Anxiety often starts as a build up of worrying thoughts creating overwhelm and then the heavy doom laden physical symptoms kick in. Left to its own devices, anxiety can then progress to a full-blown panic attack… and they are not to be recommended!
Sometimes you notice the physical symptoms first, because you’re unaware that your mind is going over and over something that’s happened in your past and you fear will happen again. You are telling yourself a story and have probably done it so often, you don’t fully notice you’re doing it.
We can all this ‘rumination’ or worrying.
This is a game of ‘let’s pretend’ being played by the mind. Unfortunately, it’s an unpleasant game of ‘let’s pretend’, because it is always about something scary/negative/an unwanted scenario that might happen.
Now, bear in mind, these are only thoughts. Nothing more than that. And thoughts are not dangerous in themselves. You are actually safe!
However, the ‘let’s pretend’ story you’re telling yourself feels dangerous to the brain and the brain wants to avoid this dangerous scenario you are playing out in your mind. It just wants to keep you safe and the danger must be avoided. So the brain tells your body to be prepared to run away or fight or freeze. This is your primitive, but very effective fight, flight or freeze response.
It does not know that this awful thing is not actually happening right now, because this primitive part of your brain can’t tell between actual reality and scary thoughts that seem real in your head in that moment.
So you experience all of the unpleasant bodily sensations from cascading adrenaline and cortisol hormones around your body – increased heart rate, rapid tight breathing, sweating, agitation, nausea etc. So the fear increases and now you’re on the downward spiral towards a panic attack.
Often it is a case of anxiety rumbling on in the background at a lower level but this still creates unpleasant bodily sensations because you’re continuing with the scary ‘what if…?’ rumination in your mind, even though in reality that scary stuff is not happening in that moment.
Break the Worry Trick:
One way to help break this worry trick played by the brain is to not take it seriously! It really is only created by your thought processes.
So when you feel anxiety rising, acknowledge it and give it a name (call it anything, preferably a silly name) and talk to your brain – say “Oh hello (silly name), you’re here again, I know what you’re up to and I don’t need you right now. I am safe in this moment, you can stand down, I am okay, I’ve got this….
This lightens the load and sends messages of safety to the brain. When the brain feels safe, it will calm down your nervous system by standing down the fight, flight or freeze response.
Give it a go, take the wind out of its sails!