We have anxiety panic attacks because we are creatures of habit. Being creatures of habit enables us to get through life easily.
Once we have learned to tie our shoe laces, it becomes so automatic that we can have a conversation while we are tying them and not give it a second thought.
Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows
but only empties today of its strength
Men can shave with a sharp razor blade, go into a complete trance while they are doing it, yet, while their minds are somewhere else, they can complete the shave without so much as a nick.
Once we have learned to drive and become more and more experienced, we can drive for miles and lose our apparent awareness, yet no harm comes to us.
All of this is because of our capacity to form habits and those habits serve us well most of the time.
But now and again, with some of us at least, something goes wrong. Maybe we have a bad experience in a given situation.
The mind associates the experience with the general situation (rather than the precise event), so every time that situation is about to arise again, anxiety or panic kicks in.
And the more it happens the worse it seems to get. Our capacity for acquiring habits now hinders rather than eases our path.
Naomi had a very nasty experience on a crowded London bus. A fellow passenger was robbed of her handbag. As the robber rushed to get off the bus he also tried to grab Naomi’s bag.
She was jostled but managed to resist the robber’s attempts and he fled without it.
But Naomi was very upset by the event and unnerved. Up until then she had travelled happily on London buses, but this incident had established a negative anchor.
So every time she saw a London bus afterwards her mind associated the robbery and attempted robbery with it.
London buses were no longer an attractive form of transport for Naomi. Indeed, it became worse because as time went on Naomi began to associate a theatre or any crowded place with the event rather than a bus.
Even London rather than the bus became associated with the event, and she became anxious at the thought of going to London as well.
The anxiety took various forms: as the days drew near when she was to travel to London she would suffer sleepless nights and upset stomachs, she would be unable to eat properly and every time she did eat a little something she would again suffer an upset stomach.
It was as if her whole body was conspiring with its different parts to prevent her from having to relive the earlier upsetting experience.
I wonder if you recognise any of these symptoms. They are not at all uncommon. To the sufferer they are extremely real and paralysing.
Patricia was a client of mine. She had mild anxiety problems some years earlier and had been prescribed benzodiazepine drugs by her doctor.
Benzodiazepines, which are mild anxiolytics, shouldn’t be prescribed for more than a few months at a time, but her doctor had been prescribing them to her for years.
The anxiety became more and more deep rooted and Patricia refused to leave the house. In other words, she was agoraphobic.
When I went to see her she hadn’t been out of her house for over 10 years! What a horrifying thought. Her neighbours knew of Patricia’s plight and would often pass by for a chat.
When Patricia saw them coming she would open her window so that she was on the inside and the neighbour was on the outside, and they would conduct their conversation like that.
In fact, I remember the first occasion I went to visit her. As I was parking the car I saw her with the window wide open chatting away merrily to a neighbour who was standing in her garden.
The good news is that no-one is born anxious or with built-in panic attacks. The disorders arrive from experiences and behaviours, and if they arrive from experiences and behaviours they can be despatched.
In other words, they are learned behaviours and learned behaviours can be unlearned.
They arise because of a triggering event which we replay over in our minds and we then adopt defensive habits which we rehearse over and over again.
They thereby create neural pathways in our brain which leads to the anxiety-forming habit or panic attack.
There are NLP techniques that will help to disrupt those neural pathways so that we can form new and better habits and get over these disabling attacks. We have already mentioned anchoring.
Read the page on this website about setting good anchors and removing bad ones. There are some very useful techniques there which will assist you greatly. You will need to read it before you try the next technique.
Try this other technique but before do so read the entire instructions. First, anchor a really good feeling. Then imagine yourself sitting in the front one or two rows of a cinema watching the big screen.
The movie you are now watching is one of the events which caused all this to happen.
If Naomi were sitting in the cinema she would see the robber snatching the handbag from the other passenger and then attempting to grab hers before fleeing off the bus.
Watch the whole movie through from beginning to end and freeze the last frame.
Now run the movie backwards from the end to the beginning only make it fast and as the film runs backwards make it go faster and faster.
If you’ve got some circus music, play that at the same time, otherwise play it in your head.
When you get to the beginning, go immediately to the end and run it backwards again, faster and faster. And then do it a third time. When you have finished, fire off your good anchor again.
While you are watching the movie go forwards notice which way the feeling is spinning in your body. It will be either moving backwards or forwards or from one side to the other. Whichever way it is, speed it up.
The feeling will seem worse. Now slow it down. Move it in the opposite direction. You will feel it getting a little better the more you do it in reverse. This shows you that the feeling can be controlled.
Now, you are going to watch the movie again but this time imagine you are in the projection control room upstairs and as you look down into the cinema you can see yourself in the front couple of rows watching the screen.
Play the movie through from beginning to end and as you get towards the final frames gradually draw out the colour in the film and fade it to white.
Now play it back three, four or five times really fast with circus music if you have it (or imagine it in your head). Don’t forget to make it go faster and faster and faster.
The more you practice this exercise, the more you will disrupt the neural pathways. It is a good way of diminishing the effects of your anxiety.
Don’t forget this important fact though. As you begin to get over it – and it may take rather less time than you imagined – you will need to replace the time you spent being anxious or having panic attacks with something good.
You will suddenly realise that you have time on your hands. Take up a new hobby, sport or interest. You have only one life. Learn how to make the most of it.
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