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  • Writer's pictureSuzanne Wagg

My good friend anxiety

Updated: Apr 29


Suzanne Wagg in her gym gear

In all honestly sitting down to write some insights from a therapist’s perspective on living with anxious thoughts made me feel...well anxious! I would love to be able to say that after all the training and therapy I have had over the years “I NEVER get anxious thoughts” but that quite frankly would be a lie. Of course I do!

 

It might be helpful to give you an example. My happy place is in the gym, I love the feeling of being there and generally feel very comfortable and at home after years of training. However, last week I switched my routine up a bit, Ordinarily I go first thing in the morning as it is relatively quiet and I know most of the regulars that go at that time. On this particular day I had early clients I ventured in at around 6pm.

Wow. Oh my goodness. As I walked in, I was overcome by a familiar yet not familiar feeling that I have not experienced for a long time. I felt hot and uneasy and could not quite put my finger on what was going on initially. It was so “peopley” in there. Everyone looked super focused and like they really knew what they were doing. Thoughts like “they are all so much younger, fitter, slimmer, stronger than little old me” raced through my mind. “Are they looking at me?” “What are they thinking?” it was at that point I had my “AHA” moment: Hello Anxiety, my old friend.

And that is the difference now I think of anxiety as a friend trying to keep me safe. Rather than beat myself up about these thoughts I remembered that I am in control of what I think and these thoughts don’t have to control me. Now we have our ancestors to thank for this. Back in the day when there were real-life sabre-toothed tigers this internal fire alarm kept them alive. Not many sabre-toothed tigers in Lichfield today though.

I am no neuro scientist, however, having a really basic understanding of 3 key part of the brain and their functions can sometimes help us compute what is going. Sound, ok?

So, what do you think the primary purpose of the brain is? SURVIVAL. Its whole reason for being is to keep us safe so let’s explore a little of how:

The First is the Hippocampus – fun fact – it gets its name from its shape which is like a seahorse.  now this is like a library and puts a date time stamp on stuff.  If you smell something and it triggers a memory? That’s the sea horse at work.

Then we have the prefrontal cortex – the planning part. You look out the window and see whether it’s raining and think – yeah raining so I’ll take a coat. With me so far?  We have a library and planning bit both very useful.

Now the last bit I want to mention today is the Amygdala – awesome bit of kit that is super powerful. It is almond shaped and relatively small. We need that as it is the fire alarm. Remember at school when the fire alarm went off? And you had to all evacuate? Even when you knew it was either little Jimmy setting it off or it was faulty? Nope still GET OUT – because its whole purpose is to keep us alive. The best thing about it is it has the power to take the other two (Hippocampus and Prefrontal cortex offline) so it’s in charge.

Now…if you came downstairs and the house was on fire imagine the hippocampus was in charge “Hey Suzanne, you recognise that smell? What does that remind you of? BBQ? Ooo yeah” or the prefrontal cortex “Hey Suzanne, I calculate you have 6 min to get out, you could maybe get your notes from upstairs…what about your favourite book?” Erm NOOOO. You want the amygdala in control “GET THE HECK OUT OF THE HOUSE - GRAB THE CAT AND THE OTHER HUMANS AND RUN”

The problem is that the amygdala can’t tell the difference between an actual life and death situation and a slightly stressful event like say public speaking or going on a first date…so the sensations and anxiety and stress felt can make the situation feel like it is actual life and death. When the amygdala is firing it is sending adrenaline coursing through the body to prime us for fight, flight or freeze.

So, our job is to calm that down and how we do that is to rationalise it and above all be kind to ourselves in it.

Anxiety Hacks

  • It is ok and perfectly normal to have these thoughts. Everyone does. Make friends with your anxiety, lose the negative voice of telling yourself off. You are human; that’s ok.

  • Remind yourself that you are the centre of your world only,  we don’t have see through heads no one knows we are feeling this way.

  • Distance yourself. You have anxious thoughts this doesn’t define you as a person. You are more than those thoughts. Lose the label “I am an anxious person” it is just not helpful and not serving you well.

  • Reach out for support: talk to a friend, family or a therapist for support. Anxiety thrives in the shadows where it is dark and a little bit scary.

  • Question the validity of the thoughts don’t accept them as they are. Are they rational? What could be an alternative thought?


So now we know we are normal and human (yay) what next? Let’s have a look at Mindfulness and what all the fuss is about next time…and remember #youmatter

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