Pratima is a Psychological Wellbeing Therapist, based mainly at our Croydon services.
As a Psychological Wellbeing Therapist at Evolve, Mental Health Awareness Week is an exciting opportunity for me to raise awareness about anxiety and share my thoughts on it.
Anxiety is a familiar emotion for most of us – a range of negative emotions suddenly surround us like a sense of fear, failure, rejection, inability, doubt.
For me personally, it is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or fear due to uncertainty. My heart starts to beat fast, almost like it’ll jump out of my body and my speech starts to falter. When I am anxious, all my thoughts seem to be gripped by an overarching theme, ‘what if….’ – what if I’m rejected at the interview; what if I’m unable to explain myself; what if I fail the exam; what if I…. the list can be endless.
It is as if something gets triggered and I am gripped by an inexplicable fear. It feels like something in me has picked a signal of danger. Most of the times it emerges from a place beyond my conscious awareness. When people say, ‘The anxiety came out of nowhere, I wasn’t actively thinking about it’, they are probably right.
As neuroscience will explain, in such circumstances, our autonomic nervous system is perhaps perceiving a signal of danger, sometimes based on some long forgotten past experiences, hidden away from our conscious awareness. In response to this perceived danger, it triggers a reflex message, ‘get ready’! And we start getting ready for the worst. Our brain catastrophizes everything. It connects with a narrative of doom and gloom. We start worrying about the endless things that can go wrong.
Each person experiences anxiety differently. For some of us, our heart starts racing, breath becomes shallow, throat dries up, we feel unstable, as if we’re going to fall.
Very often my clients ask, ‘What can I do to control anxiety?’
When I say, instead of trying to control, let’s connect with it and try to manage it, at first, they look back at me with bewilderment.
Connecting with anxiety can indeed be a helpful approach.
For making this connection, first, we identify it. We notice the somatic/bodily changes – increased heartrate, shallow breath, parched throat, nervous movements.
Second, we acknowledge it. Instead of ignoring, denying and beating ourselves about it, we calmly accept it, saying, ‘I am feeling nervous, and it is okay to do so.’ When we make room for an uncomfortable emotion, in a strange way it takes less space. For example, when we have identified and acknowledged the presence of anxiety, in some way its presence becomes less daunting.
Lastly, we address it, for example with a grounding exercise, like the 4-elements exercise.
In the 4-elements exercise, we connect with the four elements of nature – earth, water, air and fire.
This exercise can be done anywhere, even when you’re waiting for the job interview. It can be a circuit breaker in pulling us out from the cycle of negative thoughts and bring in some relaxation and calmness.
Once you’re in a slightly better place, it’s time to connect with oneself.
You can gently challenge your thinking, ‘Is it possible for me to view the situation any differently?’ Maybe, you can use a bit of humour and smile at yourself, ‘Here I go, catastrophizing things again!’ Also, you can visualize the ideal scenario that you are hoping for, like you have cracked the interview with confidence, got the job, passed the exam with flying colours, or anything else.
So, next time when you are feeling anxious, try connecting with your anxiety using this approach and see if it helps. Good luck!