I have a lot of clients who suffer from anxiety and happen to know, on a more personal level, how it feels and what it does to a person, physiologically. We’ve all felt a bit anxious from time to time – sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s, taking an important test, going to a job interview…But for some, anxiety can be crippling and cause panic attacks that simulate heart attacks.
A panic attack can cause symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, flushing of the face and chest, feeling the air compressing in on you, feeling like you are going to die, tightening of the chest, and not being aware of what you are saying, just to name a few. Usually, this happens because the person having the experience is relating a particular situation to one that happened prior and generated negative feelings. For example, a person with a fear of public speaking might remember a time in college they had to give a presentation and had a panic attack. Any time after that, having to speak in front of others can generate (or re-generate) that feeling of negativity.
Others might get triggered by something as simple as the grocery store. It might start as a feeling of claustrophobia, combined with bright lights, tiny aisles filled with strangers watching as you walk past. One unpleasant experience in a grocery store could cause a person with anxiety to be horrified of going back to the grocery store.
Once we have felt that extreme level of anxiety in whatever situation, it is our human inclination to merely AVOID that situation… For the rest of your life. Problem solved.
Not so. In fact, the exact opposite is true. The only way to overcome that anxiety is to constantly expose yourself to that very situation that generates it. That person with the fear of public speaking might join Toastmaster’s, in which s/he would have to stand up and speak in front of others on various topics 2-4 times a month. The person who fears the grocery store should find a reason to go every other day, even if they don’t buy anything.
I know what you may be thinking: “Well that answer’s no good!!!” I agree. There ARE no easy answers. However, the more you expose yourself to that thing that gives you anxiety, the less power it will have over you. And there’s a way to help.
I’ve recently read about “anchoring” and have some clients trying it out. I’m trying it out, too! It works kind of like a savings account. Every time you have a good feeling, someone pays you a compliment, you mentally remark on what a nice day it is, or whatever is the case – produce a physical sensation, such as clenching your fist, touching your middle finger to your thumb, or pressing your big toe deep inside your shoe. When you do this, you’re connecting that physical sensation to something positive & putting it into your “positive energy savings account”. The more you do this, the stronger the reaction will be.
You’ll be surprised that the next time you find yourself giving a presentation or going into the grocery store, providing that physical sensation will automatically CONNECT your brain to a positive experience, which then discredits and overpowers the link to the negative.
It’s hard to remember to do this sometimes, so you might try something to remind you. On a day you want to monitor the positive and try it out, maybe switch a ring from one hand to the other or your watch from one wrist to the other to remember. Or try generating your own positive feelings – listening to music you like, dancing, meditating on your favorite place…whatever works for you.
Hope this helps! Have a great day!