According to Statistics Canada Anxiety is the most common mental health problem in Canada. The Statistics Canada Community Health Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing revealed that hundreds of thousands of Canadians suffer from anxiety disorders the same survey reported that Canadians struggle to find adequate treatment for their anxiety.
Unbeknownst to many, anxiety can be cured.
Like any human experience, anxiety and panic have a structure. Anxiety is not a thing – you will never trip over a pile of anxiety in the street and it’s not something you can put in a wheelbarrow. Anxiety is a process – a dynamic mental process. You could say anxiety is all in the mind, but this wouldn’t be completely true. Anxiety and panic begin in the mind, but show up in the body. The physical symptoms are undeniable, but those symptoms have a cause. Anxiety is not something you have, it is something you do with your mind. Anxiety doesn’t happen to you, it takes your participation. When a sufferer of anxiety realizes this fully, half the battle is won.
Instead of spending time finding why you have anxiety and digging deep into your past as some traditional approaches to therapy would have you do, we need to determine how you do anxiety. When we find the sequence and structure of thinking, the mental syntax that leads to the result of anxiety or panic, we can change it.
To produce any emotion or behaviour, specific things need to happen in the mind. To produce a specific result, there is an order and sequence of internal events (thoughts, perceptions and emotions) the operates to lead to that result. It’s like a recipe. If you change the ingredients, the amounts or the order in which you mix everything together, you get a different result.
What are the ingredients of mind? The mind takes in information from the world through the senses; we see, hear, touch, smell and taste. Since the mind takes in information in these forms, it also processes information in these forms. We see things in the world and we have images in our mind. We hear things with our ears and we have sounds and voices in our mind. We can touch things and imagine the sensation or feeling. We can smell a rose and imagine smelling a rose and we can taste a lemon and imagine tasting a lemon. To the five senses we can add internal dialogue or internal self-talk. No thought or perception can occur without being in one of these sensory forms.
How does this relate to anxiety? As I mentioned, anxiety and panic have a structure. Every time I work with a client suffering from anxiety, I can predict exactly what that client will do and say even before we have begun.
The strategy for anxiety works like this; first the sufferer asks him or herself, “What if” and fill in the blank. “What if I get sick?” “What if there is an accident?” “What if I have a panic attack?” All these questions are asked in a worried tonality of course. No anxiety sufferer would panic after speaking to himself with a voice of total calm or a comical tonality. Tonality is important and to panic, you have to do it right!
These worrisome what if questions direct the mind which takes its cue to begin to generate images of the scenarios mentioned. The anxiety sufferer will then run movies in his mind of awful scenarios – it is as if he is sitting right there in an Imax theatre with Dolby digital surround sound experiencing those scary events. The mind is so powerful that it is easy to forget that they are just thoughts.
While seeing these images, vivid and real, the sufferer feels the feelings of anxiety as if those scenarios were actually occurring.
As a strategy this really works. If you want to have a panic attack all you have to do is follow these three easy steps. Those who suffer from anxiety have achieved an amazing feat of the mind. They have developed the ability to consistently slip into a panic and they do it regularly and methodically. It rarely happens that they forget to panic. They have mastered the skill of anxiety… and if they have mastered the skill of anxiety, they can master the skill of calm.
Beyond the sequence of anxiety, there is more structure to reveal. Every single sufferer of anxiety I have worked with says, “I have fears in the back of my mind.” I always find this phrase very interesting. “Where are they?” “In the back of my mind.”
Our inner pictures have a location. It is as if the mind is a giant projector, giving all of our thoughts a location in our personal space, hanging them like paintings on the wall of our mind. “When you think of that fear, you have a picture, don’t you?” I ask. “If you were to reach out and touch that picture or if I could see it to, where would it be? Each time, my client takes a moment to think and touches the back of his head saying, “Right here.”
The fear is literally in the back of the mind. If you hang a painting up somewhere and it doesn’t look good, what do you do? You take it down and hang it somewhere else. With the most recent sufferer of anxiety, I invited him to take that picture and put it out in front of him. He laughed and said, “Oh, now it’s just a thought.” How interesting that in seconds a terrorizing fear can become merely a thought.
Yet there is more. An anxiety sufferers description of the feeling of panic is often accompanied by the same gesture. When they speak of the feeling they place their hand out in front of their body, index finger outstretched and move it in a circular motion. They say something like, “I get this feeling,” and they make a circular gesture.
Indeed, it’s called an emotion for a reason; e-motion.
“Where does that feeling start,” I ask. The response is often the stomach. “Where does it go?” “Up here” (pointing to the chest). “So it spins like this (using same gesture)”? “Yes!”
Feeling begin in the pit of the stomach and spread upward through the body until they overwhelm the individual. The feeling spins in one direction and at a certain speed. The feeling has a structure… and that structure can be changed.
If the feeling is spinning at a certain speed, speeding it up will increase the feeling whereas slowing it down will decrease the feeling. We can also reverse the direction of the feeling. What happens when we do this with anxiety? Anxiety turns into instant calm!
I recently worked with a case of severe anxiety here in Montreal. The first time this individual called me, he was in tears; the fear was overwhelming. After just six hours of coaching here is a brief summary of what he said:
“When I came to Dave I felt paralyzed by fear and anxiety. After just three sessions with Dave, I have learned how to control my unconscious mind, how to relax, how to channel all my negative thoughts gained from bad experiences while keeping the positive learnings I have witnessed. To be able to balance the good thoughts with the bad, making up a stable mind, a mind at ease, a mind full of nothingness, no bad feelings, no good feelings, just a feeling of Zen.”
If you or someone you know suffers from anxiety, perfect Zen can be yours as well.