Today, as a hypnotherapist, I would estimate that about 75-80% or my cases involve excessive worry and anxiety at some level.
These people are feeling chronically stressed, overwhelmed and fearful, going through life in constant, sickening dread and unease, often accompanied by a continuous pit in the stomach and or heaviness in the chest area.
Many also suffer from phobias around everyday activities, like driving on the freeway, flying, being in small or large spaces, public speaking…the list is almost endless.
The Pervasive Problem With Anxiety
At its root, all anxiety is triggered by fear of losing control or actually feeling out of control. I also believe that chronic anxiety is becoming an epidemic in our society, in large part a product of our materially-biased, spiritually imbalanced “Western” culture— our societal tendency to focus almost exclusively on lack and negativity (a phenomenon highly exacerbated through technology and mass-media) and a resulting mass consciousness that creates and projects an aura and energy of gloom, doom and disaster almost 24/7.
Who wouldn’t begin to feel out of control?
For anxious people, full-blown anxiety/panic “attacks” are not uncommon, and sometimes they appear to occur randomly for no apparent rhyme or reason. It becomes a vicious cycle: an individual’s fear of having an anxiety attack can actually trigger one, a phenomenon called anticipatory anxiety.
It’s a horrible way to live, and it may seem like sufferers are doomed, but there is some very good news here: most, if not all, of the fears and phobic reactions associated with chronic anxiety—dread, panic, physical weakness, etc.—are products of anxiety and are completely disproportionate to the actual risk involved, which is often little or none.
So if there really isn’t any danger, all we have to do to destroy an irrational thought or feeling is reinstate rational thinking and thus a feeling of control. Truthfully, it may require help from a trained professional, but not necessarily; it may well be very doable on one’s own.
As I often remind my clients, it’s your mind. You own it, and you can learn to control it.
Here are four simple steps and techniques that can be used either alone or in combination to regain that feeling of control. With some practice, they can help you get back in the driver’s seat of your mind.
How To Treat Your Anxious Feelings
1. Hit the brakes.
If you begin to feel that yucky feeling arising, take a deep breath and scream a silent command to yourself: stop! Breathe deeply again and silently ask yourself one or more of the following questions, and right after you ask, wait a few seconds: Where did I come from? What is nothing? What is thought? Where is heaven?
This might seem wild, but when you ask yourself a question with no real answer, your mind will stop. When it does, you cannot feel any negative feelings. In that space, you can jump in and, ahh, feel so calm and rational.
2. Squeeze the trigger and breathe.
When you begin to feel anxious, immediately squeeze the thumb and forefinger of either hand together, gently but firmly. Focus all your attention on your fingers squeezing together; look at them, feel them, and then say to yourself: stop!
Now, breathe—slowly and deeply—focusing only on the air entering and leaving your body. You will feel yourself calming down in a very short period. When you’ve calmed down, release the trigger.
3. Slow down and focus.
Overwhelm is often/usually caused by looking at a situation or situations in their entirety all at once. It’s like having to find the needle in the haystack. It’s easily overwhelming.
But if you just start picking away one piece of hay at a time and only focus on the next step—the next piece of hay, with only an occasional glance at the whole stack so you stay oriented—pretty soon you’ve torn it down, and the needle shows up.
The same can be said for the situations we deal with in life. We can slow down and commit to taking it one step at a time, one choice, one thought at a time that takes us along the path to the end of the situation. Life is, and always will be, a process, so embrace the process, take it a step at a time and— that’s control!
Our society has also grown to prize and pride ourselves on multi-tasking. Unfortunately, our brains are designed to focus on only one task at a time. In short, multi-tasking is inefficient and can easily lead to overload, overwhelm, and feeling out of control, and that can lead to—you guessed it—anxiety.
If you do one thing at a time, step-by-step, choice-by-choice, you take control, and use your brain the way nature designed it.
Related: Focus Better With These Simple Steps
4. Remember— T.A.O.!
T.A.O. does not refer to the ancient Chinese philosophy. It instead refers to the notion that There are Always Options. And there are.
For many of the chronically anxious clients I work with, it’s not the actual situation they fear so much (freeway driving or fear of crowds, for example) but rather what people will think of them should they have an attack or feel the need to do something that would garner extra or negative attention. What if they were stuck in traffic? They’d feel trapped in their car, unable to leave. Or what if they couldn’t get up and get out of a crowded theater without everyone watching them do so?
What I help them realize is that if they absolutely had to leave they could just up and do so. The choice is there and almost always so. So remember, T.A.O.! It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Knowing that you could act is often enough to quell the fear. You’re back in control…bye-bye, anxiety.
John McGrail, PhD is a renowned clinical hypnotherapist, self improvement expert, and sought after spiritual teacher who has become one of our country’s leading media experts and public speakers relating to personal growth and successful life transformation. His new book, “The Synthesis Effect: Your Path to Personal Power and Transformation,” (Career Press, 2012) shares his unique therapeutic and teaching approach that has helped thousands of clients and students in his clinical practice and self-improvement seminars permanently change and empower their lives.
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