Anxiety: Communication Therapy

Brian Robinson.

The internal network.

It can be quite useful to try and come up with a definition for anxiety. I say this because once you have a sound definition, you automatically open up a recovery pathway. So, we might ask, can anxiety be defined as an emotional disorder; is it a tension disorder; is it a problem with focus; is it a loss of control; is it a psychological disorder? If these definitions are correct, then in theory, dealing with them should solve the problem.

We can ask: if our emotions were settled and normal, would we still be anxious? If we were stress free and relaxed, would that solve the problem? If we were in complete control of our body and mind, would anxiety still exist? If we had a healthy and diffuse focus, would we be suffering? If our thinking was relaxed and healthy, could we still be anxious? I think it possible to argue that if we deal with the issues the definitions have highlighted, then we would automatically get the anxiety genie back in the bottle.

This may be telling us that there are a number of different ways to resolve our anxiety. Or, it might equally be telling us that there are a number of different avenues we have to approach in order to recover. Both could be true.

Distorted or conflicting signals.

Ideally then, it might be an idea to come up with a definition which actually embraces all of the above definitions. To that end, I prefer to define anxiety as a breakdown in communications. Fight or flight only becomes aroused when faulty signals are received by the sympathetic nervous system and the brain. We send out ‘danger present’ signals and our nervous system reacts accordingly.

There is in fact no such thing as communication therapy, but I believe there should be. Once we begin to send ‘danger past’ signals our nervous system will automatically start to relax. The more signals we send: the quicker anxiety will begin to wain.

The best way to communicate with the sympathetic nervous system is to reduce tension levels. There are lots of ways we can do that. Simple breathing exercises; having a structured day; reviving old hobbies and interests; gentle exercise; the list is endless.

Another way to get the message through is via the things the sympathetic nervous controls. For example, when we do a simple breathing exercise we reduce heart-rate and this links directly with our nervous system. When we over chew and savour our food this also send a clear ‘danger past’ message. Connecting with our sympathetic nervous system is where everything should start. This will have immediate effect and will help to stabilise matters.

The central nervous system

Connecting with our central nervous system, i.e. our brain, is where everything continues. But how do we connect with our brain? Well, everything we do offers an opportunity to tell our brain that we are safe and away from danger. We can use our senses as both filters and feeders. We filter out the bad depressing things like watching bad news on TV. And we feed in good things like listening to relaxing music.

We can begin to put our thinking on a more healthy trajectory: worrying less; distracting away from negative thoughts; processing our issues in a way that is more relaxing. We can try to replace the bad thoughts with more positive, uplifting ones: counting our blessings; making plans; focusing more on recovery.

Our behaviours also have an important part to play. Exercise is a known stress-buster. Getting outside more; connecting with people and places; trying to revive hobbies and interests, all have the potential to improve communication.

Communication: the name of the recovery game.

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