By Brian Robinson.
If you’ve read modules one and two, you will be aware that having a basic understanding of anxiety and panic, and being in the right frame of mind, is the best preparation for a program of anxiety recovery. Ideally, we want to set off on the right foot and here are a number of things that might help us do that.
The best way to start a recovery process is to have at least the outline for your plan. As it happens, the word recovery works well as an acronym which will serve to give your plan an identity and some substance.
Relaxation Therapy. Relaxation of body and mind is the key to everything.
Emotional Therapy. Emotions can figure heavily in anxiety.
Cognitive Therapy. Managing thinking equates with managing anxiety
Open mind. Keeping an open mind is the best way to face unpredictability.
Visualisation. Visualisation figures strongly in many therapeutic approaches.
Exercise. Exercise is now understood as a useful tool when dealing with anxiety.
Routine. Having a daily routine adds to psychological feelings of safety.
Yourself. When deep in anxiety, you have to give yourself and your recovery high priority.
Having a plan that you can easily call to mind is psychologically and emotionally relaxing. Writing the plan down will help to give it more substance and you should add to it as your recovery progresses. Get into the habit of keeping a journal. This will help monitor progress and record milestones.
Never set a deadline for recovery. Recovery plans can disintegrate when deadlines are not met. Never measure success day by day or week by week. Anxiety can be erratic and unpredictable, so we can only see progress over longer periods. For example, you could be anxiety free for six months, and then have a day when you feel a bit anxious. That would be entirely normal and expected. But your work towards recovery can never be undone by a having a bad day.
The importance of adopting an accepting attitude cannot be understated. When we feel panic coming we naturally try to resist and push it away. It is difficult not to do this, however, resistance is of itself tension producing and may make matters worse. It is far better to allow the panic in and try not to resist it emotionally or psychologically. It is what it is, but rest assured that we have a plan which will eventually tackle it.
Try and give your plan a solid structure. Make sure you have set times for working on thinking and emotions as well as physical relaxation. A recovery day should look as near as possible the same as a normal day, even though your motivation may be low and you may not feel like reviving old hobbies and interests. Behaviours are very important and if you behave as a safe person might, then your brain will automatically begin to think that you may be safe. Behave like an anxious or depressed person: and this will reinforce the idea that you are anxious or depressed. It is, if you like, a form of brain trickery.
It is a good idea to try and distance yourself from your condition. Maintaining an ongoing dialogue with your anxiety can have a positive psychological benefit. This will give you a sense that you are dealing with things and are more in control. You can also go into ‘observer mode’ where you record and monitor progress more as a scientist might. This can help take the edge off things. Some people use transference where they deflect their anxiety. You can do this via personification or animation. This is where you might see your anxiety as say a frightened and perhaps confused child. You can talk to your inner child and reassure him or her that everything will be fine. Others see their anxiety perhaps as a cartoon character with a silly squeaky voice. This also allows dialogue and helps you see your anxiety in perhaps a less serious way. You’re heard the expression, “If I didn’t laugh I’d cry.”
Focus becomes a major consideration with anxiety. Indeed, we could even describe anxiety as a condition directly related to focus. Ideally, a healthy focus should be diffuse and spread across several areas of life. When we become anxious, however, we only tend to focus inwardly on our anxiety and how that is making us feel. This is a characteristic of the condition. To bring about change, we should at least try and focus on external things more. We should try and notice things and pay more attention to what is happening in the external world.
Our five senses have important roles to play in anxiety recovery. The idea is that we should use them as both filters and feeders. We should try and filter out the bad things, for example, rather than watch horror movies, we should watch comedy or light entertainment. And we should feed in the good things: listen to nice relaxing music; surround ourselves with pleasant smells; have something smooth and tactile to handle. Stroke your dog or play with worry beads for example.
You may feel that crying is an admission of defeat, but in fact, it is a great way to release tension. Anxiety has the potential to bring us to our knees, but we have to remember that anxiety is no more than a mistake. We are not being punished or fought against; and it is not a hopeless or despairing condition; even though it may feel that way.
People’s reactions to anxiety and panic can vary considerably. One person will sit quietly and wait for the panic to pass: another will find themselves at accident and emergency. Controlling the way we react to panic can be important. The whole idea behind the condition, is that our brain wants us to react and panic. The reality is, we do not have to react to anxiety. There is no danger, so why react? Reacting sends the wrong signal and may make matters worse.
One of the truths about anxiety is that we have no direct control over it. If our tension levels are high, and if our brain feels disposed toward anxiety, then we will be anxious. This can be a difficult and frustrating truth to deal with. We can have some small impact on day to day anxiety, but most of the time it is in the lap of the gods. However, we can apply tremendous indirect control and that is precisely what a recovery plan does. We do not literally control: we simply apply control: and we then gradually regain control.
Be prepared to be flexible with your plan. What works for some may not work for others. Don’t be afraid to change your routine. Be prepared to experiment and try different things. For example, if you become anxious at certain times of the day, try and change what you are doing at those times. Quite often with anxiety sufferers, anxiety behaviours get set. We have to be careful about that and at least be aware of them.
These are just a few ideas that will help get you started. In the next module we will look at how we can reduce physical tension.