To begin to understand anxiety it is important to understand why it happens and what is actually happening physically within your body. Anxiety or worry is the body’s way of helping, from getting ready to FREEZE, FLEE, FLIGHT or FIGHT a “bear” or some real danger.
In response to this the autonomic nervous system produces your fight or flight response. This is designed to help you defend yourself or run away from danger. When you are under stress or anxious, this system kicks into action, and physical symptoms can appear such as headaches, muscle tightness particularly in the neck, shortness of breath, shakiness, nausea, or stomach pain, irritable bowel Syndrome (IBS).
So often there is no real danger, it is simply our spiralling, fearful thinking that has caused this physical reaction within our body. This thinking usually comes from past experiences, familiar patterns of thinking and every time we do this we strengthen the connections in our brains, the neural pathways. These thoughts must be recognised, challenged and be replaced with a new way to create new thought patterns and new neural pathways in our brain.
When I really started to understand this concept of “anxiety starts with a thought” my life changed. When I really understood that it was my thoughts that were causing these awful, debilitating physical symptoms in my body and that my thoughts were not real! I could actually choose them! I felt empowered, excited and able to challenge and choose thoughts that created calmness in my body.
Thoughts are not real. If you imagine a green monkey sitting next to you it can become very vivid in your imagination, but it will never be real. Real is what you can feel, see, touch, taste etc. It may seem real but it is not real and you must give yourself this truthful and honest suggestion because your mind is very suggestible (it listens to everything you tell it). When you feel any anxiety or worry present or building it is vital you tell yourself the truth that thoughts are not real, to stay in the present moment, by looking around, what is happening right now and change any what if’s…to what is! The quicker you challenge these thoughts the easier it is to stop them spiralling into your usual patterns of unhelpful anxious thinking.
During anxiety, stress, panic your body is telling you “it’s time for an emergency right now”, which switches off the part of your brain that thinks logically, creates and enjoys. In this state you cannot clearly think, or create in a positive way or enjoy life, or see possibilities.
So you may think, well how do I do this? You need to do two very important things, firstly, create safety in your system, by breathing, more slowly and more deeply. This switches the nervous systems from sympathetic – fight and flight, to parasympathetic – rest and digest. Only when in the parasympathetic nervous system and bodily calm is the mind then rational and able to assess accurately. Secondly, you need to challenge these thoughts. The antidote to anxiety, worry and panic is accurate thinking. Ask yourself what is accurate and truthful in this very moment? The past is gone and the future has not happened yet, you only have this moment in time. You cannot control the future, no-one can but you can learn to think on purpose and accurately.