Having worked with thousands of people at this stage who have suffered from anxiety, I have learned a massive amount as to how issues like panic attacks and generalised anxiety disorder work. Furthermore there are a number of other anxiety based problems such as insomnia, stuttering and blushing. What I will discuss here is by no means exhaustive and there are many different approaches out there. I simply write this post hoping that it might help you to understand anxiety better and maybe, just maybe, offer you something that can help if you find yourself dealing with one of these problems.
First, the term ‘anxiety’ is an unfortunate one. It is a noun which presupposes that it is a ‘thing’ which exists. The problem is that when you do your best to help people with ‘it’ they often say: ‘What if it comes back?’ Sometimes I hear people say that ‘panic follows them everywhere’ or ‘anxiety takes them over’ or ‘insomnia kicks in’. All of these unfortunate expressions use the metaphor of anxiety or panic or insomnia as being ‘alive with an intention and an ability to act in a particular way’. They all have the commonality that we are at the mercy of something external which invades us. This very perspective can often be part of the problem. Despite this I will use the same way of describing such problems to relate to those who use the terms on a regular basis.
Nonetheless, the way you think about the problem is part of the problem and, in this case, how you think about the problem determines whether or not it gets worse. For example, just like you can be depressed about being depressed, most people get anxious about their anxiety. In my experience, it is in this pattern that most of the challenging aspects of the problem arise.
When someone suffers from insomnia, they can’t sleep so they become anxious that they cannot sleep and that makes it even harder. When someone suffers from anxiety, they struggle to relax so they become anxious about not being able to relax. When someone blushes, the more they feel anxious about blushing, the more they find themselves blushing.
The law of reverse effort suggests that the harder you try to do something the harder it becomes. This is the ultimate conundrum that anxiety battlers face. So, what is the trick?
For many years now, one of the most useful suggestions that I have used with people in such situations involved them actually trying to panic more, stutter more, blush more or trying to stay awake. By actually attempting to do what you are afraid of… you stop being as anxious of it happening. Now, the crucial thing is to really consciously do it and not just ‘allow it to happen’. Even the worst kind of stutterers have a problem in stuttering on every single word in a sentence.
Now this technique might be interpreted as pure reverse psychology but it is not like that exactly. In reverse psychology you tell a person to do something hoping they will do the opposite. Here they are in on it. They know that the overall goal is to give them control. The art is to provide them with something that actually reverses the direction of their anxiety.
Mindfulness has shown to be useful in handling such issues because of a similar reason. By acknowledging and ‘observing’ the anxious thoughts, you disconnect from them and therefore you take the power away from them, just as your efforts to make things worse takes the power away from the problem.
With NLP you learn how to condition your mind to calm down whenever you start to panic. So, you learn skills of changing the way you think which gives you more control over your thoughts and how they impact your feelings. Mostly, as explained earlier, the metaphor you are using is challenged and we would look at your ‘anxiety strategy’ or your ‘insomnia strategy’.
Specifically, the question would be asked: ‘What do you do unconsciously in order for you to get anxious?’ In other words, you would now see these issues as verbs or actions or strategies rather than nouns or things outside of your control. Then, it is just a case of programming yourself to do something different.
To me, these two strategies account for the majority of successful methodologies used with anxiety related problems. The person’s ability to turn the problems into things that they do and teaching them to train their mind to do something else is the first. The second is the ability to show that there is nothing at all to be afraid of by either observing the fearful thoughts at a distance or trying but failing to make the feelings worse.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I wrote this post hoping that it might help you to understand anxiety better and maybe offer you something to help if you find yourself dealing with one of these problems. I hope you find this advice helpful in beating anxiety.