimate that 95% of the people I see on a daily basis are unconsciously shallow breathing and a further 80% of these people have been shallow breathing for so long that they struggle to return to deep slow breathing. It takes deliberate, repetitive practice to regain control of your breathing. By practicing slowly breathing in, pausing for a second and then slowly breathing out we are sending a clear message to our nervous system that danger has passed and that it is safe to return to normal functioning.
2. Acknowledge that while some things happen that are out of our control, most things are in our control.
It really rocks our foundation when things come out of left field and totally turns the world as we know it upside down. Whilst we may not feel that we can depend on the world in the same way again this is not necessarily a bad thing. Rather than being at the mercy of universal fluctuations we can begin to start to garner some control over our lives, sometimes for the very first time in our lives. It is this very reason that it can feel so hard to shift out of the pit of anxiety, because we are building our capacity and stamina for control over our lives like never before. It is an exquisite combination of exhausting and exhilarating. But I guarantee you it’s worth it!
3. Revamp rumination patterns
So many wise and intelligent people I know have ruminated themselves into ruins! We try to preempt and protect ourselves from anything that may go wrong but in the end leaves us in such a heightened state of anxiety that it disables and debilitates any attempt towards problem solving. There are a number of ways to challenge rumination and I find that everyone ruminates in different ways so it is important to have a multifaceted approach to combat it. Challenging unhelpful thoughts, building resilience and structured worry times are all useful techniques to relieve rumination. You might even find that a couple of sessions with a counsellor can help you identify your unique pattern of worry so that you can then create a personalised plan that will work quickly and effectively for you.
4. Delve into any underlying depression
I frequently find that depression and anxiety are intricately intertwined, they dance together with one or the other taking centre stage depending upon the energy levels or triggers of the individual. They usually co exist together and while we are becoming better at broaching the subject of depression we still have a long way to go as a society in effectively identifying and treating the natural fluctuations of mental health. It is still far more acceptable to be stressed and anxious than down and depressed. Frequently I see many people who have depression masquerading as anxiety. It’s important to gently and respectfully attend to both in order to make significant gains in finding lasting happiness and peace.
5. Seek out compassionate support
Nobody can entirely regulate their own emotions for their whole lives. No-one! We all need support, comfort, guidance and a listening ear from time to time. Most definitely choose wisely, when you are feeling vulnerable you don’t want to open your heart to someone who will be insensitive, minimise your experience or be downright hurtful when you are already overwhelmed. Having a trusted person to witness and support you through tough times can be incredibly healing and can release you from the grips of anxiety for long enough for balance, insight and hope to return.
Anxiety can be like quicksand the more you battle with it the further you sink. Instead reach out for something or someone so that you can pull yourself out, dust yourself off and step into the life you deserve to live.
If you or someone else you know are struggling with worry or anxiety call me for a free 15 minute consultation. Sometimes that leap of faith is all you need to take to get started on freeing yourself from the angst of anxiety.