Mental Health Awareness Week - Anxiety
A Psycho-sensory approach to transforming anxiety
I’m Andrew Flounders and I’m a Hypnosis and Psycho-Sensory Therapist at Watson House - I specialise in anxiety and panic disorders, trauma and PTSD. As part of Mental Health Awareness Week and want to share some of my specific ways of understanding and transforming anxiety.
How do you know you’re anxious?
That’s usually the first question I ask the many clients who seek out help for Anxiety and Panic Disorders. One of the things that happens when you’re anxious is that you live in your head, you overthink, catastrophise, worry, engage in negative self-talk, you’what-if’ constantly. You also judge yourself, become self-critical, tell yourself you’re stupid for feeling this way, worry about how long it will last, think about the last time you had a panic attack, try and persuade yourself to calm down, to stop being so silly.
That is all what I call the ‘Story’ - the tale you tell yourself about the thing we call anxiety. The Story always follows the ‘State’, the feeling itself. And the story rarely helps, in fact it usually makes it far worst. Anxiety is actually something you DO, not something you HAVE. It is triggered and maintained by a set of thoughts, self talk, imagination, prediction, fear, what if’s and so on.
What is far more helpful in transforming anxiety is to focus on the ‘State’ and ignore the story completely - focus on what is actually happening in your body that creates the feelings and experience of being what you label anxious. Hence the question, how do you KNOW you’re anxious? Once you understand this you can change the state will will then change your thinking as well - and it’s far easier to do that than the other way around.
The answer to ‘how do you know your anxious’ is remarkably similar with all my clients - it’s a feeling in the stomach or chest, it’s a tightness, you feel your heart racing, your breathing can be fast, you feel unsettled, agitated, your muscles are tense, you can feel clammy, your mouth is dry and so on. And the reason the experience is so similar is because its caused by your Autonomic Nervous System and is basically ‘fight or flight’ - a survival response. It’s a perfectly natural and highly effective response for getting out of danger, the problem is that in our modern lifestyle ‘danger’ is complex and difficult to escape - it’s rarely a direct threat from a wild animal or angry tribe, it’s more likely to be the cost of living, the mortgage, relationship issues, exams, performance worries, depression, social media, fear of rejection, worthlessness, trauma. We are supposed to feel anxious sometimes, it’s normal, but it’s supposed to go away as quickly as it arose as soon as the threat is gone. This isn’t always the case in modern life. Then it becomes a problem.
So, what do you do once you’ve identified the state? Once you’ve answered the ‘how do you KNOW you're anxious’ question? Once you know exactly what the feeling is, where in your body it is and what’s happening? Well, you transform the state into something far more useful, something you want and something that is a resource for you. How? - Here are a handful of really effective ways to do that:
CHANGE YOUR BREATHING
‘Control the Breath - Control the Mind’. When anxious your breathing naturally becomes shallow and fast, ready for action to avoid danger. If you control your breathing it sends a reverse signal to the brain that you are calm. Two particularly effective ways to do this are:
Box Breathing. For this you breath in a 4 second cycle: Breath IN for 4 seconds, HOLD for 4 seconds, Breath OUT for 4 seconds seconds, HOLD for 4 seconds and repeat. Keep it comfortable and calm.
Heartfelt Breathing: Breath IN for 5 seconds and Breath OUT for 5 seconds, again comfortable and calm. Imagine you are breathing in through your heart area and FOCUS on the OUT breath, feel the relaxation of the OUT breath. When you are comfortable with the breathing pattern focus your attention on something you appreciate or are grateful for.
CHANGE THE COLOUR
Once you’ve identified the feeling of anxiety give it a colour, a temperature and a weight (black, cold and heavy for example). Now, breath in for the count of 5 and breath out for the count of 5 nice and comfortably and focus on the out-breath. Now think of a time when you felt your absolute best, your most confident or calm, notice where in your body that feeling is and give it a colour, a temperature and a weight (yellow, warm and light for example). Focus on that feeling and colour and as you breath in for the count of 5 and out for the count of 5 imagine that new colour and feeling spreading throughout your body with each breath. Now notice where the anxiety has gone?
CHANGE THE SELF-TALK
Self-Talk - catastrophising conversations in our head are a really effective way of doing anxiety. If you find yourself doing this focus on the voice in your head - who’s voice is it? How does it sound? Where in your head do you hear it? Now change it - slow it right down, repeat the catastrophising statements in a slow ‘bedtime story’ voice, a reassuring calming story voice - notice how it changes the feeling.
If you want to talk to me about your own anxiety and what I can do for you, I offer a fully complimentary Consultation that you can book through Watson House