Anxiety is useful and totally NOT USEFUL. It's all about where and when it kicks in. When we were all hunched over and running away from T-Rex (Not a 70's glam rock nightmare), our fight and flight brain helped us survive the onslaught of imminent death. That's actually really useful! Imminent death these days is more about avoiding getting run over and sprinting away from a mugger. However, what happens with problematic anxiety is that the "surviving death" mechanism kicks in when non life threatening circumstances occur.
The brain has a thought, believes you are at heinous risk and the body responds in kind by employing the full apparatus of the sympathetic nervous system. It prepares your body to run away at pace or stand and kill something or someone. So your senses become heightened, blood rushes to your muscles away from your tummy (Butterflies), your heart pumps faster and you breathe more quickly to flush oxygen around your body and it can feel like your body is going to collapse and die. Actually it is doing all of the right things to run away from T-Rex and his gong; your body is amazing. But you don't know that is what it's doing, so you think you are having a heart attack, or can't breathe or might actually be going blind or having a stroke.
Then you come down. The para sympathetic nervous system turns up to mop away the chemicals no longer in use and puts you back in to calm mode. You get woozy, heavy legged, tired, emotional and most of the time, slightly weirded out. It's pretty amazing from a biological perspective, but as a life style choice it is massively destructive. You can end up avoiding people, places and things, shrinking your universe and being held hostage by it. It makes you feel like a failure and destroys your self esteem.
(See mind.org.uk for further info and support)
So is there a solution? We've been working on distraction, mindfulness, planned trigger situation exposure to build resilience, and catching the thought of major doom which is usually the paralysing feature of a thread of mind activity that leads to the anxiety episode. We also looked at unhelpful thinking patterns like catastrophising, mind reading, negativity/doom projection, avoidance and unhelpful "Fixers". You know wine, shopping, hiding....
I have homework this week to practise more mood and thought monitoring.
You know my "discovery of self" journey started almost 20 years ago. At that point my head was firmly up my arse, and although people say ignorance is bliss, I was a self centred, narrow minded and treated people without thought or care, including myself. On reflection I have come quite a long way! "Praise the Lord" I hear you say! But on a serious note, change takes time, patience and commitment. It's also bloody hard work and can be incredibly painful. I still have lots so iron out, which is why I am grateful for this course I am on and that there is still room for growth. It also reminds me that actually lots of stuff is massively better and my head only revisits my arse on rare occasions. Today is a non-arse day...Arse, arse arse.... Sorry.
Next week I shall discuss my homework with my fellow emotional travellers and see where we are at. Hopefully we will all be a step closer to freedom.