ANXIETY – NOT the enemy?

Anxiety, anxiety, anxiety……. you don’t want it, you dread it, it makes your body feel very uncomfortable, it stops you doing good things you might otherwise do, it can also save your life – “sorry, WHAT…?”

Anxiety symptoms are very like Stress symptoms.

Stress is good for us: It is what gets us up in the mornings, if we never experienced any stress we would not have evolved as a species in the ways we have. It helps us to be creative, it helps us to learn, to accomplish goals, it helps us to interact with others and assists us in many other ways, and yes it can save our lives in emergencies.

Stress is the fight or flight function that is triggered by your brain when it perceives danger. However – sometimes when there is no danger at all and the symptoms (of hyper-arousal), are present and you don’t fight or flee but remain frozen, and give in to the feelings of fear anyway, Stress can turn into Anxiety.

Avoidance becomes Anxiety’s best friend.

But I wonder how it would be if we made Anxiety our ‘friend’?

Consider this scenario:

Imagine the person feeling the terror in his tummy, in his racing heart, and in his tense shoulders at the top of the roller-coaster which, against his better judgement, he was talked into riding? The ‘car’ has travelled a little distance, gaining speed on the flat before accelerating up the first hill. Tantalisingly, perhaps cruelly, it slows down a little right at the first hill crest, giving just enough seconds for the stomach clenching and sweaty palm sensations to take hold… And then – and then – – – – – Oh that wonderful feeling of relief and release as the ‘car’ races madly down, down the hill, faster and faster to the very bottom of the ride. And then – and then it begins to travel back up to the next crest. But now you are ready for it, you know those tummy rolling sensations just add to that greater feeling of release as, now even with laughter, you swoop down again. Without that tension, that stress in your mind and body, you would not experience that wonderful thrill of overcoming the fear and feeling the release of all tension, as the ‘crisis’ is over.

That can be like accepting your anxiety, even inviting it to bring it on, in order to release it, to defeat it by your own activation.

Avoidance: Remember that behaviour which is Anxiety’s best friend?

Now imagine the person alone in that ‘car’, which has just reached the crest of the hill, who knows he simply cannot face the downward ride. He is able to pull the emergency cord which stops the ‘car’. There he is tottering, teetering right on the top of that mechanical hill, terrified to look forward. Perhaps he tries to get out of the car in order to go back, to retreat away from the forward impulsion. There he is, trying to climb on the rails behind the ‘car’, he will not go forward with the car, he is effectively FROZEN in fear.

Avoidance = Increasing Fear, feeling ‘frozen’ while Anxiety

takes a greater hold, not just this time, but the next, and THE NEXT.

So back to life saving: I will tell a story to illustrate:

I once fell asleep whilst driving. I have little detailed memory of the event except opening my eyes as the car was bouncing along a rough verge and seeing a huge tree trunk filling the view from my windscreen. The next thing I was aware of was being safely parked at the side of the road, most of the left hand side of the car all but ripped off. Stress saved my life. Had I begun to think logically on opening my eyes, I would probably have crashed into the tree trunk, been severely injured or killed.

Logical thinking takes TIME. Instinct does not.

Let me explain. Stress and Anxiety are functions of our Right brain, an amygdala there takes care of our emotions, senses, intuition, instincts, it also triggers those uncomfortable stomach and digestion problems, a dry mouth, racing heart, shallow breathing symptoms. All of those symptoms are there to make us run as fast as we can away from danger, or stand and fight it.

Our RIGHT brain doesn’t need as much oxygen to function as our LEFT brain. Part of the function of the hippocampus in our Left brain is to think logically, our Education system mostly teaches via Left brain – number, reading, writing etc. When everything is normal, messages fly back and forth between both sides of the brain. However, when I was about to crash into a massive tree trunk my RIGHT brain effectively switched OFF my logical thinking: “which foot operates the brake, which way do I turn the steering wheel, what else is there ahead or behind which may threaten my safety” etc – precious seconds are lost and I don’t have any TIME at all to spare. Thank goodness for the high level of Stress that kicked in.

So, maybe Anxiety (frozen Stress), CAN be our best friend. Not only can it spur us on to DO those things which are a little scary, a bit challenging, a little heart-stopping, to then experience that great release of euphoria that we went and DID it!! We achieved something new, learnt something new, met someone new, whatever it was we feel GOOD about ourselves. And that isn’t something that giving in to avoidance strategies, ever helps us to feel.

It also serves us well to help us react instinctively in order to save our lives.

Maybe you can think of an example or 2 of your own “roller coaster” moments, maybe even visualise that poor man still stuck on the cold, hard rails up there, waiting for someone else to DO something, for him. That simply ISN’T you now is it…..?