This week Ed and I were looking at anxiety from four points of view, as described in the book The Four Thoughts That F*ck You Up… and How To Fix Them, by Daniel Fryer. Each follows different issues related to Mindfulness.
1: Dogmatic demands: holding onto rigid beliefs
These maybe religious, political, social and so on.
2: Doing a drama: catastrophising and blowing a situation out of proportion.
3: The ‘I can’t copes: telling ourselves we can’t cope or deal with something – Thoughts become things.
4: Pejorative put-downs: putting ourselves or the world down – if you say it often enough you get to believe it.
Whichever way you look at it, it follows that anyone who lives in states of anxiety can not be living with happiness, the two do not really go together. The chances are that anyone who is experiencing levels of anxiety is not living in their own present. To be truly happy you need to be living in your now. Holding onto past happiness is nostalgia and hoping for future happiness is anticipation.
Holding onto past unhappiness is depression and expecting a future with fear is anxiety.
Anxiety is a state of being when your conscious mind travels forward to an imagined and often fearful future event that, may never, and probably, will never take place. In anxiety the experiences, those images, they are in the present, as though they are happening right now. Those who do not, or have not experienced anxiety will often have problems understanding this. Platitudes such as ‘pull yourself together”, “stop being stupid” and “look at how good your life is” don’t really help.
Learning to stop looking negatively into the future is part of the solution to anxiety. After all in most situations there is really little or nothing for any of us to worry about. It may seem completely obvious to tell the sufferer to live in the present, to “be here now!” Yet this can be experienced as the impossible task because the sufferer is’ living ‘their’ present. It is just that their present happens to be dislocated into an imagined future.
When I look at my case load, whether they are individuals, couples or referrals through an occupational health department, at least 60% of what I deal with would be termed anxiety or involving the symptoms of anxiety. Anxiety is the product of the emotional mind and no amount of cognitive talking therapy will resolve feelings. We need to look elsewhere for a lasting solution.
Anxiety itself is not a bad thing. It is an emotional response that has kept us all safe throughout evolution. To have an awareness of, and raised alertness to, dangers around us is a good thing. However, to have continual anxiety about the future that we live in the present is termed Generalise Anxiety Disorder (GAD), the key is in the word ‘disorder’. It is this disorder that people mean when they say they have anxiety.
Anxiety comes in several forms…
Ordinary anxiety is normal and useful, even helpful and keeps us safe.
Reactive anxiety is responsive an event such as an accident, assault, bereavement.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is when anxiety can seem to be all around us.
Ordinary anxiety is completely normal, transitory and keeps us safe. Reactive anxiety will normally require some therapeutic intervention and may take a while to resolve, though it will resolve eventually. GAD is completely different issues and will normally require medication and some therapy, though often with GAD talking therapies such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) will have a limited effect. The trick with anxiety is not what you think it is what you feel and more importantly what you see in your imagination.
Anxiety disorder is of itself completely irrational though it is completely visual. To be fearful of a future involves being able to visualise it. It is the imagination that is the problem. People with anxiety disorder have good imaginations. Those with poor imagination can not visualise a future to be fearful of. The key to resolving anxiety is in positive visualisation.
For example if you fear flying when you think about your coming holiday what you are really doing is visualising getting to the airport, getting on the plane, imagining the take off, the turbulence and the landing. Most of all you may imagine the plane crashing. You can feel the fact that you will be several miles up in the air and that there is nothing beneath you, As you rehearse these images your limbic system releases chemistry that creates the physical symptoms of anxiety in your body. It is important to realise that no cognitive process has taken place. Non of this is about thinking it is all about feeling and feelings related to the images in your mind. It follows that if the perpetrator of the anxiety are the visions in your mind then the solution is to change those images to those that have a good feeling and serve you well.
When the anxious person learns to use their imagination to visualise a future that serves them well, one that they might actually look forward to, they reduce their symptoms of anxiety eventually eliminating anxiety all together.
I say this to as a person who has suffered anxiety disorder. Who attended talking therapies and failed to overcome anxiety disorder. Who eventually discovered visualising therapies, overcame anxiety disorder and has subsequently helped thousands of people to do the same.
When you realise that to have anxiety disorder requires that you have a good imagination to be able visualise those things that trigger your symptoms it follows that the solution to your problems is to change the images. Visualisation works well because it is playing to their strengths. What was the problem now has become the solution.
Visualisation therapy can be found through a therapist who understands the emotional mind and the part that the imagination plays in anxiety. You may find the solution through psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, deep guided relaxation, meditation, and mindfulness. Visual therapies are a positive and effective alternative to straight talking therapy and medication.
Take care, be happy and live in the present!