I first started experiencing extreme anxiety around the age of 17 following a traumatic event. This initial episode was so bad that along with frequent and debilitating panic attacks, I also experienced another painful side-effect to my anxiety, which was an acid-reflux condition so bad that it left my oesophagus awfully damaged. I wasn't able to eat anything solid for about a week and a half, couldn't speak properly and swallowing was excruciating.
The funny thing was that I didn't even realise that I was suffering from extreme anxiety when I attended my appointment with the doctor for my acid-reflux problem. It wasn't until he began asking me questions and finally prescribed me with the anxiety drug Lorazepam, that I actually realised that I was feeling anxious in relation to my situation at the time. The reality was that I was so disconnected from my emotions that my body was forced to manifest some serious physical symptoms just so I would no longer ignore how I was feeling.
This is why mindfulness is such a powerful and transformative tool in dealing with stress and anxiety. I only wish that I had known about it all those years ago; personally, in the long-term it would have been a lot more effective for dealing with and preventing anxiety than waiting for it to happen and popping a pill.
Although I understand that medication is necessary for some people to handle their conditions, I strongly believe that all too often both doctors and patients are too quick to jump to the conclusion that the only way forward is to medicate. There needs to be a more holistic approach that explores solutions that really help people to help themselves.
Respected educator, speaker, and psychiatrist, Dr Suvrat Bhargave describes anxiety as a 'false alarm'. Anxiety is our primal 'fight or flight' response. In today's modern lifestyle, where we're not being threatened by a mammoth or stalked by a sabre-toothed tiger, it means that chronic anxiety is sounding off an alarm when there is no real physical danger there. Dr Bhargave explains that the first step in dealing with anxiety is acknowledging that your thoughts (beliefs and perceptions) are causing your brain to keep falsely sounding the alarm.
The good news is that through mindfulness and gentle, yet persistent self-coaching, we can teach ourselves to turn off the alarm. To do this we must be willing to have a dialogue with ourselves and to actively monitor our thoughts and feelings. Anytime we begin to feel the physical symptoms of anxiety taking hold in our body, it's time to stop and speak to ourselves with a calm, reassuring but firm voice and explain that we are safe.
Affirmations can work wonders in these situations. We can affirm the following things: I am safe, I am well, I am always able to choose my response to any situation. Combining affirmations with conscious breathing exercises (breathing in I acknowledge my anxiety, breathing out I let go of my anxiety) can help to instantly calm our thoughts and our physical symptoms as well.
Once we are more readily in touch with or conscious of the thoughts and feelings that trigger an anxious response, it may be that we are in a better position to start voicing them to someone we can trust. Often even just the verbal acknowledgement that we are feeling a negative emotion can have a hugely healing effect.
Sometimes anxiety can be linked to a psychological trauma that has taken place when we were younger. That's why many people find it beneficial to write a letter to their inner child, explaining that there is no longer a need to worry or feel anxious, that they are now an adult that can look after themselves and that they are safe. If you've been suffering from ongoing anxiety, why not take half an hour for yourself and try this exercise to see if it helps?
I'm a firm believer that if there's a will, there's a way. If anxiety is taking over your life, it's time to take back control. Commit to confronting and monitoring your thoughts and feelings and gradually you'll be able to turn off anxiety's false alarm.
Question: Do you suffer from anxiety? Have you tried to overcome it through mindfulness techniques? What has been your experience?