Yes it’s a trick – but it’s a good one. It’s a trick that fools our body into thinking that the danger has passed and so it can stop producing adrenaline and reacting as if life-threatening danger is present.
Not as advanced as we think we are
The problem is not the anxiety; it’s that we’re under-evolved. Our bodies were designed for life around 100,000 years ago when our only mode of transport was our legs and we could only communicate with others by speaking directly to them. There were no employers. There was no money. No bills to pay. And if someone threatened us it was perfectly acceptable to club them over the head.
Danger was always immediate and dealt with when it arose. You didn’t have to go away and worry about the whether the lion was going to eat you in three weeks time. You worried about the lion when it was in front of you and you stopped worrying as soon as the danger had passed. If you were hungry you went out and found some food – you didn’t sit in your mud hut for three days wondering what you were going to do because you were starving.
The adrenaline boost, otherwise known as the fight or flight response, was designed to give you more energy in emergency situations. It was always followed by physical action – running away, climbing a tree, or sticking your spear into something. That physical action cleared it out of your system and after a rest you were good to go.
That was fine and perfect for the life humans once lived.
But then they started thinking.
Too much thinking
One of the things about the body-mind is that it has a tough time telling the difference between imagination and reality. Your body responds to your imagination as if what you were imagining was real. If you don’t believe this just spend a few moments thinking about a lemon. Imagine holding it in your hand, feeling the texture, squeezing it just a little. Then hold it under your nose and inhale that deliciously fresh lemon scent. Then place the lemon on your kitchen counter, pick up a knife and cut it in two. Notice the juice oozing out onto your counter. Can you smell it? Pick up one of the pieces, stick out your tongue and squeeze a few drops of juice onto your tongue.
Now notice the increased salivary activity in your mouth.
There was no lemon.
Imagination is more powerful than reality
Your imagination is so powerful that when you think fearful thoughts – thoughts about something you don’t like or don’t want in your life – your body responds as if you were in real danger. It releases adrenaline, pushes the heart rate up, increases blood pressure, increases respiration rate and a whole bunch of other stuff that you won’t like.
When your life is such that you are worried most of the time, then this situation becomes chronic and your body never gets the break it needs.
So start to notice those times when something happens that causes you to worry. Then notice that your thoughts are focusing on an imagined future. You are predicting all the things that could go wrong, all the worst case scenarios. This is true even if something bad has already happened. You will be imagining life now in the presence of the bad thing having happened – imagining how difficult life will be now, for instance.
Very, very rarely is anything bad happening right now. If something bad is happening right now then do what you can to protect yourself or escape from the situation. If nothing bad is happening right now then that means it either has happened or you imagine it will happen. So recognise this and then notice your breathing.
I mentioned earlier that part of the fight/flight response is increased respiration rate. So notice your breathing and start to slow it down. Slow it down by slowly, a little at a time, deepening your breath.
Slow it down
Most of us, most of the time, breathe quite shallowly into the middle part of our lungs. So place your hand on your abdomen, about the area of your navel, and take the breath into the lower part of your lungs so that you push your hand out. When you breathe out, really pull in your abdominal muscles so that you expel all of the breath – this will pull your hand in towards your spine. It may take a few breaths to get used to this, but once you’ve got it then start to slow down the rate at which you breathe in and out. Really slow down the breath. Breathe as slowly as you can. If you feel any sense of discomfort or breathlessness then just take a few normal breaths before returning to abdominal breathing. Do this for around five minutes.
This is the trick I mentioned at the beginning. Slow, relaxed breathing is associated with peace and tranquillity, not danger. So as you establish this easy, relaxed breathing pattern, your body-mind gets the message that everything is ok and we don’t need to do the fight/flight thing any more. This breathing technique breaks the cycle that maintains the anxiety state. It also distracts you from whatever your worry thoughts were because rather than breathing automatically, as we do most of the time, you have taken breathing under conscious control and that takes mind effort and re-directs your thoughts.
Try it and see what happens.
If you want to find out more about how to reduce anxiety check out my video The ABC of Anxiety Relief which goes into a little more detail. It’s only a little over ten minutes long.
If you prefer to read than watch then have a look at my book Change Your Life with Self Hypnosis which is bursting with simple solutions to anxiety and other problems that cause life to be less than we would wish it to be. But it’s a little more than that. It is a training course in discovering how to be Master of your Mind, rather than allowing your mind to be the master of you.