In 2012 the World Health Organisation estimated that 28% of the American population suffer from mental health issues (40 million) and 25% of the Europeans (105 million including 870,000 Britons) suffer from anxiety, a condition that triggers feelings of uneasiness and worry, sometimes constantly. Every day, in the UK, over a quarter of a million people miss work because of anxiety based stress, with 75 per cent of all illnesses thought to be stress-related. 30% of sick notes issued by GP's are for mental health problems and this number increases each year. In the UK, women are almost twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders. Suicides have increased in England and Wales by 50% over the last 10 years.(Sources: University of Cambridge, Westminster City Council, NHS, Office of National Statistics)
Welcome to “AAAAAAAARGHH”.
Warning: This is not a quick fix internet post that tells you the top 5 tips. This article is describing a process, because without exception, there are no quick fixes for anxiety. Enjoy the journey
Anxiety is the most common condition that everyone has experienced to some degree at sometime or another because it is an unavoidable normal fear reflex response to stress or a perceived dangerous situation. BeMethod can help relieve and overcome extremes of anxiety.
A part of the brain, the amygdala is responsible for the body's fight or flight reflex response. When a threat is “perceived” at the unconscious level, it orchestrates a chain of biological changes that prepares the body to respond to danger well before the conscious brain is aware of any threat.
This is at the very core of anxiety; the biochemical overload spurs us into action, and through the haze of confusion and fear we automatically unthinkingly connect to our memories and established beliefs to move us away from the experience that created the “threat”.
However, anxiety comes in varying grades from mild to intensely disabling; the occasional worry or feeling anxious every now is not the same as suffering from anxiety.
Left unchecked, anxiety can escalate and become an incapacitating condition when the lightning fast spiralling thoughts get so out of control that they effectively run your life, creating increased stress and mental suffering that will often manifest through physical ill health with many stress related symptoms.
Many people find it difficult to cope with the pressures of modern living but each one of us is different, and so each of us has a different threshold to anxiety and different reactions to the stress that it causes; therefore each of us has the potential of understanding the source of our own anxiety, and reducing its power over us.
Unless managed effectively, stress transforms the body and anxiety, as a disorder, creates the mental environment for stress to further impact on the body. Is it not time to deal with it then?
Men tend to keep their anxiety to themselves whilst more women seek professional help, so the figures above do not represent the true epidemic of anxiety as a modern cultural illness.
Everyone has experienced anxiety at some point in their life and although the majority try their best at managing their stress levels themselves, the rising numbers of those seeking help from a medical physician is increasing exponentially.
When life becomes too difficult, and everything seems too big to handle, you can feel exhausted and worn out. That is your body telling you that you need time out; to rest. Like many, you could be suffering from stress bought on by anxiety but for some the physical symptoms of stress can become debilitating and disabling.
Causes of Anxiety
It is maybe that a baby is born with anxiety, that it has genetic links but we just don’t know. Anxiety may be a learnt experience from living and growing up with someone who has anxiety. The general consensus, however, appears to be that anxiety results from a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors.
Anytime between birth and the initial onset of anxiety lies a secret “event” or trauma to be found that was the trigger to the fears we experience when anxiety attacks. The incredible capacity of the brain to remember hurt, pain, shock, fear and trauma are often subconsciously deeply buried in the core of anxiety, so deeply repressed in fact, that we do not have a conscious memory of the event.
The psychological fallout of the hidden event though is felt every time we feel anxious and under stress! The “event” may have been so traumatic that we emotionally disconnected from ourself, this is often accompanied by depression.
Whatever occurred in the past will leave most us living a life disconnected from our true self; our inner child, resulting in closed emotions, lack of energy and greater subconscious belief of not feeling good enough; the core of our limiting beliefs.
These feelings of inadequacy, impacts our self esteem and can project themselves as anger, sadness, depression and frustration and a fear of taking risks often destroying the ability of living life to the full. In fact the fear anxiety produces makes sufferers fearful of death which is another way of fearing life itself. The life we therefore lead is limited because we unknowingly subconsciously believe the thoughts we have and as we do not know they are present – we cannot even access their origins.
Any form of lack of acceptance of our self and being out of touch with our emotions continues the disconnection with our true self, enforcing the avoidance and denial perpetuating our lack of self acceptance causing more anxiety and further stress. Chronic anxiety is a vicious circle of self sabotage.
Medicating anxiety was a 20th century solution to plaster over deep mental wounds, this century we now understand that anxiety is a symptom of suppressed emotions that need to be expressed to begin the healing process. However, we often do not know the emotions that are present within us, all we experience are the symptoms. They usually are quite obvious (shortness of breathe, a feeling of despair, faster heart rate...) but we are not taught to really understand them or their real source. But to begin managing our anxiety , we need to understand more about it.
We also need to realise that there are no lasting quick fixes or silver bullets for any emotional trauma as there can be many layers to the condition, all of which are protected by our ego that has convinced us that the person we are, is the person who has anxiety.
When or if we identify with our ego self as the anxious one, the potential of becoming anxiety free can lead to a void of emptiness and uncertainty that will destroy that part of the ego that produces the anxiety. Who are we if we did not have anxiety? By fearing its own demise the ego puts up many subconscious barriers to protect itself. Imagine a long term chronic anxiety sufferer having no anxiety; they have little to identify themselves with as the central purpose to living was coping with anxiety, and the fear of not knowing who they could be when anxiety free becomes the primary avoidance barrier to recovery.
I have asked many chronic anxiety sufferers that have a multitude of physical symptoms created from the stress of anxiety; why they focus on the symptoms and not the root cause? When pressed they are scared to deal with the cause (the ego defence) as they have become addicted to their anxiety and find it easier to deal with the symptoms, if only to feel slightly less powerless to its effects. Symptoms include: heartburn, nausea, stomach ache, indigestion, sleep deprivation, eczema, muscle ache, prostatitis, dizziness, mild paranoia and panic attacks.
To begin the process of recovery it is necessary to recognise anxiety before going further into the remedies and methodology. I call the process “AAAAAAAARGHH!” of Anxiety, yes it is yelp of frustration.
The first “A” – Attitude
Just about everyone has had anxiety in the past. The anxiety sufferer needs to ask themselves as they know they have and suffer from anxiety, why is recovery not their primary objective? Why are they not sufficiently hungry to reduce the hold and control anxiety has over them?
How your attitude or point of view is, to unravelling the mystery of your anxiety will determine your motivation to explore your own anxiety, and understand what it's really about. It is a mystery that is worth uncovering. Knowing you have anxiety and doing little to go into it is avoidance at the subconscious level. This denial is why so many sufferers fall back on the belief that the medical profession advocates; you have it - and we will help medicate it. Denial is very indicative that the ego has manipulated your thinking to maintain its grip on you. To put it simply, your inner child’s victim consciousness is dominant within you.
Ask yourself; do you want to remain a victim of your anxiety? Who could you truly be without anxiety? You have survived so far with the pressures that anxiety brings you but what would your life be like without that pressure and burden? In fact, who could you really become?
Your overall attitude should galvanise your attention to your situation, and may help question your beliefs.
The second “A” – Allowing
Allowing does not mean stopping or controlling. Allowing means observing your thoughts, emotions, feelings, or sensations and permitting them to be there. Put simply allowing is recognition that they are there.
Instinctively when confronted with an unpleasant experience, we subconsciously react in one of three ways to resist the discomfort we feel. Realising that discomfort or unease is just an automatic reflex reaction due to stress allows you the opportunity of discovering more about your anxiety. See if you recognise the way your subconscious usually behaves:
• Justifying your emotional by judging the other person or event to suit your mindset (whether it is true or not)
• Numbing yourself to your feelings and going into your head and thoughts by believing the narrative you create to justify your feelings.
• Focusing attention elsewhere as an avoidance pattern; running away.
These reactions are natural but are also clearly our predisposed (programmed) subconscious reaction to withdraw from the present moment and what is really occurring. When we relax our resistance, we allow the experience to be just as it is. It is does not mean that we agree with our thoughts, emotions, or bodily sensations that keep trying to convince us that we’re not good enough and unworthy.
Allowing these thoughts and observing them is an honest acknowledgement of their presence as well as the recognition that our negative judgements are only subconscious avoidance tactics created by our ego to avoid the painful feelings underneath our fear based narrative.
Although it is instinctive to berate the negative thoughts that pop up, I always recommend that in order to support your resolve to let it be, that you silently offer an encouraging word or phrase to them instead, like, “that is not helpful, please help me and be constructive” – after all we are most likely talking to our hurt inner child.
Allowing also reduces the resistance you feel internally, helping you to consciously pause your reactions by creating a space that will enable you to see more deeply into your own being, which, in turn, awakens your caring and more loving self thus helping you make wiser choices in life.
The third “A” - Attention
By bringing your attention to your conundrum you are recognising the “big” issue that you have been avoiding, so you can set out a plan of action, the seventh “A” by the way. Attention allows you to direct the resources (the focus of your energy) towards a worthwhile goal in the present moment.
Previously you had, perhaps unknowingly, usually expended a lot of energy on managing your anxiety ridden life in an attempt to control what is, in effect, impossible to control. Now with the recognition you have and the determination to be less of a victim to your powerlessness you have the ability to channel that same energy for your own good.
Because anxiety is more or less about fearing an uncertain future or multitude of worrying facets within that future, you ground yourself in the present. When you are truly present, there is amazingly no anxiety, because as you read this you are more than OK. So in this moment without anxiety sapping you, you energise yourself in the “now” to work out your plan and set the intention for rosier future.
Once you are truly attentive to your desire and needs in your present moment, you are also subtly recognising that anxiety is a subconscious programme and, on a conscious level you begin taking ownership of it, and with that you can set the intention to materialise a healthier future.
The fourth “A” - Awareness
As it becomes clearer that anxiety, in all its shapes and sizes, is present in your life you will also recognise that it has been running much of your life, which is why you have struggled for so long. Do not blame yourself though, it is very common not to have realised it because as an anxiety sufferer you have been stuck in the circular anxiety pattern that the discomfort it produced was felt to be familiar and comfortable. This is a normal; the subconscious attaches itself to the familiar but, now and maybe for the first time in your life, by becoming aware of its power over you, the beginning of a cathartic experience can occur, you have the potential of living a life for yourself, rather than for your anxiety.
Awareness is also the state of being fully present. When we focus on something we can be fully open to the experience. Awareness is not a natural state we humans are used to, particularly when about 90% of our waking life, we are in usually being run by our subconscious. So with effort, being focused on your goal of dealing with your anxiety will allow you to recognise the triggers that nudge and prods you.
The fifth “A” - Acceptance
Our natural flight or fight reflex urges us to reject what we are uncomfortable with, however, in order to learn we must be in readiness to receive. Although quite counter-intuitive; to receive and learn we must not reject something even when it feels uncomfortable! The more we are open to receive the more we can accept that anxiety is just another part of you and that is OK, and that you are good enough just as you are.
Society has consigned anxiety to a part of medical science, as the WHO figures indicate, that recognises only people who "suffer" from it and have signed up their medical professional for help. Therefore treatments are based on medical protocols. As our physiology is designed to have anxiety as part of the survival instinct, everyone in society has had anxiety; why is it not spoken of more often? Acceptance of the pestilence of anxiety will reduce the stigma attached to it and allow people to talk about it, just as we do with the common cold. It is a little like the taboo of death, we know it will happen, but there is still a stigma attached to it and so we don't talk about it, we are so scared of it that we do not make wills as we shelter in the fearful shadows of self deception, and yet we do not consider that this avoidance behaviour is unusual. If we feel uncomfortable about anxiety, we should ask ourselves; why?
The bottom line is the more we feel uncomfortable about something, the less we are able to accept it. However, the counter intuitive approach will serve better; "the more uncomfortable I feel, the more I want to accept that something is not OK and I want to know what is going on with me?"
With any form of acceptance comes a greater degree of comfort and a willingness to welcome that part of you that, on a deeper level you were rejecting. No-one gave anxiety to you; you received it in the first place for a reason, because something happened to you. By accepting that anxiety is part of you is the first massive step in taking responsibility for it, not only that; accepting all its destructive force, decreases the hold it has over you.
The sixth “A” – Attack Attachment (Detachment)
Having accepted the situation now it is time to practice detachment. There is a singular property of matter than is common throughout the Universe; that left to its own devices matter loses form and returns to basic state of random atoms; the process is called entropy.
The entropic force concerns all of us, our body ages and then on death decays and returns to the dust that is part of the Universe from where we began, in fact, where everything began. The point I am making is that the human idea of permanency is a human construct that countless societies have added to our belief system to help us feel more secure in our existence.
Nothing is permanent, nothing last for ever, and so everything, whether we like or not, will cease to exist. It is a well documented fact that we are all going to die, and yet many fear talking about death for lots of reasons, but death will not go away. Avoiding talk of death will not stop death; counter-intuitively, talking about death and the consequences surrounding death will help manage our beliefs on the matter – it is all part of embracing and accepting what we are in denial of. Your anxiety can also die when you start embracing it. Once the control of anxiety loosens it grip on you, it will not take long for you to believe and know that your anxiety does have the potential of even ceasing to exist.
You may want to be anxiety free but it should not be your goal. Why? Because being anxiety free is being attached to an outcome…… The process is about diminishing the control it has over you, that is the priority so you can be committed on one hand and detached from the process on the hand.
Detachment does not mean that you are indifferent, removed or remote as you are actually involved with whatever you are to be detached to. Detachment is the neutral feeling that you have of being personally involved in something but have no emotional vested interest in it, meaning you have no expectation of a specific result or outcome whatsoever.
Buddhist monks spend hours creating the most intricate designs (mandalas) using coloured sand and once finished and pondered on it, they then destroy it. I had always thought it was just about not being attached to what they created – it is but is also symbolic of the impermanence of their creation. It is only society, and many people in it, that falsely believes in permanence.
Life is not a race to the finish line, meaning as said earlier, this is not a quick fix process. Taking it easy – the polar opposite of accelerated anxious thoughts – allows you to see the bigger picture and assess what is going on, and that pause will help you remember your neutrality.
Practicing detachment not only will allow you to more present, the more you are committed to it the more relaxed you will become helping you to see causes and manage your reactions to the triggers of your anxiety.
The seventh “A” – Assess, Action and Ease
This is a pretty simple one, taking action is the culmination of awareness and acceptance and taking responsibility for what you do about it. It often takes a lot of courage to move from any familiar comfortable position into an uncertain one, never more so than when dealing with anxiety. I am an advocate of believing that change can only occur when we move beyond our comfort zone.
Although BeMethod has many different ways of dealing with anxiety, for simplicity and the purposes of this article, learning and regularly practicing Mindfulness is one of the first lessons of taking back control of your body.
Find a comfortable position and somewhere where you will not be disturbed for 5 minutes. This may not be easy at first, but with practice it will become much easier. The more you incorporate this into a regular routine, the more it will become second nature and may only take 10 to 15 seconds.
Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose into your chest and then gently further into your stomach (if you need to; think how you would go about smelling a fragrant beautiful flower.) approximately to a count of 4 seconds.
Gently purse your lips and ever so gently breathe out to the count of about 8 seconds.
Do this 3 times, be aware of the air flowing in and out.
Start by tightening and then releasing each part of your body from your toes to your shoulders. Focus on each body part and squeeze for a count of four before relaxing it. Do this with the toes, feet, legs, lower back, arms, chest and shoulders. Take your time.
The conscious act of going through your body has a calm effect, allowing you to assess what is happening with your thoughts and connect to what your body is feeling. When you focus on this exercise, and become well practiced, there should be a massive reduction in anxiety as your relaxation will reduce your heart rate and bring you a sense of peace. The more you do the exercise, the more you feel at peace.
The eighth “A” – Association (Connecting)
Following the acceptance of anxiety, the next step is to embrace yours.
Like a crime scene, it requires forensic detail to acquaint yourself with what has happened, to piece together your previously fragmented parts that were all over the place. The calmer you are the easier it becomes to identify what areas in your beliefs and life you are still resisting.
By connecting with that part of your victim consciousness allows you to use it as an ally. If you do not want to be a crime scene investigator, just be sufficiently curious with an insatiable need to know the truth.
By often managing your breath (as above in action) you are consciously declaring intent to willingly go into your experience of anxiety.
There are two specific areas to your anxiety; the thoughts (sourced from your beliefs) and the symptoms (caused from the stress of your condition). Thoughts are the culprit of your anxiety, by treating the thoughts correctly, the symptoms of them can dissipate. However, thoughts are the product of your beliefs.
Your beliefs: Whatever we believe is true! That is the BIG problem because your perceived perceptions of life is just a series stories, some true, some false that are derived from your experiences and your core beliefs. Those core beliefs were acquired when young from our environment; family, society, prevailing culture etc.... The difficulty is working out what is true and what is false as beliefs are the foundation of the thoughts that we live by every day.
Unfortunately, we also define ourself from our beliefs, and they grow, alter and change with each new experience and some – like the source of anxiety – become fixed and turn into core beliefs. So what if these beliefs are actually harming us? These embedded toxic beliefs can be so deep that they cannot be challenged because we have not really known that are present. Until, that is, we know that they exist (we have anxiety, after all) and realise that they no longer benefit us, and when that time comes, we can begin dissecting them and creating new beliefs that do serve us.
Having been spoon fed beliefs from all the various sources, and swallowed them whole, connecting and understanding them will help you redefine yourself; the aim is to be free of the constraints of chronic anxiety.
Your anxiety symptoms: Your body has been living with your anxiety for nearly as long as you have, and hold the wounds that you physically feel. Now is the time to experience what your body knows and feels and use it for your own purposes.
The body wants and desires to “feel” better, which is why the placebo is so effective as a self-healing mechanism. The placebo is evidence that a thought (greater health) will change the physiology of your body. Conversely, the anxious thoughts you have experienced to date have adversely changed the physiology of your body resulting in symptoms of ill health, which is often accompanied by anxiety fuelled dramas" of everyday life. This is known as the "nocebo" the reverse of the placebo.
Ill health is a sign of not being in balance, or at ease – also known as dis-ease and is the consequence of rejecting a part of you and living in the fears of an unknown future because the present was not good enough. With anxiety your thoughts whirl away about the uncertainties of tomorrow meaning are not present in the “now” and as a consequence nearly everything around you is taken for granted and cannot be sufficiently appreciated - the eighth “A”. Simply you are just not “here”.
Self examination: Look into the beliefs that you are holding onto, and list them. Feel the comfort you have with them. Ask yourself; where is the source of this belief? Who, how, when……..
Now to prove that some of your beliefs are pretty much a construction of your own creativity and that they hold you back; imagine the opposite belief and create a new story about this opposite belief. Visualise it and then feel it.
Can you feel anything in your body? What are thinking?
Use the breathwork to connect to what is going on and feel any resistance. It is a bit of a no brainer because resistance is always present between opposite beliefs, be aware of it; it is the “gap” in thought that you are investigating that often manifests itself somewhere in the body.
The “gap” is the story that is holding on to your old belief and as you know, a belief is just a story. Why are you holding on to it? Why do you think it is serving you? Who would you be without that story and that belief?
“Does my old belief still serve me?”
“What experience do I have that show that this belief is not completely true all the time?”
“If this new belief will serve me better, how can I move towards this new belief and be gentler with myself as the same time?”
“How can explore this new belief and how will it change my life for the better?”
“How can integrate this belief in to my life – what action do I need to take?”
So, the rules of “a” associating is connecting and embracing your anxiety which will have a placebo effect on you.
The ninth “A” – Appreciation
When you are dealing or have dealt with any persistent issue that has been troubling and pulling you down, the experience becomes self empowering, because you are able to do something that you did not previously believe was possible. You move from victimhood into survivor and beneficiary, and then you are able to understand the meaning and energy of self compassion.
Consider that your body has suffered as much as you from your anxiety. Whatever condition you have physically experienced or have mentally suffered from as a result of your past and the continuous burden of suffering anxiety: YOU ARE STILL HERE!
Yes, you are still here, reading this, and nothing is threatening you in this very moment (or else you would not be reading this). It has always been your anxious thoughts that threatened and mistreated you and you unknowingly allowed them to do so. Above in “A” for action, you did a small exercise in mindfulness, do so again and begin to work through what to appreciate right now in your life. Write them down, and repeat this exercise every evening until it too becomes second nature.
This is often a very humbling experience, as your defences that had been raised for so long, are now no longer needed. You become what you could never have previously conceived: you become more vulnerable, a state far removed from the naturally protective one we usually inhabited and instinctively had leant to adopt.
The embracing of vulnerability really achieves a reduction in anxiety and so your body will respond too to less stress by becoming healthier. Your immune system will strengthen and with the right exercise and diet you can become much happier and free.
There maybe too many “A’s” here as I was having fun working out how many “A”’s I could find but in essence they are:
• Attitude /Allowing
• Attack attachment/
And the RGHH? For me it stands for Really Great Hope for Happiness.
Your behaviour has always been a set of reflex subconscious reaction instilled in you since childhood. Changing your beliefs and behaviour requires conscious awareness and determination to move yourself towards the person you prefer to be rather than the one you have been.
The more you embrace your anxiety and the process, the more passionate and determined you will be in moving in that direction, without judgement to achieve your desired goal.
For further help:
Charity providing support if you've been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.
Phone: 03444 775 774 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5.30pm)
A charity helping people living with manic depression or bipolar disorder.
CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, for men aged 15-35.
Charity for sufferers of depression. Has a network of self-help groups.