What is an anxiety spiral and how do you stop yourself from getting caught up in one? Well firstly, it is important that you understand exactly what anxiety is so that you can recognise it and then do something about it.
We all have anxiety to some extent or another, it is a normal human response to a situation that we perceive as dangerous or harmful to us in some way.
Our amazing human body is perfectly designed to protect us from danger and so when we come across a situation which may be harmful in some way our body goes into the freeze, fight or flight mode. This internal alarm goes back to our ancient days when the world was more dangerous than it is today and it helped the human species survive attacks from predators, natural disasters and other tribes people who attacked our settlements. Because of this alarm system our species survived and became very successful. This system is still within us and although it can be helpful when keeping us safe like jumping back from a car, it can also surface at other times which are not dangerous at all such as making a speech.
This is because of or feelings, perceptions and experiences which we have learned throughout life. Imagine being ridiculed at school because you got your times table wrong in front of your class mates. Then fast forward 20 years and imagine you are at a business meeting going over some figures. Your mind recognises a threat from the past (embarrassment, shame) and so wants to get you out of that situation as fast as it can. And so anxiety surfaces, and the more you think about the situation the worse it gets, and the worse it gets the more self-conscious you become which makes the anxiety reaction worse!
When we enter the fight or flight system physical things begin to happen in our body automatically such as:
*more oxygen going to the heart and limbs so that we can fight or run.
*our heart beats faster feeding our body with oxygen.
* butterflies in the tummy because blood is redirected away from digestion which is not needed for getting out of danger.
*tunnel vision so that we can focus on danger more clearly.
*breathing becomes quicker and shallower which can make us feel light headed.
*decreased appetite as it is harder to run on a full stomach.
*racing thoughts so that we can quickly evaluate threats, however, we will only be focused on the threat instead of solutions.
*release of adrenaline and cortisol to give us a boost of energy so that we can run or fight.
*some people freeze, a normal reaction so that a predator won't see you so easily.
These are all normal reactions when facing danger, however, if the danger is perceived rather than real then we are stuck with these reactions in our body which can be unhelpful if you are in an interview, speaking in public, travelling by aeroplane to a nice holiday or finding a spider in the bath. When we become aware of the reactions and start to think about how we look or what's going to happen, this feeds into other thoughts which makes us feel anxious and and then we become even more anxious about being anxious! A spiral of anxiety!
And sometimes our anxiety increases when we avoid things which makes us anxious and increases our perception that something is definitely dangerous even though is is not. This can stop us from doing things that we really wish we could do.
So what can you do to stop the anxiety spiral and be able to think clearly and rationally. Well firstly, it is important to tell yourself that you are completely normal and your body has learned to react in a certain way probably because of a situation or experience that has happened in the past. In other words, your body is trying to protect you from harm.
The next helpful thing you can do is control your breathing. You may find that when you are anxious your breathing speeds up or becomes shallow. You may also find that you are chest breathing which also triggers anxiety. So, take control of the breath. Take a long slow breath in through the nose for a count of 4 and and slowly breath out the mouth for a count of 6. As you breath in, imagine the air going all the way down to your stomach and actually feel your stomach rise and fall as you breath in and out. Keep doing this until the anxious feelings start to subside, it may take a while but keep at it. What you are doing is slowing down you heart rate which will help calm your body and mind. You must learn to do this every time you feel anxious or even before you go into an anxious situation so that you can reprogram you reaction to those situations into a more helpful response.
If you need help with anxiety then get in touch with me at www.hollywoodtherapy.co.uk.