Nerves are normal and natural – and everyone feels that way sometimes. Nerves and fear keep us safe, secure, and mindful of our surroundings. But what happens when those perfectly normal, helpful feelings of nervousness spiral into something altogether ‘unhelpful’?
That, my friends, is when anxiety becomes a problem.
You’re standing at the side of the road about to step out and cross. A car hurtles around the corner at breakneck speed missing you by centimetres as you jump back to the safety of the curb.
And it should be!
You are in genuine fear for your safety. It’s an appropriate, ‘in the moment’ reaction to something pretty damn scary!
You’re shaking a bit, your palms are sweaty, your heart is thumping – that quick, ‘without stopping to think’, amygdala-based action, saved… your… life!!
Once the initial adrenaline dissipates, the feelings subside, the physical symptoms melt away, and the danger has passed. Phew! Relief floods your body and you’re all good to go – what a story you have to tell the people at work when you get back from lunch.
This is fear. A healthy, natural, and appropriate reaction to something which represents a real and present danger to your physical body.
You’re standing at the side of the road about to step out and cross.
You’ve scanned the whole area for cars – cos, you know, safety first! You see a car about 100 metres away – plenty of time for you to cross safely.
Then it starts…
“Is it far enough away?”
“Can I make it?”
“What if the driver is distracted by a phone call?”
“What if they don’t see me?”
“What if it hits me?”
“Are there people here who can phone an ambulance if it does?”
“Who will pick up my kids from school if I’m in hospital?”
That’s when you scroll through the possible scenarios – at breakneck speed. You’re probably not even consciously aware of all those thoughts.
You’re future-tripping, negatively forecasting and predicting danger…
You’re standing – frozen – at the side of the road.
An unhealthy, unnatural, limiting, and inappropriate reaction to something which represents a perceived (but not real) danger to your physical body.
And this is a problem.
Experiencing anxiety like this could lead to people avoiding busy roads, avoiding crossing roads unless there is a crossing available, taking much longer routes around the problem – even avoiding crossing roads altogether!
This may seem extreme, but anxiety is limiting the things people expose themselves to all the time.
If you need to cross a busy road to get to work, or pick your kids up from school, or get to the gym – and you do something different because of anxiety – it’s limiting your life choices and experiences.
This is a problem.
The physical reactions you experience are all generated in the amygdala and are the same – the rush of adrenaline, increased heart rate, tunnel vision, shaking etc. but ‘anxiety’ is the fear of something which may or may not happen in the future and is not healthy or appropriate.
Fear is a response to something real, and anxiety is a response to something ‘perceived’ as real.
In its simplest terms, anxiety is in the head, fear is in the body.
There is an incredibly long, detailed, and personal answer I could give to this question, but… I’ll try to keep it brief, simple, and actionable! Here are my top three tips…
I know it’s hard when you’re in the throes of anxiety to take a step back and try to observe, but that is what I am asking you to do. When the feelings start – you know what it feels like for you – recognise it for what it is. It’s anxiety. It’s not dangerous. You are likely not ‘in danger’.
I use something called my Bliss-o-Meter (you may have heard me mention it once or twice!!!) to do this.
It’s a 0-10 scale – 10 being total Bliss (you can use your own word for this – calm, serene, confident – whatever your goal feeling is) and 0 being the exact opposite. I have created descriptions of how I feel at each of those stages. When I feel the anxiety start, I look to my Bliss-o-Meter, and place myself somewhere on that scale.
Now, I have data – something I can work with. This puts me in control. I’m not ‘spiralling into panic’, I’m simply a ‘6’. Much less emotive and fatalistic!
Once you’ve recognised it and quantified it, observe and allow it. Don’t fight it – that just puts you back into ‘Fight or Flight’ and produces even more adrenaline!!!
When you feel ready, you can start thinking about how you might move yourself up to a ‘7’ and start to feel ‘one point on the scale better’.
I speak to a lot of people about breathing. I love breathing – I mean, who doesn’t?!
But I come up against some resistance when I suggest breathing exercises to people.
Some feel their anxiety is ‘just too extreme’ for breathing to work. Some have tried it, but not ‘mastered’ it, so have dismissed it as ineffective. Some, just aren’t prepared to work at it – and I get it!
Anxiety makes you feel unique, special, significant. And recovery can be uncomfortable.
But I really feel like breathing properly is worth the effort.
My favourite is 4-8 breathing (in for four, out for eight). It activates the parasympathetic nervous system (on the longer out-breath), dissipating adrenaline and helping you feel more relaxed. My hypnotherapist told me it’s impossible to really control your breathing and panic at the same time. It just can’t happen.
So, once you accept that, learn the technique, and practice it every day – I’m hoping you’ll change your mind.
So many people are on the fence… I think when used in a certain way, they can be life-changing. (Join my Facebook Group and search for ‘affirmations’ for some great posts and conversations around how to create the best ones for you.)
You can use them every morning, in the mirror to reinforce a positive state of mind a la Louise Hay.
But, I also like to teach my clients to use them as a tool, ‘in the moment’ to redirect their thoughts.
So, you’ve given yourself a number on the scale… you’ve breathed your initial physical anxiety into submission… but you’re still thinking some negative or unhelpful thoughts.
First off, accept and acknowledge the thought. You might even what to thank it for showing up and trying to keep you safe – yes, you can talk to your thoughts, obvs!
But, have a more positive version of that story ‘on hand’ so you can redirect your thoughts towards something kinder – it’s much easier and more natural to replace one thought with another than it is to simply ‘stop thinking a thought’. Try it!
I have a whole host of affirmations on my wall in my office, so as soon as I start thinking in a way that is not helpful for me, I can look up and see all kinds of positive messages and pick one to redirect to.
For example, one that still comes up for me is:
“Why do I still get anxious sometimes? Why is this still happening to me? I’ve done the work; I have the tools; I even help others – I’m so frustrated!”
This is adrenaline-pumping, ‘fighting talk’ if ever I heard it!
So, I listen, accept, thank it, and turn it around:
“Everyone gets anxious sometimes, this is perfectly normal. I am constantly improving and doing the work, I’m using my tools; I even get to help others – how amazing is that?! I’m excited to get to a 10 in confidence and know this will happen very soon!”
You get the idea.
I really hope I’ve provided a clearer idea about what anxiety actually is and the difference between genuine fear and perceived ‘anxiety-based’ fear. I’d love to hear if you use any of the strategies above to help ease your anxiety in whatever situation you find yourself in.
If you find yourself in an anxious state more often than you’d like and it is becoming a problem for you, please drop me a line and let’s connect. Or jump into our Facebook Group and join the conversation there. Working together, we can transform your relationship with anxiety and help you fall back in love with your life again.
Hi there, my name’s Kathryn and I’m your Anxiety Release Coach.
My mission is to connect with, help and support as many open-minded, women as possible who want to transform their relationship with anxiety, fall back in love with their work and life, and willing to believe recovery is at least possible.
Over the last few years, I have honed and tweaked the tools and techniques which worked for me, into my ‘Beyond Anxiety Blueprint’ which focuses on identifying your personal path to recovery, and delivering three key outcomes:
Why not join us in our Facebook Group – our community for open-minded women from all walks of life learning to live anxiety-free, reconnect with their inner-selves, and shine in their lives, careers and businesses with conscious, calm, confidence?
Or you can download my guide: ‘Journal your way to CONSCIOUS, CALM, CONFIDENT‘ to give you a little ‘Consciousness Jumpstart’!