Updated: May 11, 2020
How to fear less…
Anxiety is one of the worst feelings there is. The pounding heart, the uncontrollable shaking, the racing thoughts and the impending sense of doom overwhelming you. Anxiety in certain situations is completely normal and expected, however, for some people it becomes overwhelming and debilitating when experienced on a regular basis.
The most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses are now anxiety disorders. Not surprisingly, the World Health Organization (WHO) puts the US at the top of the list when it comes to anxiety: one in three Americans will be diagnosed with anxiety. New Zealand comes in third, with one in four, or 25% of our population being diagnosed with anxiety during their lifetime.
Stress and anxiety is both physiological and psychological. We all experience stress every day. Daily demands such as responsibilities, changes, relationships, illness, traumatic events and money problems can cause stress, and, in turn, anxiety.
Anxiety definitely runs in families. A study in 2011 of 10,000 people that found that high rates of anxiety in families predicts whether or not kids will develop issues with anxiety.
The study found kids with no anxious relatives have a one in 10 chance of developing anxiety. One close family member with an anxiety disorder raises the likelihood to 30%, and if a large percentage of the family is anxious, kids have an 80% greater chance of developing anxiety.
Knowledge of what happens when you get anxious is helpful in learning to control it.
The fight or flight response is hardwired into your body to keep you safe. When you perceive something to be a threat, your body triggers the adrenal glands to pour out steroids, stress hormones – cortisol, adrenaline and hundreds of other chemicals to fuel the body to give it more energy to fight or run away.
This response is similar to injecting three shots of espresso straight into your blood stream and the primitive part of your brain activates, shutting down the more logical thought processes. And that’s the perfect response for when you are in danger, however, it’s crippling when it happens in everyday life.
When you have anxiety, you can become hyper-vigilant and over-sensitive, making harmless activities like driving, flying, going to the movies or socializing seem like a threat to your safety.
I grew up with several close family members that had severe anxiety and started experiencing anxiety in my teens as a result of several traumatic events. I started drinking and smoking, since I found it temporarily relieved my anxiety. However, once the buzz wore off, the fear came back making me feel even worse than before. I found I was either overwhelmed with fear or became very angry as a coping mechanism.
I was sent to several therapists that only seemed to make things worse, since they kept having me talk about my traumas over and over. I was put on a variety of medications that seemed to intensify the anxiety or make me feel like a zombie.
I had general anxiety, social anxiety, and severe panic attacks. The thought of public speaking or even being the center of attention was terrifying. This carried on into my mid-twenties when I had a head-on collision with a truck, with both of us going about 80 kilometers an hour.
Luckily the driver of the truck only had minor injuries but I was screwed. I had a frontal lobe head injury, my nose was smashed and I was torn open from my eyebrow down to my lip. I broke every bone where the seatbelt goes and my right kneecap needed to be reattached, not to mention major lacerations and sprains.
The doctors told me that I may be permanently impaired from my head injury, that I probably would always have a limp, and would need several more surgeries to look normal again. I was so grateful to be alive that I vowed to myself that I would do whatever it took to heal and start living life, instead of being so afraid all the time.
I became obsessed with healing my body and mind, trying to find what foods, supplements and therapies would help me to heal the fastest. It took me about 6 months to no longer have a limp, about a year to reverse the effects of the head injury and it took around 2 years to be free of anxiety and pain.
I realized that my subconscious programs and belief systems were just as broken as my body and began work on myself to fix my patterns of anxiety, self-sabotage and limiting self-beliefs. I studied Hypnotherapy, Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Counselling, Addictions, Nutritional Therapy and just about every therapy you can think of, to figure out what really works.
So, what works for anxiety?
1. Hypnotherapy and NLP.
Anxiety is triggered by the nervous system and the subconscious mind. Your subconscious controls all of your involuntary bodily functions and its number one job is to keep you safe and alive. So, your subconscious believes that by triggering anxiety or the fight or flight response, it’s keeping you safe. Your subconscious needs to learn that by triggering anxiety in non-threatening situations, it’s not keeping you safe but causing you harm.
Your subconscious records everything that happens to you and creates programs from those memories. Anxiety can be a faulty program and the fastest way to change subconscious programs is by using hypnotherapy and NLP techniques. There are tons of free resources on the net and youtube as well as lots of great therapists out there that can really help.
2. Shake it off.
For me, whenever I got anxious, my hands and legs would shake. Relaxing felt physically impossible since I was continually in fight-or-flight mode. Your body is trying to produce the energy needed to survive a life-threatening event. When the fight or flight response is triggered, your body releases a large amount of electricity to give you the energy to run away or fight for your life.
When we experience anxiety or trauma, we are not always able to release this energy since the main way we do this is through intense physical exercise or for our bodies to tremble and shake so it just keeps circulating in your body.
A few years ago, a client offered to take me through me some Trauma Releasing Exercises (T.R.E.), which had helped her overcome her trauma and anxiety. I will try any therapy if I think it can help myself or my clients. I thought of myself as someone who no longer had anxiety but after just one session of T.R.E., I was amazed at how calm I felt. I realized that I was still operating in a stressed state, I was just so used to it, I didn’t notice it until it was gone.
T.R.E. was originally designed as a safe and easy way to induce tremors in the body in order to release stress. Anyone with trauma, anxiety, panic attacks and PTSD will find T.R.E. hugely beneficial. T.R.E. is a series of exercises that take about 20 minutes to complete, and they’re intended to induce tremors by tiring your muscles.
Tremors are a natural way that humans and mammals release excess energy and adrenaline after a traumatic event. Animals in the wild will naturally shake for several minutes after a trauma.
Most people stop their natural instinct from shaking or having tremors, as it makes us feel self-conscious. Suppressing tremors makes it more difficult to overcome trauma because we are not allowing it to be released. You can learn more at http://www.traumarelease.co.nz/ or this book.
3. Stop consuming alcohol and caffeine until your anxiety is under control.
I find a lot of people with anxiety tend to be self-medicating with alcohol since it temporarily reduces anxiety by raising the calming chemical GABA. Unfortunately, alcohol makes anxiety much worse the next day as your GABA levels are lower than before.
Caffeine is commonly consumed in coffee and other beverages to help boost energy levels but stimulates the nervous system and doubles the release of cortisol and adrenaline making you much more likely to feel anxious.
The other problem is that caffeine has been shown to inhibit levels of serotonin (a natural antidepressant) and GABA (a calming chemical) in the brain and when serotonin and GABA levels are suppressed, you can become anxious, depressed and feel irritable.
4. Boost your GABA levels with supplements
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is your brain’s natural valium. If you’re high in GABA—you feel relaxed and stress-free. If you are low in GABA—you feel anxious, irritable, overwhelmed, stressed and wired.
L-Theanine an amino acid found in green tea increases levels of GABA within the brain, increases the production of alpha brainwaves, as well as boosting focus and mental clarity. Studies show that l-theanine is useful in the treatment of anxiety due to its ability to calm the nervous system, counteracting the toxic effects of stress as well as improving sleep.
Passion Flower extract has been shown boost GABA to aid in relaxation, and reduce tenseness and restlessness without creating dependency.
Inositol - Inositol is one of my favorite supplements for people who suffer from anxiety since it raises GABA levels which has a relaxing effect. It has also been shown to be beneficial for treating anxiety, depression, insomnia and panic disorders.
L-Glutamine – Glutamine is amazing for alcohol, sugar and carb cravings as well as reducing anxiety by raising GABA levels. It also repairs the lining of the gut and is an all-around wonder amino acid.
I believe that we all have a unique purpose that we are meant to fulfil and that our traumas and our setbacks are what shape us and guide us towards our destiny, our life purpose. Now, I’m not saying that every bad thing that happens to us, is predestined or karma. But you have a choice, you can learn and grow from your experiences or be stunted by them and allow them to hold you back. You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.