Some of you may or may not know that I’ve struggled with anxiety for a long time. As a kid, I had some OCD tendencies, and after a few traumatic events in my life, I started having panic attacks and developed a panic disorder.
I remember the first time I had a panic attack. I had decided to live at home for a few months between dirtbag climber trips so I could get a job at REI and save money, while also taking full advantage of staff discounts. I was on the way to grab some groceries and was only a couple blocks from home when all of a sudden I felt like I might accidentally crash the car. I pulled over and thought I was having some sort of stroke.
It passed with some paced breathing and I turned around and drove home. And I didnt’ drive again for a week.
I spoke with a psychiatrist who helped me to realize that I was struggling for many years with generalized anxiety, PTSD, and now a panic disorder.
Over time, I was able to learn my triggers so I didn’t feel so powerless. And I learned that the triggers came from within me. I was creating a story in my head about something that happened or something I remembered and my anxiety would kick in.
And once I understood that I was generating the anxiety and that it doesn’t just come out of nowhere, I could start to change my response. I moved out of my parents’ house, because being at home with them was unfortunately a trigger. I would mentally prepare myself when watching movies about schizophrenia so that I could avoid a full-blown panic attack.
While all that helped, what I didn’t have at the time was a range of tools to help me get out of the spin faster whenever it DID happen. Tools that could change the chemistry inside me more effectively, as well as my thoughts and feelings.
First, let’s understand anxiety a bit better. When we have anxiety episodes over and over, our neurons form a neural cluster together in an area of the brain. As they continue to fire, they grow thicker. They become overly sensitive and easily activated. And what essentially happens is that emotional response becomes a habit.
But the brain is malleable and capable of changing even the most established patterns. So if we stop activating that neural network, it will shrink, and we are rewiring our brain. And this is even more effective when we not only interrupt the anxiety, but then connect that neural cluster to a more resourceful state, like relaxation.
So what techniques can we take to help us rewire our brains and help stop anxiety in its tracks?
The first that I want to share is called bi-lateral stimulation. This technique engages both hemispheres of the brain to stop anxiety. This is both simple and super effective. To do this, find something you can toss from hand to hand. And whenever you feel anxiety anywhere in your body, rate it on a scale of one to ten.
Then pass that object – a ball or your phone or whatever – back and forth from one hand to the other, so that you’re stimulating both hemispheres of the brain.
Do this for a minute. Stop. Take a deep breath, and check in. Rate your anxiety. It’s likely lessened a lot. You can repeat this exercise again until it’s gone completely.
The next technique helps us when anxiety keeps us stuck in our minds and narrows our perspective. It’s called expanding our peripheral vision. This is a simple way of shifting out of our mind. It’s super fast and can be done in as little as 10 seconds, but you can also take your time with it.
Start by picking a focal point to stare at. Then slowly begin to expand your peripheral vision to include the space around it. Expand it further to the sides and up and down. And then expand it again to become aware of the space behind you.
It might feel weird at first, but after practicing a few times, you’ll notice more calm washing over your mind and body. That inner chatter will lessen or even cease. It helps bring us back to the present moment and out of our thoughts.
These are just two of the tips I shared in this week’s Episode. I would encourage you to listen to the full pod to hear more.
Now, if any of these tips didn’t resonate with you – no worries. That’s why we have lots of different tools. And be sure to appreciate the shifts, which is all you need to teach the brain that bigger change is possible.
As Melissa Tiers said, don’t underestimate the power of shifting to neutral. After all, it’s a helluva lot better than panic. And we’re able to come from a more resourced state and have more access to our wise mind, our inherent Buddha nature.
It’s a game-changer that moves us toward true freedom.
So pick a technique and start practicing now!
You will learn:
// The role of triggers in anxiety
// How anxiety affects our brains
// Why we say “fear has a spin”
// 3 EASY tools you can use today to help stop anxiety in its tracks
// Episode 58: How to Manage Anxiety
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