Navigating the minefield of your mind
Overcoming anxiety, depression and too much mind chatter really is possible, it happens every day and the answer is right here…
It is so easy to get completely lost in the minefield of mind. You can just be sitting there, minding your own business, and before you know it a thought arises that pulls you off in a direction, and before you know it you are lost in some emotion, and from there you start wondering what that feeling is all about…. And this can continue to lead you around unconsciously from one thought to another until you are lost and exhausted. This is a cycle that can dominate and control much of your life and can lead to extreme states of anxiety and suffering unless you gain control.
Jacob was 10 when his parents brought him to me with such severe anxiety he couldn’t sleep; causing him increasing problems in his social life, school and home. He had started to spiral into a very deep depression and state of worry nearly all the time. I looked at this intelligent little boy who was so easy to talk to, and wondered what could have set off these chain of emotional events for him so intensely. In our chats I discovered that his parents had recently separated, and this had caused some unsettled feelings that had been left unresolved. Jacob, who had always been a deep thinker, then tried to think his way out of the problem… and this is where it all started to twist out of control. In response to feeling unsettled, he tried to look for safe thoughts in his mind. While it’s very natural it’s a risky place to look for safety because the mind’s sole job is to protect you through fear, by looking for trouble, danger and judging everything. The risky part is that if there is no source of real danger or trouble the mind will invent some, and set off the same chain reaction in the body no matter if the dangers are real or imagined. This is what anxiety is. It IS NOT a warm fuzzy place to go to resolve things. So with Jacob that set off an onslaught of mind talk and questions… like “what else could go wrong with my family that will make me feel like this?” “What else is going to end in my life?” His mind then did a great job of looking for answers to the questions he was unknowingly asking and he started to everything in between. This is what his mind kicked up in order to try and help him imagine all the worst possible scenarios and ‘plan’ for it. All this set his body of in a series of constant panic responses as if he was in actual danger. Jacob had no idea why he was panicking and anxious, or even what he was thinking. He was just doing what was natural, his only mistake was to follow all the trains of thought around and around in his head looking for some solution, not realising it was now the CAUSE of his problem.
What is happening in this cycle – understand it…
- The feeling of being nervous, or unsure happens. In the body this sets off a bunch of chemical and hormonal reactions that just need a few minutes to pass before you would settle down naturally if you allowed it to.
- The idea that something is ‘wrong’ with that feeling that needs fixing comes as a thought to the mind. There is a little part of your brain responsible for searching for danger called the amygdala and it will pump your body full of fuel in the form of oxygen and adrenaline to help you respond quickly to danger. The problem is that there is no real danger. This fight/flight response is supposed to just be used when you have a lion chasing you, or you need some super strength or speed to get you out of trouble, some real threat to you that will require all this extra fuel. So where does all this extra ‘energy’ go when there is no danger?
- Referring to mind/thoughts to look for a solution; it’s like asking a 2 year old to do your maths exam – it’s simply not qualified, it’s not the mind’s job. It does what it knows is best thinks of all the worst pictures to try and prepare you. This keeps firing off the amygdala like a panic button over and over flooding your body with more and more fuel, and this fuel imitates the same feelings as fear. Your body is responding to all the extra chemicals by panting fast quick breaths, heart is beating faster, arms and legs can get tingly and you even get light headed, feel sick to the stomach – all in response to the chemical rush. This is normal, it’s what your body is designed to do in a dangerous setting. It’s confusing when it happens as a false alarm, and that confusion keeps setting off the alarm.
- If you choose to believe those pictures/stories and follow those thoughts all over the place you will continue in this cycle resulting in anxious and panicked for no apparent reason.
What needs to happen to break the cycle?
It’s simple… so simple we often miss it. You just need to make a different choice. Choose not to allow the mind to try and resolve feelings for you – don’t refer to your mind at all. Let it quietly buzz in the back ground like a 2yr old sister the other side of your bedroom door. But don’t open the door and let it all in, don’t follow the thoughts anywhere. Don’t believe a word or picture placed in your imagination by your mind trying to help out. Replace that with the following steps:
- Pattern interrupt with one word “STOP” Then imagine you are pushing the button on a mobile phone and returning back a blank screen. See what ever thought was happening go blank, whatever image was playing disappear, turn down the volume on any sound or thoughts until they are silent, and simply return back to an emptiness. Give your body time to settle, relax there after the ride your mind took you on. Do this as many times as it takes to get it under control, to stay still and quiet rather than manic in the world of imagination – no matter how convincing it is, it’s important to remind yourself it’s NOT REAL.
- BREATH – the very act of breathing slow deep controlled breaths through your nose turns off the sympathetic nervous system and the panic response causing the feeling in your body. As the oxygen comes into your lungs slow and controlled this triggers your resting nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system, and tells your amygdala there is no danger, and it can relax. Think about it, if a lion was really chasing you there wouldn’t be time to sit down and breath, so your body is automatically set up to recognise this a signal to reset the alarm.
- Feel the feeling as a sensation in your body that will pass in a few seconds when you really give in to it all the way. Without adding pictures or thoughts to it at all, without screaming and yelling it out or punching things, without trying to make yourself feel better. Don’t fix it at all… just wait until it is finished.
With Jacob, as with many of my clients over the years suffering even major anxiety issues, this worked wonders. He was able to capture his rogue mind from dragging him and his nervous system around all over the place. No matter what disaster movie he had playing in his mind, or how convincing it was, it was this simple to stop it in it’s tracks, and let everything go blank. In that blank experience he realised that he had just been feeling a bit nervous about the changes in his family, and when he was running around in his mind it made him afraid for months, and when he just relaxed into the original nervous feeling it passed in just a few short seconds – he was amazed. Sleep was easy again, and his other issues all were able to get resolved in a more relaxed natural way.
This is emotional resilience like you have never experienced it. There is a power in you that cannot be described, but sure can be experienced. Anxiety can be a thing of the past, and ALL emotions can be allowed their space to move through. None of them are a problem.
It is only the resistance to these feelings that creates a fear of fear itself, and that only makes things worse. So now is your time, keep it simple and STOP!