The 3 Biggest Mistakes Anxiety Sufferers Make

“It was the most horrendous, sickening moment of my life. A sense of doom, palpitations, sweating and derealisation. I just wanted to escape”.

Those were the words of a client of mine, a school teacher in a private school having a full-blown panic attack, in front of her students.

Anxiety is endemic, no matter your age or profession, it can happen to anyone. The good news is that you can do better than manage it, you can recover.

These days our workload is immense, our lives are too fast, causing stress (a perceived demand which exceeds our perceived ability to cope) to accelerate. Stress can quickly become chronic, and then it’s a precursor to anxiety, so we need to be aware of this and deal with it as soon as possible.

Mistake 1 – Hiding

Often, people (professional men in particular) don’t seek help until they’re at breaking point. Usually, they have a sense of shame about experiencing anxiety, perceiving it as a weakness, to remain hidden from colleagues and bosses. Instead, own up to it.

Mistake 2 – Believing it’s who you are (Identity)

That’s when you think “I have to live with it, it’s who I am” or “I’ve tried lots of therapies and other stuff and nothing works”. Trust me, you can recover from anxiety.

Mistake 3 – Ruminating

There’s a part of the brain (cerebellum) where, when we learn something and we don’t have to think about it anymore, making a cup of tea, driving, etc, it goes into this part of the brain as an automatic behaviour and the only way to change it is consciously and deliberately.

That’s why rumination and talking about your anxieties will only reinforce them.

Talking therapies have a role to play, but after seeing hundreds of sufferers, I’ve found that anxiety requires a holistic, multi-modal approach. I also use neuroscience, physiology and/or hypnosis, to “rewire” the brain. I’m sure most of you have heard of neuroplasticity, meaning the brain is malleable, so we can train the brain to reconfigure, as it were, to reprogramme.

I’m currently writing a book called “The End of Anxiety”, and a big section is on physiology. You see, when we start to feel panicky, some therapies suggest to “challenge the thought”, but often it takes too long, or we are already passed that stage. So instead, when we experience that feeling of impending doom or those awful physical symptoms, talking just doesn’t cut it, we have to DO something, physically.

Here is one highly effective exercise:

  • Start a timer for 60 seconds.
  • Stand up.
  • Keep head level and take your eyes right upto the ceiling.
  • Put a huge smile on your face.
  • Take your arms wide and clap
  • Keep clapping, eyes up, whilst saying outloud “YES, YES, YES”
  • Do this for 60 seconds (that’s how long tostart rewiring)
  • Stop the clapping but keep the smile for awhile as you carry on with your life.

The smile and the position of your eyes activate a part of the brain that is more positive and makes you feel more confident.

60 seconds is how long it takes to begin re-wiring the brain.

I’ve taught this exercise to many people, including executives and students before their exams. The reason it works so well is that physiology is the quickest way to change your internal state.

Anytime we can access a feeling of positivity, confidence, stability we are already taking control and when that gets ‘wired’ in we feel so much better, it becomes part of us, our Identity.

Please note the exercise must be done many times throughout the day, and over weeks, to be wired into the nervous system and it’s just part of my system of recovering from anxiety.

Neuropathways in the brain are like muscles in the body, you wouldn’t expect to go to the gym once and have a fantastically toned and strong body, would you?

Same with the brain, we have to get the good, positive neurons firing together instead of the old negative anxious ones. The neuroscientists say “neurons that fire together wire together.”

It is, indeed, a good habit to see the brain in the same way you see exercise for your body, mental health needs the same care and workouts, otherwise, the neurons become ‘flabby’, for want of a better analogy.

Something else you can try and begin to ‘wire’ in, is when you start to have a “what if…” thought, e.g. “what if I don’t get that piece of work finished tomorrow?”. You must become good at catching the thought quickly as it only takes 4 seconds for a negative thought to take ‘hold’ and be re-inforced, whereas a positive thought takes up to 60 seconds. See the thought outside of yourself and say (out loud if you are alone) with eyes up, “If X (the ‘what if’ thought) were to happen then I’d deal with it, but right now I’m doing Y (having a cup of tea, sending an email, etc). Then come back into the ‘now’ and get BUSY, remember rumination is what keeps anxiety thriving.

For more tools and strategies on anxiety, I have a free “Anxiety Buster, Confidence Booster” podcast, and an “Eliminating Anxiety” talk/ workshop available to groups/organisations. – 07958 341 475

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