I have been preparing for and delivering a CPD Workshop for professional coaches and have seen a number of anxious clients – is this a coincidence, or maybe serendipity?
It has certainly reinforced for me just what power anxiety has to draw you in…focussing on anxiety in any form seems to send us into a trance-like state where all we can see are more reasons to be anxious.
There are many ways to break this fixation and gain a more resourceful perspective, but my favourite is always to remind myself (and my clients) that the set of syptoms (feelings and sensations) we experience and label as anxiety are COMPLETELY NORMAL and are in fact a necessary survival mechanism.
Our brains have evolved with a hard-wired protection mechanism, sometimes called the flight or fight response. It is an instinctive response which bypasses and over-rides the thinking mind. In situations of mortal danger, even a split second taken to logically analyse the risk and decide on an appropriate reaction may be fatal.
This is great when we are in a dangerous situation when immediate action is required, but anxiety is slightly different. You might say it is fear with the luxury of time. What I mean by this is that there is no immediate danger, we are imagining a future negative/fearful event and experiencing the symptoms of the fear now. The trouble is, there is nothing in the present to fight or flee from so there is no outlet for the fight or flight, we are just left with the effect.
In my experience working with people, just knowing that this is the mechanism is often enough to break the anxiety cycle and prevents a negative internal dialogue developing. Instead they realise what they are having is a COMPLETELY NORMAL physiological response. The only question then is how best to manage it. There are many options to choose from, but one of my favourites is 7-11 breathing which is a simple breathing technique that takes seconds to master – you just breathe in whilst counting to 7 and out for 11, then repeat 3 or 4 times. When our out breath is longer than our in breath this triggers the parasympathetic nervous system to generate a relaxation response (the equivalent to a sigh – and we all know how good a sigh is at releasing tension).
When the fight or flight response has been overcome, clients are then in a more resourceful state, able to think rationally, plan and deal with the trigger that prompted the response – they are able to look at and deal with the cause, rather than focussing on the effect.