Does anxiety keep knocking on the door of your life and have you tried opening the door?
When we stop trying to push back the discomfort of anxious thoughts, and open up to possibilities around where they may originate from, and what they are associating with today, we can find they become less impactful, resolving even to a manageable level. This is important for a number of reasons:
- lessens the strength and impact of mental discomfort and turbulence
- reduces the physiological impact on our body from the unwarranted emotions
- minimises the time anxious thought and those less healthy emotions are held
- teaches, via a re-mapping of the brain and mind, to make redundant incorrect and default states which lead to default rapid onset anxiety
The challenge is, of course, how do we begin to make sense – when our senses are being battered?
Self-awareness and thinking about our thoughts will help, but to do this, we have to create space; that means slowing down a little and taking notice of exactly what our senses really detect in the moment, this present moment!
When the individual is overwhelmed, it is useful to seek help from someone impartial and non-judgmental, such as can be found from within talking therapies and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). Others may benefit from accessing the vast resources available across the internet.
When we rush around ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’ – because we can (at least for a definable period) we may find it difficult to be aware of what we our feeling and what our body is telling us. We’re numb to these signals that will otherwise become clear, obvious; wonderful signals advising us to take care, “consider what I’m telling you, this knot in your stomach is important, please listen!”
That knot in your stomach, akin to ‘butterflies’ is usually a result of the blood supply to our digestive system closing down and being diverted to the structures deemed necessary for the fight-or-flight situation. Sometimes, just sometimes, that is useful. However, when this state is reached inappropriately – and frequently, this can genuinely have an adverse effect on both our psychological and physiological longer-term health.
Physiological changes occur in our body as a direct result of that which we think!
Our thoughts create signals to be sent out to our body, based on what those thoughts believe is around us, cognitions, or re-cognitions that may be useful and accurate – such as the very real threat of a vehicle bearing down on us as we cross the road – to the less helpful reminder of a past event that whilst appropriate distress was understood then, may be inaccurate in the new moment – nothing more than a similarity, but one that as an incorrect re-cognition, we may re-act as then, subsequently behaving incorrectly, as a result of that stimulus.
When we do this enough, we create pathways in the brain that become the default anxiety transmitting processes. This leads to over-reactions, such as in phobia, anger, overt stress responses which not only leave us feeling mentally uncomfortable, it literally affects our bodies at a cellular level, leading to fatigue, poor diet, low moods, poor communications and performance; ultimately, to become immuno-suppressed, more susceptible to illness, from common colds, to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart conditions – and possibly even cancers.
It is possible to re-map our brains.
It was thought, until recent times, that once the brain had started to become mal-adaptive, leading to failing performance – all was lost. This would be the case, it was thought, until the organism dies. The term now coined ‘neuro-plasticity’ has over-turned what we once thought to be. We now know that we can alter the basic structures of the brain by thinking and behaving in ways we once did, as unconditioned children perhaps!
When we re-learn to ‘let go’, worry less, and see life in the moment, with clarity – and when we practice this enough, for even a matter of weeks, the structures of our brain begins to measurably change, we can make areas frequently concerned with anxiety, more redundant. This doesn’t mean of course that we will lose the ability to be anxious, etc, even when inappropriate sometimes, but we can reduce the unwarranted reactions to stimuli that provides unnecessary reference to a past long since gone.
One of the more debilitating illnesses across the spectrum associated with anxiety is found in those suffering from Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). In this group, the thoughts are more regularly and consistently of negative ruminations about the future. The thoughts may appear to come out of nowhere and are distressing, interfering with usual daily activities including sleep, diet, relationships, work and socialising, yet the ‘concerns’ often appear ‘trite’ to the casual observer.
GAD is different and unique from our usual worrying tendencies:
- anxieties will preoccupy the person, appearing uncontrollable
- these anxieties can be persistent, lasting in duration from onset
- physical changes may become apparent
GAD may leave the person:
- finding it difficult to make decisions
- struggling to interact
- feeling desperate
- avoiding situations
The treatment of GAD requires consideration of both pharmacological and psychological involvement, though for some, both will be less necessary. Ruling out biological factors is highly preferable, so a GP should be involved and the question put to the physician, “Can we rule out physical cause?”
If medication is decided and agreed upon, a talking therapy, ideally with some components of CBT, will still be necessary. In fact the provision of talking therapy has been shown to provide significant results, equal to that of medication – often however, it may be provided in conjunction.
The focus of CBT is to reduce the disabling thoughts leading to hyper-arousal and associated muscle-tension. Using a number of strategies, adapted and agreed upon with the patient, a strategy may consist of some or all of the following, among other possibilities:
- ruling out biological causation – via GP
- considering medication
- considering past events
- education around ‘why’ and ‘how’ we can think about our thoughts
- exploring current thoughts and behaviours
- learning relaxation techniques and coping strategies
- exposure therapy, where agreed and appropriate, to specific external stressors
- goal setting and measuring of progress
The duration of therapy, regardless of model used, can be anything from a minimum of six one hour sessions to more than twenty! The willingness to engage and the severity of symptoms will determine largely the level of attainment and value. Both client and therapist will know when the duration between sessions can be increased – and ultimately ended, with a caveat of ensuring ad-hoc sessions can be made available in the case of re-emergence of symptoms deemed unmanageable by the individual.
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Bob Brotchie is a counsellor, mindset consultant and creator of "Conscious Living by Design"™. He writes for Anglia Counselling, is featured on various other websites and introduces us to many guest writers all covering topics related to mental health and wellbeing.
Bob provides bespoke counselling services to individuals and couples in the privacy and comfort of a truly welcoming environment at his Anglia Counselling company office, located near Newmarket in Suffolk, England. Bob also provides professional online counselling, for local, national, and international clients. The therapeutic models offered are bespoke to the client’s needs, especially those in receipt of 'childhood emotional neglect' (CEN), whilst integrating a mindful approach to psychotherapy and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) principles. For clients experiencing trauma and/or phobia, Bob offers EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing).