Stress and anxiety often go hand in hand and are our body’s way of telling us that something is wrong and our central nervous system responds. Sometimes our internal alarm bells may be being set off for what appears to be no good reason. However, there will be a reason even if we don’t yet know what it is yet. It’s often routed in the early years as this is where most of our brain gets wired up.
When anxiety starts in the brain the central nervous systems responds, which affects all of our systems, including our digestive system. Ever noticed when you are nervous/anxious at a job interview that you need the loo more often?
Going faster and getting busy is often what we tend to want to try to fix it as feeling anxious is not a good feeling. Getting busier is not usually not the answer and it’s quite possible that our over busy brain may have worn us out. Your body has its limits and if your stress response system is going off it gets tired and starts to let us know. Busy brains lead to busy lives and sometimes the pace is just too fast. It’s also possible that neglect, trauma or not good enough early care can leave us with a heightened survival brain which means it keeps looking for danger and switching on even when you don’t really want it to.
It can be incredibly hard to slow down the busy brain but with practice we can learn to use more thinking brain than survival brain and with practices such as meditation, mindfulness and other creative activities we can learn to soothe the survival brain and learn to use more of the thinking and memory brain. As we try to slow down we will get the “I should be doing something” thoughts that keep arriving as we try to take it easier. It will take time to learn not to act on all the thoughts in our head and just let them go. We may have been raised to work and be productive but that’s old news and without any fun or balance things can get rather messy. We need a balance of work rest and play in order to stay healthy. All work with no play or rest can lead to burn out or depression over a sustained period of time.
Our central nervous system keeps being activated and if we are worn out we may think a few days rest will fix it but the reality is the process of recovery from burnout or meltdown can take many months. Anxiety symptoms can be very frightening: we might shake, get tearful, get angry or just feel a bit of a mess and often we start to avoid stuff that we think triggers anxiety, which can bring other problems. Sleeping is often affected as the busy brain keeps us awake or wakes us up too early. It doesn’t seem to make much sense but trust me, with some changes and a bit of emptying out and slowing down we can learn to understand and start to manage anxiety and stress. It’s difficult when in survival brain to think straight, to concentrate, to remember and we will feel overwhelmed unable to cope.
It’s hard not to panic when experiencing something we don’t really understand. You are not going crazy, anxiety is very common and we can learn to understand it, manage it and make some lifestyle changes and healthy habits for a less anxious life. If we go a bit slower we can also learn to see when we are running out of steam or our engine management light has come on. It’s not easy, anxiety that’s not treated will lead to more anxiety and we can get stuck in a cycle that’s hard to get out of. It takes work to keep your steam train from going off the rails’
Some tips for self care.
- When your alarm bells go off your body prepares you for survival responses: fight, flight or freeze. If you are fidgety this is probably the stress hormones that are flooding your body, some moderate exercise can help to wear this off and help with sleep.
- If you can’t get to sleep, you can try free hypnotherapy apps to help with sleep. I like the sleep app at http://www.withandrewjohnson.com. It may take time to train your brain to settle down so keep trying.
- If you have been prescribed sleeping pills it may be tempting to not take them for fear of addiction but you have to ask yourself can you live without sleep. A few days is probably not going to cause a long term addiction in most people. A few days without sleep and we will deteriorate fairly quickly, you have to decide what is best for you. Some people like meds and some don’t.
- Try to do activities that relax you that are fun. We may not be able to remove all the things that stress us, but we can take an hour off from them. Creative activities are relaxing because they use the other side of the brain, the non panic bit. Creative activities are really anything you enjoy from drawing to baking, fishing to gardening etc. Do anything other than give into anxiety as the more you focus on your anxiety the more you will get. Try some opposite actions.
- You could try a short daily meditation to help calm the brain. Start with the headspace app for just 10 minutes a day. https://www.headspace.com/
- Taking up a mindful activity such as yoga or meditation or a relaxation class could help to slow down some of the thoughts before we rush to act upon them. Yoga helps to strengthen the body as well as educating you on breathing techniques.
- Anxiety sends the heart racing and your breathing starts to become very shallow, take a couple of minutes to slow the breath down, and remind yourself you are safe and that there is no need for your alarm system to activate. With practice we can settle down the over sensitive alarm bells. It’s not easy but it can be done with time and practice. We learn that anxious thoughts are just thoughts and we learn to not react to them.
- It takes time to settle down anxious minds so keep trying but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t manage something. It’s hard to stop a freight train and you won’t find the brakes over night. Don’t worry if some of the suggestions don’t work for you, it takes time to build new pathways in the brain.
- A large trigger for anxiety is when life becomes uncertain and we may feel out of control, then it’s easy to start cleaning and getting busy again but try not to. Learning to deal with difficult emotions means we are building resilience and building up our tolerance.
- If your work and fun ratio is out of balance maybe it’s time to take up a new hobby or pick up some of the old hobbies you may have left behind. What did you used to do before you became so busy with work or parenting?
- Take some time each day to take care of you. It is not indulgent or selfish it will keep you well, see it as maintenance.
- . Maybe start a new routine. It could be walking the dog, feeding the birds, anything that slows you down and gives you time to notice what is going on with your body and your mind.
- Reading and escaping in a book can also be great if you can settle enough to read, but don’t worry if you are too fidgety. Sometimes our concentration levels may not be high enough. If you are reading make it something fun or to escape but watch out for the self help books that just trigger the ‘I should be doing it this way’ and make it sound easier than it is.
- Remember don’t give anxiety too much time and attention. It does have a habit of trying to sneak back in the door!
- Anxiety can cause chest pains, loss of memory, an inability to think straight, panic attacks and a real out of control feeling, it also kills fun and creativity so give yourself time off from it if you can.
- . It’s not about getting busier but actually getting slower engaging and working our thinking and memory brain a little more
- Finally I will leave you with one of my favourite TED Talks..http://www.ted.com/talks/carl_honore_praises_slowness?language=en
We are human beings so learning to “be” rather than just “do” is important. If you are struggling, maybe it’s time to talk about what is getting in the way, empty out a little and see what we need to keep, what to throw away and what needs adding to your toolbox. All of the slower activities are helping us to build new brain activity as we may have a very well developed survival brain, but not so well developed thinking and memory brain.
If you need some help to manage anxiety or any other feelings that overwhelm you then I am here to help.