We are all familiar with the fight-or-flight response – heart racing, fast breathing, sweaty hands, shaking… and some of us are extra familiar with it, because that’s precisely what we experience when anxiety gets out of control, and our bodies respond as if we’d just noticed a very real and physical threat a few steps away.
It is no surprise that your brain sends your body urgent messages to prepare for action – after all, your ancestors got their genes to survive all the way down the centuries to you by being anxious, and therefore successful at avoiding those temperamental woolly rhinos loitering around by the river. It is comforting to remember that anxiety is an efficient survival mechanism which has allowed you to be alive today – so please do take a second to thank your diligent brain, before you set about convincing it that there is no rhino in sight.
There are many avenues to lessen anxiety – for example, hypnotherapy, NLP and EFT are particularly effective because they tackle feelings directly, as opposed to trickling down to the emotional level through your thoughts. And there’s a lot that you can do to help yourself, when you notice those first signs of anxiety setting in.
One way to do this is to realise that there’s a feedback loop between the brain and the body: in the same way that your brain tells your body that it’s time to prepare for action, your body also sends signals back to your brain, in a circular process – and we can make sure that those signals show your brain that it’s completely safe to relax.
So how does your body behave when you’re relaxed? Your posture is open. You smile. You talk softly and calmly. Your breathing is deep and slow. Very much the opposite of the sensations we experience when in the grip of anxiety.
And that’s the plan of action, next time you feel anxious. It might be hard to start with, but open up, smile, breathe slowly (keep the outbreath longer than the outbreath): this tells your brain that all is well, and it can stop the emergency protocol. If you have chewing gum handy, do chew it – the fact you’re producing saliva tricks your brain into believing that you’re just about to tuck into some delicious food… definitely not something you’d do with a rhino frowning over your shoulder.
And see what happens. You’ll be surprised! Let your brain take its clues from your body. Give it time; keep at it until the anxiety subsides. Enjoy calm gradually coming back, clarity returning to your thoughts, together with the sweet, welcome feeling that you’re not powerless. You’ve got this.