Anxiety is rocketing and more of us want to know how to help ourselves without relying on medication.
In other blogs I explore lifestyle, eating habits, exercise and specifically other types of changes that can help reduce anxiety.
Here I discuss how anxiety manifests and look at two techniques that directly talk to the anxiety that can help reduce its power.
How Does Anxiety Start?
It all starts with a negative thought.
That negative thought kick-starts an emotion; usually fear. Fear of the future, the unknown whether real or imagined.
The brain listens to our emotions and when we indicate we feel stressed or frightened it knows we need help.
This is a normal response by a normal, and healthy, brain. It is the brain’s job to keep us alive. By kicking into action, it is fulfilling its role.
Consequently it will then kick-start the adrenals, which shoot out a hormone called cortisol.
This cortisol acts has a super charge, giving us extra strength for either fighting or fleeing. It can make us see better, respond faster, hear better and become more aware of everything around us so we don’t miss anything that could be a threat.
This is called the “fight or flight” response, which you may have already heard of.
The brain is acting to keep us safe and all of this happens before we even know it’s happening. It’s brilliant!
However, our brain cannot analyze what is making us feel threatened. It’s not that clever. It can’t see what’s going on that it can’t distinguish between a thought and a real live threat.
For example, if we were walking down the street and we saw police cars scream past we would have a reactionary thought which went something like “I’ve got to get out of here.”
The brain would kick in with a shot of cortisol helping us to make a lightning quick decision about what we need to do next.
But, think of this. If we are planning to go to a social function later on and we are terrified of having to talk to our boss, or an ex, we might be going over and over how to deal with that situation in our mind.
Each negative thought we have triggers our brain to respond as if this were a threat. The cortisol kicks in and the effect we feel in the body is panic.
The effect is no difference to us seeing police cars screaming down the street where the body would tell us to run. The brain cannot distinguish between the two.
Of course, going to the social function may feel frightening but it is not threatening. But your body is responding as if it is threatening. This increases the anxiety and the risk of anxiety attack.
Your brain senses your fear but cannot distinguish between a real-life threatening situation and a thought.
It’s our job to work out what is a threat, what isn’t, then informing our brain. The brain works like a computer in that it simply responds to an emotion like a computer responds to an input.
To Sum Up
So here’s how it works. We have a thought, which triggers an emotion. The brain then reacts to the emotion with the appropriate hormone. In the case of anxiety it is usually cortisol. (If we had a happy thought, the brain would release serotonin or dopamine.)
Cortisol makes us feel hyper aware, vigilant, our heart beats faster, which makes us alert but also makes us feel panicky.
Here’s how it works in the fight or flight cycle:
The emotions are in the driving seat. The brain reacts to them and floods the body with the appropriate hormone.
It’s doing a great job, which is what it’s meant to do.
How To Help Anxiety Naturally? Focus On Your Thoughts
Now here’s something to think about:
What you focus on grows.
This is one thing I absolutely believe in. If I think I’m going to have a bad day, the chances are I do. It is bizarre because even if the universe sends me gift after gift, if I’m focusing on having a bad day I simply miss those gifts.
Of course it’s not easy to focus on good things when our anxiety is skyrocketing. However it’s good to know that when we feel more grounded, we can take a look at what thoughts we are focusing on.
It’s helpful to write down exactly what thoughts are dominating your mind. Getting them down on paper is one way of taking them out of the brain. Remember, every negative thought is triggering a small amount of cortisol to flood your body.
Anxiety attacks happen when the body is overwhelmed with stress hormones and from the above diagram it clear that this all starts with a thought.
What I like to do is be aware of what I’m thinking, identify the negative thoughts and challenge them.
Often my negative thoughts are about the future - which I can’t control and what’s really amounts to my own imagination.
What I can control is what I focus on and nowadays I tried to focus on things that make me feel good.
Here’s How To Help Anxiety Naturally, Particularly When You Are Experiencing An Anxiety Attack.
The problem with anxiety attacks is that once they started it’s very difficult to stop them. Like when a dam bursts, all you can do is to simply wait until the water subsides.
I’ve learned through experience however there are some things you can do to minimize the effects of anxiety attack.
Here are two techniques that have worked for me: ITC and breathing exercises.
By practicing these techniques regularly, the anxiety attacks have now stopped.
I highly recommend reading through these techniques and memorizing them just in case you ever need them.
Radical Acceptance Technique Known As ITC
ITC which stands for: I – It’s coming, T – Take a breath, C – Compassion is a technique based on accepting the anxiety instead of trying to fight it or push it away.
Throughout all my work with others, this is the one concept that has worked.
Not only does this technique help soothe us through the anxiety but it also helps to build resilience to makes us fearless.
This is not a rigid practice and I encourage you to adapt it to how it works best for you.
I - It’s coming
Even though anxiety attack seems to come out of nowhere, there are changes in our body, which would indicate one is looming. Up to 1 hour before our breathing becomes shallow. We might feel differently, perhaps more spaced out or even faint.
At this point I recognize that anxiety attack is imminent and I focus my mind on radically accepting the anxiety. I talk myself through where I’m at and acknowledge that I’m highly anxious.
T - Take a breath
I take a check on my breathing. I know that anxiety attacks are made 100 times worse with shallow breathing. Shallow breathing decreases carbon dioxide and increases oxygen. This is what makes us feel faint which, in turn, makes us feel panicky.
Just having this information helps me to use the 7/11 method where are you breathe in for 7 and out for 11.
C - Practice Compassion
At this point I practice talking to myself in away that is gentle and supportive. I used to beat myself up and ask myself what’s wrong with me? Over and over and over again.
Now I tell myself that these sensations are temporary, that I’m suffering high anxiety, that the feelings will pass, that I’m not going to die and in two hours I will feel better.
But for just now I place my hand on my chest and tell myself I love myself and I will be okay.
So by investigating why I suffer from such high anxiety and then using the ITC technique to calm myself through an anxiety attack, I don’t suffer from them any more.
Breathing Techniques That Help Anxiety Naturally
One of the side effects of too much cortisol in the body is over breathing or hyperventilation. Over breathing feels like you can’t catch your breath or you can’t get enough oxygen in your body.
However the opposite is true.
Over breathing creates too much oxygen in the body and not enough carbon dioxide or CO2. Over breathing stops the body from retaining enough CO2 which means your body can’t use the oxygen you’ve got. This feels like you haven’t got enough air when in fact you have too much.
Over breathing can happen up to an hour before the anxiety attack even starts. Many people who suffer from anxiety attacks don’t even realise they are over breathing until they are so far in they feel like they’ve lost control.
Although over breathing is a symptom of an anxiety attack, it has it’s own symptoms too:
Shortness of breath
I have written a full article with references to scientific research, which will fully explain Great ways to tackle over breathing whilst feeling very anxious. Click Here
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**** Please remember I am not a doctor. This is guidance and should never replace medical advice*****