If Anxiety has moved into your head and is taking over your life, here is a explanation about what anxiety is and how you can deal with it.
You can then do a practical exercise to work with this stubborn state of mind.
By the end of this article you will have some simple strategies to help issue the anxiety with an eviction notice to move out with immediate effect (if that is something you feel ready to do)
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a strong feeling that the emotional part of your mind gives you to alert you to take action.
Think of anxiety like a homeless security guard that sits outside your mind constantly watching out for threat and danger. That is its job.
The Anxiety Security Guard has a very useful role. It is supposed to be on watch out for negatives and danger. When it senses trouble, it is meant to ring the doorbell of your mind to give you a warning. Once you hear the bell, you can open the door, check out the situation, thank the Anxiety Security Guard for the security message and then close the door again and react accordingly.
But, it’s not very comfortable outside, it’s cold and wet and windy. So, if the Anxiety Security Guard thinks it has an opportunity of refuge, it will come inside the mind, get warm and dry and make itself at home.
If the door of your mind is left ajar, the Anxiety Security Guard can then slowly and quietly start to move in, and that’s when it has over stepped the threshold and becomes a problem.
If we don’t understand that the Anxiety Security Guard is meant to live outside and make the mistake of being too polite and allow it in, it can become a very stubborn squatter and can live dormant in your space like an unwelcome visitor or a guest that has outstayed their welcome.
Once the Anxiety Security Guard gets comfortable within your mind, it becomes extremely resistant to change, and moves in to the personal space of your thoughts. This is dangerous because the Anxiety Security Guard is trained to be negative (to keep you safe), so the Anxiety Security Guard begins to change your positive thoughts into negative ones.
Extreme anxiety makes you feel small, worthless, fearful and isolated. Eventually anxiety can start controlling your thoughts and encourages you to think miserable thoughts – like it does.
When we feel miserable and worthless, it is very difficult to change. Our mindset becomes weaker and then it is difficult to find any strength or coping mechanisms. It is difficult to ask it to move out. Anxiety is now living permanently in your mind, and to make matters worse, you still pay the rent, and it lives there rent free. Laughing at you cowering in the corner.
Now you know why anxiety is useful if it stays doing its job outside your mind, but when it comes in it becomes overbearing, destructive and pollutes your thinking. So, how do we get rid of it?
Why Does Anxiety Have to Feel So Bad? (The Science Bit)
Anxiety has a very useful purpose to some extent, but why does it have to make us feel so bad?
Did you know that anxiety has to create a negative feeling, so we sit up and take notice, and take appropriate action.
The feeling of anxiety has to be a very uncomfortable feeling that makes us feel on edge and keeps us on high alert.
That uncomfortable feeling releases adrenaline into the system. Adrenaline helps our body and brain switch into a stress mode. Stress mode makes us react sharply, increase our strength and resilience and can be a powerful motivator to take action. The stress reaction is designed to save your life when you are in danger.
Anxiety is the brain’s way of ringing the fire alarm telling us we may have forgotten something, or we are going to be in trouble or there is actually a fire. The adrenaline can help us quickly react and fight that fire to put it out, or find a rapid exit strategy to run away as fast as we can so we stay safe.
Anxiety is a good indicator to help us realise that something is not quite right, and if we really are in danger, we can stay safe, and essentially stay alive.
So, you will now agree, that it is useful to know that anxiety can be an indicator to help us when we are in a spot of bother. The fuel that anxiety releases (adrenaline) helps us react quickly and sharply to sort out the problem – to rapidly run away, hide or fight if necessary.
When we feel the brain’s alarm bell ringing, we then move into a part of our brain that is reactive and we then move into fight, flight or freeze. This is our primitive brain’s survival mechanism. We need it to be working well.
What we don’t want – is our primitive brain to stay switched on, because this means that we are being fuelled by stress, and that does not feel good!
We want to be able to keep the intellectual part of our brain switched on to look for a solution to the problem that anxiety presents us with. This means we are fuelling our lives with intellect, and that feels better!
Our intellectual mind stays switched on when we get practical and when we make a plan.
Do You Want to Do a Practical Exercise?
1) Get a piece of paper and draw this Anxiety Scale:
(No Anxiety at all) 0—1—2—3—4—5—6—7—8—9—10 (Panic Attack)
Rate how anxious you are feeling right now. What number are you now on that scale? Put a circle around it on your piece of paper.
If you are around 5 or below – you are in a state of equilibrium and harmony, if you are above 5, you are slightly out of equilibrium.
2) Think of the number you would like to be by the time you have finished reading this article.
Write this underneath the scale:
I WANT TO BE _____ (Insert new number)
Lastly, I’m going to ask you to imagine something, using your powerful imagination.
3) Have a think about this question for a moment…
Q: If you were feeling like the new number, what would you notice, feel and be able to do?
Imagine you knew the answer to this question. Everyone uses their imagination in a unique way, some people close their eyes, some people look up into the sky, some people visualise a daydream.
So, do what feels right right to you right now. Imagine you know what to write down. take a few moments to get your imagination working for you.
Just for a few moments, imagine you are feeling like this new number. If you were this number, how would you know? What would you feel? What would you be able to do, even if it was a tiny thing. Perhaps think of a few things you would notice about yourself, your expression, your activities if you were this new number.
I would notice __________________
I would feel ____________________
I would be able to do ______________
When Does Anxiety Become a Problem?
Anxiety becomes a problem when we don’t react appropriately to the security message. Let’s go back to the idea of the Anxiety Security Guard (Let’s call it ASG).
Here are two scenarios of how you can work (or not work) with the ASG:
Imagine you are asleep, and ASG rings the doorbell of your mind. You wake up and open the door:
ASG: “I’m reminding you that you need to hand in an assignment tomorrow afternoon and you haven’t finished it.”
YOU: Say thank you and then shut the door again and think about the options you have –
Option 1: TAKE IMMEDIATE ACTION – Get on your computer and finish the assignment.
Option 2: MAKE A PLAN – Set your alarm for 2 hours earlier than normal to wake up and finish your assignment in the morning.
Option 3: FIND A SOLUTION – Fire a quick email to your lecturer/boss to explain that you have not been feeling well, and you need one more day to finish your assignment and you will hand it in the next day.
Now you can go back to comfortable equilibrium knowing your door is shut, you are safe, you have sorted it in some way by making a plan, finding a solution or taken some appropriate action. So you can now go back to sleep.
Imagine you are asleep, and ASG rings the doorbell of your mind. You wake up and open the door:
ASG: “I’m reminding you that you need to hand in an assignment tomorrow morning and you haven’t finished it.”
YOU: Leave the door ajar, and get back into bed annoyed that you were disturbed.
The ASG now can come in and begin poking you… “Stay awake… You need to do your assignment…”
YOU: Feeling Restless.
ASG: Pokes you further… “Reminds you about all the other times you have failed to do something.”
YOU: Begin to overthink in a negative way.
ASG: Climbs into bed with you… “You are actually good at failing, in fact, you will probably let your team down. You are actually useless. Also, no one will like you anymore.
YOU: Sobbing uncontrollably into your pillow.
Result = Sleepless night, feeling worthless, anxiety attack and unfinished assignment.
It’s not difficult to work out which scenario would feel better! (Oh, and also remember, anxiety really LOVES making excuses…)
How Can You Stay in Control of Anxiety?
When I feel anxious, I read this poem:
The Guest House by Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Build a Safe Boundary for your Anxiety to live in
Although I don’t want to invite my ASG in to my mind, I do want the ASG to feel like it has a valid space outside my mind. So, I have imagined that I have built my ASG a really nice porch (a boundary) for it to sit in.
It’s not too comfy in that porch, because I still need my ASG to stay awake and alert and keep my mind safe from threat, but it is comfy enough for the ASG to feel happy enough to sit there and do its job.
I want my ASG to be aware that it lives in the porch, and even if I leave my door ajar, it knows not to step over the threshold as I have issued it with a clear boundary.
If it does forget, and comes over the threshold, I am aware enough that I need to remind it that I am in control of my mind, and it needs to get back in the porch and do its job.
The ASG needs three things from us:
- Firm Clear Boundaries
- Consistent Repetition
- Reward for Compliancy
This boundary controlled method works with all emotional creatures and human beings – many examples include training our pets and even our toddlers and teenagers. We all need effective and clear boundaries to work with and once we have established them, we are back in control and we become aware anxiety can exist outside our mind, and we remain back in equilibrium.
Anxiety is controlled when we do three simple things:
- Take Action
- Make a Plan
- Find a Solution
>>> Your Plan of Action <<<
Look at that scale of yours again, and I want you to check how close you are to your new number.
Now, ask yourself this one question:
What is the first thing I will now do on my list?
…and I’ll stop here, so you can go and get on with it.