Feelings of anxiety really are entirely natural…
When you experience feelings of anxiety, often your heart races and your stomach drops, you feel flushed with clammy hands, and your mouth dries up you are experiencing the perfectly natural symptoms of your fear response, more commonly known as the “fight or flight” response.
The fight or flight response is instinctive and is activated for one reason and one reason only, so that you can survive. To really get to grips with this concept, consider how life was for our ancient predecessors when physical survival was a daily issue.
Picture the scene of the a-typical cave dweller, the hunter gatherer was often the hunted, in this example, lets imagine a grizzly bear is out looking for lunch. Over the years of evolution to this point, our cave dweller’s instincts have been hard wired to understand this threat, and to escape fast! No thinking or decision making takes place, primal fear takes over. Adrenalin is released and the heart begins to beat faster, to pump fresh oxygenated blood to the strong leg muscles so that our cave dweller can run, digestion pauses so that all resources within the body can focus upon one thing…run. Perspiration increases, that body will need its cooling mechanism working well for this! Hands feel clammy and cold, as all the blood rushes from the extremities to the heart and the body utilises all available fluid within the body, leaving the mouth dry. Sound familiar?
The human body is incredible, and it has evolved to survive even the toughest of circumstances and the fight or flight response is paramount to our evolution. Consider how fast we have evolved in the last 500 years in comparison to the thousands of years spent living comparatively simple lives. Thankfully, for the majority of us, threats to our survival are very few and far between these days, and very rarely come in the form of a grizzly bear. However, when you step out onto a busy road and look to the right and observe that speeding car whizzing up the inside lane of traffic, in a fraction of a second your fight or flight response is activated, without any thought process from you, it is simply pure instinct as you pull back immediately to safety feeling your stomach lurch, as your heart thunders in your chest and you feel the heat of a lucky escape!
So you can see how vital this fear response is and how we really should appreciate it! However, in today’s society there may not be many bears roaming around but there are plenty of emails, texts, bills, deadlines, expectations, demands etc. The instinctive fear response has not quite caught up with these demands, it has no discernment between a real threat eg the bear and a perceived threat, eg the credit card bill. Therefore, when you open that bill, read that message, get that phone call asking why you are late etc., your instinctive fear response still ‘kicks in’ and does everything it can to get you out of there, to help you to run! It cannot tell the difference, and it does not actually care, it is just trying to do its job, to respond to your fear and to help you to survive it.
Of course, you may sometimes feel like running, but more often than not those feelings of heart racing, jumpy stomach, sweaty palms and dry mouth stay with you as you try to manage and get through your day. These feelings are the symptoms of fear and what we describe today as anxiety and if we are experiencing these feelings often, during a difficult time, then the anxiety becomes a problem and we may feel as if we are losing control as this primal instinct ‘takes over’.
The good news is that you can get back in control and you can turn down your response, and turn off those feelings of anxiety. Of course, we need our fear response so we don’t want to switch it off, but we want to get in control of it. As the fear response is so physical it makes sense that we speak to it in its own language. Telling yourself to stay calm and that will be well can be useful at times, but the fear response listens to the language of your body.
Becoming still and practicing long, slow and deep breathing techniques is one body language the fear response really does understand. If you are still and breathing slowly, fully and calmly, then it makes sense to the fear response that you are not running, and everything then begins the process of calming down. Your acceptance that the feelings you are experiencing are entirely natural and nothing to be afraid of, and your understanding that the fear response is just doing its’ survival thing, combined with the mindful breathing can help you to get back in control.
We have our own triggers for the fear response, and everyone’s story is different. If you would like to learn more about yours and how hypnosis can help you to thrive, not just survive, please get in touch.