This Page is for anyone who is suffering from anxiety themselves or who is worried about someone else’s, and I hope there will be something here for you. Whether or not you decide to try Reiki, I hope that my experiences will be of some assistance and comfort by offering other perspectives that could help you with your anxieties.
There is a mismatch between the way we are programmed to deal with stress (the “flight or fight” response) and the kinds of stress we face in our modern lives. Small amounts of stress keep our bodies in readiness to deal with what life throws at us (such as reacting quickly whilst driving, facing an exam or competing in a sports competition). However, too much stress means the rational part of our brain becomes hijacked and our ability to think becomes overwhelmed by our emotional responses. The result can be the start of anxiety or even a complete nervous meltdown.
When we become stressed, our brain sends a message to glands in the body which result in stress hormones being released into the bloodstream. These were invaluable for our primitive ancestors in triggering physical reactions to prepare their bodies for any action. For instance, breathing becomes faster because of a perceived need to supply more oxygen to our muscles. Our heart rate increases to supply more blood to the brain to help with making split-second decisions and react faster to danger.
These reactions which were so necessary as a basic survival mechanism in early man are not so relevant to many of the things that distress us in the modern world. However, our bodies still react in the same way to situations that affect today’s western society such as stress at home and at work. But instead of starting a “flight or fight” response, we begin to worry excessively about comparatively minor issues. The resulting anxiety becomes a problem when it is disproportionate and takes over our lives in the longer-term. Our bodies are reacting to perceptions of problems rather than the immediate physical emergencies that our ancestors faced. Excessive amounts of stress hormones get unnecessarily released in to the bloodstream, and, after a while, these start to poison our body systems.
"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference."
The Serenity Prayer - Reinhold Neibuhr
The following are just some of the symptoms we feel when we become over sensitised:
Tiredness and fatigue
Muscle tension and feeling weak and shaky
General aches and pains
Raised blood pressure
Sweating - body sweats or sweaty palms
Pins and needles in the hands and feet
Headaches and sharp head pains
Frequent urge to pass urine
Constricted feeling around throat or chest
Sharp knife-like pain under the heart
All these and more are temporary effects that can occur during anxiety. Sufferers who already are seriously affected by their worrying thought patterns very soon become overtaken by one or more of the symptoms described above. Understandably they then start to fear the worst convinced that they have severe health problems to add to their woes. This pattern of continually feeling fearful is one of the primary factors in prolonging nervous illness.
When our bodies react in the way they do it helps to remember that there are usually explainable reasons for why we might feel any of the sensations described. We need to keep in mind how easy it is to panic about the bodily sensations of anxiety and get caught up in the cycle of fear.
The symptoms I listed are a response to worry and whether or not you become ill depends very much on how you handle the worry and stress. Understanding what is happening in your mind and body is crucial in breaking the fear cycle. The reactions are not so strange after all and by rethinking you can start to deal with them.
Your reason for visiting this page is very likely to be because you are having problems and you have taken the decision that you want things to change. The following sections, will look at ways of overcoming the anxieties. Do try to bear in mind though, that it takes time and patience. Be prepared to accept and live with them as they will inevitably remain with you for some time yet while you recover. For those of us living with general uncontrollable anxiety (G.A.D.) and crippling panic attacks, there is rarely an immediate anxiety miracle cure. They don’t go away immediately you stop fearing them. Like other parts of your body, your nervous system takes time to heal.
For now, we need to deal with what is happening at this moment. However much we get caught up in a serious nervous condition, with perseverance and courage we can find within ourselves a way through present problems. The poem by Reinhold Neibuhr at the start of the Page contains a valuable message to help with breaking the fear cycle. In taking the time and effort to read these notes, there is clearly a will to make things better. It is key now to understand the problems and to either find a resolution if there is one or acceptance if the cause is something that simply cannot be changed. It is the doubts and all the negative thoughts and beliefs that hold us back. Don’t hold on to them, otherwise things will surely continue to get worse and the fear cycle will continue to repeat itself.
HELPFUL LINKS & DIRECTORIES
(Two minute video)
In life, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
"The test of success is not what you do when you are on top.
Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom."
George S. Patton
Increasing the amount of physical exercise that you do releases “feel-good” hormones known as endorphins which counteract negative feelings and anxieties. If you need something more structured gym membership might be an option, although a physical check-up before starting something that strenuous would be advisable. But just walking more often and more briskly (perhaps part or all of the way to the station, your work or the shops) would make a big difference. Sit ups, stretching, breathing exercises, swimming are further good options.
You will often feel you are too tired to exercise and, most certainly, you need to avoid any exercise programme becoming another stress factor in your life. However whatever routines you decide might be best and most convenient for you, start slowly and gently, work your way in to them and then persevere. They will help. Promise.
Once you take the decision that you going to turn things around, at some stage, there will be a "light bulb" moment when something will happen to lift you away from the bottom point of the fear cycle. As an example, it is even possible that moment could be happening already whilst you have been reading this page. One of the most comforting breakthroughs people experience is when they first understand that one or more of the chronic physical symptoms which I listed and which you might have been experiencing (perhaps you have thought was a very serious health condition) is in fact the fear cycle response to the “fight or flight” mechanism.
Whenever or whatever “light bulb” moment happens for you, it is important for you to start to take control. When you are weighed down with anxiety and the mental and physical fatigue it brings, taking the initial step is enormous. The moment you begin to take positive action to improve things, you will have started the process of breaking the fear cycle. There is no "one size fits all" about this. What might suit one person might not be right for another. Let’s start with the basics and work through to find whatever is the right path for you. Negative thinking and beliefs are likely to be one of the main hurdles. The sooner problems start being addressed rather than avoided, the sooner mind and body can begin to heal. The links above in the right-hand panel include help lines offering both practical and anxiety-related help.
I have tended to focus so far on some of the more extreme worrying effects of anxiety. But the damage caused by constantly high stress levels is progressive and nervous disorders will usually start in a mild form before becoming more serious. Understanding and tackling our fears is to take positive action to shift the balance away from being a victim. I will be trying to cover as many areas as I can so that the Page has relevance to help everyone at whatever stage they have reached. Depression and anxiety are so destructive and can wreak havoc on our bodies and minds. It makes sense to treat both well as part of making a full recovery.
TAKING BACK CONTROL
Removing health limiting factors is an essential part of recovery from the long-term effects of over production of stress hormones. In most instances, there are lifestyle components that have either caused or contributed to our problems. These first options may seem rather obvious but, when we feel down, they are some of the first aspects that get neglected.
Improving your Diet:
Some kinds of stress, the sort we just can’t get away from because they seem totally beyond our control, can go on for weeks, months or even years. One of the negative effects is that many of us, when we are at this stage, comfort eat not because we are hungry but to boost our mood. Typical comfort food meals include things such as burgers, spicy chicken wings, chips, milkshakes etc. Then there is the “snacking” on things like crisps, biscuits, sweets, chocolate bars etc. And of course, the problem with comfort foods is that they tend to be packed with sugar and fats, not good for either your general health or your waistline.
There are sound scientific reasons as to how stresses affect the taste of our food. Being stressed tends to make food taste less sweet so we are much likely to go for classic comfort foods which are more intensively sweet/strongly flavoured. A problem then arises that whilst comfort foods initially make our energy levels spike, afterwards they then dip which affects our cortisol levels. So, try finding alternatives to change the pattern. Good eating habits and regular meals are especially important to help restore your good health. Buy food that will supply your body with nutrients, energy and fibre, and avoid processed foods. When you get the “between meal hunger pangs” instead of reaching for crisps and biscuits, try things like blueberries, which are recognised as a “superfood”, have the sweet taste we crave but are much more beneficial for our blood sugar levels. Other effective foods which can help alleviate some of the symptoms of stress include almonds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts. Almonds are great sources of magnesium, walnuts contain omega 3 which helps with symptoms of anxiety and pumpkin seeds have an ingredient which helps us to keep calm. All can make healthier snacks to help wean us off comfort foods and increase the intake of better nutritional foods. Vitamins C rich fruits such as oranges and berries improve our immune systems. I could go on but there is there is so much nutritional food advice around and I would suggest that you research what would suit you with regard to food values and also your taste buds. If you need helpful advice, be willing to consult a nutritionist or other health professional.
It is not a good idea to skip breakfast. Missing it out leads your body to compensate by raising stress hormone levels to increase your blood sugar levels. Even a small nutritious snack is much better than nothing at all. Plus, very obvious, but drinking water regularly during the day is essential to keep you hydrated. Dehydration put your body under more stress which, again, increases your levels of stress hormones.
MINDFULNESS - Life's events are like changes in the weather, they come and go. Try to learn to enjoy both the sunny and the rainy days
Mindfulness is a technique which helps you focus on the present moment with an accepting and non-judgemental attitude. It is “witnessing” what is happening without being swept up in, overwhelmed by, or getting lost in the experience. You observe your inner experiences, your sensations, feelings and thoughts, as “events” that move through you. Through mindfulness, you gradually come to realise that all experiences come and go.
When you feel pain or stress the inclination is likely to be to try to avoid it. However, extensive scientific research shows that we can use our minds to “turn towards our pain” in a way that can ease it. “Mindfulness” has its roots in meditation techniques which can be effectively used in place of, or in combination with, medication.
Mindfulness practices are now being extensively used in establishments such as schools, prisons and hospitals. At the time of writing these notes some 5,000 teachers are being trained in mindfulness to help pupils to alleviate the increasing stresses of school life.
If, like so many people you are a bit sceptical about Mindfulness, a recent BBC1 programme “The Truth About Stress” broadcast on 4 July 2017 was illuminating. It attempted to scientifically analyse the difference that the practice of Mindfulness makes. It centred on a visit to the Department of Psychiatry, Physiology and Neuroscience at Kings College, London and their ongoing research to record the effects of mindfulness on experienced practitioners. Brain scans were used to compare someone in a state of constant worry and mind wandering with someone else who was practising mindfulness. The differences, which were measured by looking at activity levels in different parts of the brain, were amazing. (Worriers spend, on average, 60% of their time on negative mind wandering.) “Me, me, me and my problems thinking” constantly agitates our minds but, when we switch into Mindfulness, all that part of the brain relaxes so that we are not worrying and no longer running the busy commentary which constantly agitates our minds. Mindfulness is valuable in silencing the chatter. It takes an investment of time but the studies showed that it is clearly very worthwhile. Simple techniques for practising mindfulness and meditation will be covered.
These, together with changes in our life/work balance, eating well and exercising will help us avoid long-term damage to our health.
If you are suffering from some of the symptoms described earlier, it is very probable that you are over sensitised because of increased levels of stress hormones. If the physical symptons are causing you as much worry as your original anxieties though, it might be a good idea to have the reassurance that there isn’t an underlying health concern.
If you have not already done so, the best place to start is by talking to your doctor. As you are likely to be in quite an emotional state, the different worries can just tumble out and it is as well to remember doctors' appointments these days are usually restricted to ten minutes. To make the best use of your visit, it might be worthwhile thinking through your anxiety symptoms and preparing some notes to help you explain to the doc what you think might be going on. At the very least, it will help to narrow down the possible causes of your concerns. He/she may recognise your symptoms as being anxiety based but it will also give the opportunity, if there are concerns, to arrange tests to see if any other health issues are present and contributing to your worry. If think you might get tongue-tied, the notes might also be a useful fallback to help both you and the doctor get the best from the appointment.
Even doctors have off days. You may feel that the appointment did not go so well. If that happens try not to let it upset your resolve. You could well have gone in with preconceived ideas which you feel he has dismissed to easily. But do give yourself time to evaluate all that might have been said. You will still have the option to go and see another doctor to achieve greater certainty if that feels absolutely necessary.
In the event that the doctor recognises anxiety or depression, there are a range of treatments on offer from therapy to medication. With regard to medication, there are issues to be considered in deciding whether or not it might help manage your anxiety. We can take a look at some of the things, both 'for' and 'against,' in a little more detail further on. Well-meaning friends will have their views but your doctor is likely to be in best position to help you decide. Sometimes your body just needs time to recover before you can start to put things right and it may be sedatives could help. Similarly, there are drugs that regulate mood or increase your levels of serotonin.
Therapy will only be successful when you work on getting better. If you are referred by your doctor for treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, it can involve a frustratingly long wait but in the meantime, keep in mind that, in addition to some of the complementary therapies such as acupuncture, tapping, aromatherapy and hypnosis (not to mention reiki) which are worthy of your consideration, there is much that you can do for yourself. And I am really hoping later sections will be able to give you some ideas. Again it is worth stressing that any or all options are worthy of discussion with a medical professional as and when the chance arises.
Everyone has their own version of “reality”. It starts from the moment we are born. We learn from our parents and other relatives, from our friends and from our teachers when we go to school. The society that we live in heavily influences our every day view of life. We all live on the same planet but how you see the world, and therefore your perception of the world, is likely to be completely different from someone, say, living in Russia or the Middle East. They will be influenced by the messages they receive from their government, from their media, and the people around them in just the same way as we are influenced from similar sources in our own country. But the messages being received will be quite different.
Having already created our reality, we tend to notice more the information we receive all the time that might agree with our view of the world. For instance, if we are disposed politically more towards the right or the left, we are more likely to buy a newspaper or watch TV programmes that agree generally with our views and confirm rather than challenge our thinking.
On another level, we subconsciously make similar choices in taking on board things that happen to us in day-to-day life. To take a simple example, say, the staff at your local supermarket do not seem overly helpful or user-friendly lately. The tendency is for your mind to register each time something happens that confirms this thinking. Your mind is more likely to not to notice so much the other times when things function normally. After all, that is the way it should be. Similarly, at home, sometimes little irritations within the family occur that begin to frustrate you. Again, your mind is more likely to register incidents that seem to confirm that things are not going well whilst no longer appreciating some of the little kindnesses happening all the time and which perhaps we just take for granted. These are easily overlooked because “that’s how things should be”.
The couple of situations described above are indicative that our thought patterns are influenced by our perceptions and can often be inaccurate. This brings its own problems as when we start to behave a little negatively about somebody or some situation that in turn is likely to provoke a reaction in those around you. Their attitude could change because they have noticed your mood. It sets up a chain reaction, and something that began insignificantly can build up in your mind and start to cause you anxiety.
Getting help and advice:
Examining your thoughts:
We’ve discussed above the concept that individual “Reality” is not something that is fixed. It is created by and changes through our own perceptions.
As most people consider their thoughts to be a true reflection of how things are, they don’t question them. But when we do start to examine any troubling thoughts we may be having, many do not hold up under scrutiny.
Anxiety causes different reactions in each of us. Some of us become so absolutely determined not to 'give in' we try to fight it ‘tooth and nail’. Examining what is going on so that we can better understand our anxiety is different from fighting. Fighting means more tension. More tension means more stress hormones are released. Recognise fears, examine them and reason with them. Try not to fight against them. Instead, try to understand causes, examine, and look at the issues from other perspectives.
Before we examine thoughts, we need to identify them. Often, we worry and get anxious about everyday things. It is only later we realise that most of those worries were unnecessary and even irrational. And yet we don’t tend to remember these realisations when we worry again next time. The moments when we feel panicky, are probably not the best for reflection. At those times, it is even harder to ‘make the leap’ that it just could be it is our own thoughts that are inaccurate. If there is something that is very upsetting going on that moment, we need to give ourselves time to calm down before getting in touch with thoughts. Breathing techniques can give us that space, as can channelling our thoughts elsewhere. Distraction is sometimes useful and music can help in that regard. Something gentle and calming might lift the mood or perhaps a bouncy cheerful song could do the trick such as 'Happy' by Pharrell Williams. If it didn't do the trick? Maybe not for you then! But I’m sure you could find something that might suit your taste.
In judging the accuracy of anxious thoughts, it is worthwhile asking yourself the following questions:
Has worrying ever changed anything?
Have I had thoughts like these before?
Did worries at that time come true?
Is there another way of looking at the situation?
I realise bad things do happen. What might the worst-case scenario be? (In which case, recalculating the true likelihood of that scenario often helps.)
Am I basing my thought predictions on my feelings or on true evidence?
First Thing Every Morning
To view, double click on the sun
One of the best ways to analyse worries is to keep a track of them. Record your thoughts, feelings and the triggers that make your more anxious. It will help you focus on your personal patterns of stress and worry. The journal could take several different forms depending on how your anxieties manifest themselves. One or more of the following might suit you or you might be able to tailor the strategy yourself.
Balancing Positive and Negative Thoughts
Anxiety can take many forms. The most common is Generalised Anxiety Disorder. It involves an almost constant state of worry and tension but not necessarily about anything in particular. It is symptomatic to worry about things that might happen or just that ‘life isn’t being kind to you at the moment’. Other worries are realistic and factual. For example, if you have debt worries whilst, if they remained unresolved, they could lead you down the path of general anxiety, in themselves they are not G.A.D. In that example, debt is a real-life problem for which there is practical help available. (There is a help line available in the links elsewhere on this page.)
With general anxiety disorders it can be a help to get negative thoughts into some sort of perspective. As suggested in the “Gaining Perspective” section, our minds ‘nag away’ at the worrying thought patterns. We all have bad stuff in our lives but if we tend to concentrate on the negative things without balancing them out with what is positive in our lives, we get distortion and negativity takes over. Try ruling up a page in your Thought Journal with two columns. List the concerns in one column but also make yourself think about the positives in your life and put those down in the second column. When you make the effort to concentrate on positive thoughts that can shift your focus.
If you reach the stage where, however much you have tried to stop, worrying thought patterns continue it might be the time to seek professional diagnosis but, in the meantime, strategies that you can find in self help books (some of which I will be listing in a bibliography later) or on this page are helpful in kick starting improvement and are worthy of exploring.
Think back to things that have caused anxiety in the past. Often we get anxious about everyday things. Later, in hindsight, we realise that most of the worrying was unecessay and sometimes irrational too. But, at the time, the worry created massive stress and anxiety. One of our frequent coping mechanisms is for our minds to put aside the impact of past traumas as part of the healing process. It gets 'filed away' but not forgotten. Remembering what happened when we previously had severe anxiety can help put current worries in to a more realistic perspective. As they happen, try writing down your anxieties, any physical sensations, anxious feelings, and rate the severity of those feelings. (1 could represent very mild anxiety through 100 to indicate the severest anxiety imaginable). Rule up some columns on your pages. The following suggested headings might be helpful.
Date of Journal Entry Keep a track of the timescales of your entries
Description of the Anxiety Write down as precisely as you can exactly what is worrying you
Feelings Describe the feelings you are having e.g. Are you afraid, terrified, agitated, insecure, apprehensive etc.
Physical Symptoms Record any bodily sensations e.g. headaches, pins and needles, churning stomach, dizzy, etc.
Trigger If you can, record what started you thinking this way
Rating As suggested above, rate the seriousness of your anxiety on a scale from 1 to 100
Chenges & Conclusions Keep a note of changes in your thought patterns e.g. increase, decrease or abatement
Recording your diary on a computer rather than a notebook might give you more peace of mind as you can password protect the content. After a while, review your diary to see if there are recurring themes. Can you identify anything that most concerns, or constantly concerns you? Only when you gather all the facts which are causing your worries can you start to find the answers. As was mentioned earlier on this page only by understanding your anxieties can you begin to weed out worries by considering possible solutions and figuring out what is best for you.
If you are prone to anxiety, at the very least, the journal will almost certainly be of future value to you to enable you to track whether or not the situations that caused you concern actually materialised. Invariably, say six months later, you will have the benefit of hindsight and be able to reflect that many of those doubts and fears did not prove so damaging and it might enable current anxieties to be viewed in a different context.
Verifying Anxious Thoughts
Try to use your Journal to investigate today’s worries. What is the substance of the anxiety? Again, rule up your Journal.
What is the Source of My Worry Record a specific worry
Is My Worry true? Look at your anxious thoughts objectively and try to assess the probability of your worry coming true.
Have I had to Deal with Anything Like This in the Past? Try reflecting on previous worries. Have you had thoughts like this before? If you already have a ‘Past Anxieties’ page, check back as to how you dealt with it then.
Sometimes it helps to get ‘worst case scenarios’ into perspective. “What is the likelihood of the ‘worst case’ happening?” Or, even if it does, facing your fears and dealing with them rather than avoidance is so often the best course of action. Sadly, there are concerns such as severe illness, end-of-life worries or contemplating bereavement which can be difficult to cope with. If the anxiety is exceptionally severe as it can well be for the examples given, specialist professional help could be the best answer.
"Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive because your words become your behaviour.
Keep your behaviour positive because your behaviour becomes your habits.
Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values.
Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny."