How to put an end to spiralling anxiety
Anxiety is one of the most common reasons that people enlist the help and expertise of a Hypnotherapist, as well as being one of the most common mental health conditions in the UK. It can be described as “a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.”
Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in life and in situations such as a job interview or starting a new job, a medical investigation, an exam or driving test, anxious feelings can be a normal part of life. However, anxiety can become problematic when it starts to negatively affect everyday life or if you find yourself feeling worried or anxious very often or in lots of situations.
Symptoms of anxiety
For most people, the first thing that they notice is the physical symptoms of anxiety such as fast/racing heartbeat, excessive sweating, breathlessness, dizziness, shaking or feeling sick. These are the results of the chain of reactions and physical changes that occur when we experience an anxiety-provoking thought.
Anxiety provoking thoughts will be different for everyone as we are all unique and have different personalities and past experiences, therefore we all feel anxious about different things. For instance, for one mother, the thought of being late during the school run could create a high level of anxiety because growing up, her parents would shout at her if she was late leaving the house for school. Yet for another mother, it may not bother her if she’s late on the school run occasionally because her parents taught her the mantra “better late than never!”
Anxiety spiral: What is the TEA cycle?
We know that anxious thoughts can easily spiral, creating an almost constant feeling of anxiety. This can happen for a number of reasons and one of the biggest reasons is what I call the TEA Cycle, or the Thought, Emotion, Action Cycle.
This is where a thought triggers an emotion, which in turn triggers an action or behaviour, and then the cycle continues!
To explain this I will use the example from earlier. Jane wakes up late and immediately has the thought of “I’m going to be late for the school run, this is awful” which triggers a deep-seated emotion of fear, which she used to feel when her parents shouted at her for being late as she was growing up. In turn, this creates a sense of anxiety and she is likely to start rushing around in an attempt to leave the house on time!
The problem is that because she’s in a state of anxiety and panic, the logical parts of Jane’s brain aren’t working effectively and she starts to make mistakes such as burning the toast, getting the wrong tights out for her daughter and tripping over the dog on the way to fetch the right ones!
However the same situation for the mother who isn’t overly worried about being late, is very different. Lisa wakes up and realises she’s late, she has thought “I’m late waking up.” She may feel some mild annoyance but she reminds herself that it happens to everyone sometimes and it’s no big deal. She might hurry a little more than usual that morning but she’s still feeling fairly calm as she gets herself and her daughter ready for school.
We can see that the situation is the same for both Jane and Lisa, they both woke up late, yet they had very different outcomes based on their thoughts, emotions and actions. Lisa had a fairly neutral thought and quickly reassured herself that this was no big deal, which led to neutral or mildly negative emotions and the positive actions of following her usual “getting ready routine” and catching back time where she could.
In Jane’s case, we can see how that one thought of “I’m going to be late for the school run, this is awful” has created difficult emotions, then anxiety and this has led to the action or behaviour of rushing around and being less efficient than usual. The likelihood is that it doesn’t stop here! Jane is likely to experience spiralling thoughts as a result of this such as “I can’t even get my daughter to school on time, I’m such a bad Mum” or “That’s it now, it’s going to be one of those days!” or “I’m always late, I’ll probably be late again tomorrow knowing me!”
Each of these thoughts will lead to more emotions and actions and I think we can agree that these are unlikely to be positive emotions and actions, and the cycle continues!
“What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance”
- Epictetus – from the translation of The Art of Living by Sharon Lebell.
The good news is that when you interrupt this cycle you can start to put an end to the spiralling anxiety that you have been experiencing. Making a change at any point in the TEA Cycle can positively affect the outcome.
How can hypnotherapy help?
Hypnotherapy can be extremely effective in enabling you to put an end to spiralling anxiety as it can address the deep-rooted, underlying causes of anxious thoughts and anxiety and teaches effective strategies on an individual basis that you can start to use straight away. In many cases, people who seek the help of a hypnotherapist are able to address their issues quite quickly and learn skills for life, enabling them to effectively deal with every day-stress and periods of anxiety themselves in the future.
It is possible to make positive changes with these self-help strategies too:
- Start to recognise when you are experiencing “spiralling anxiety” or anxious thoughts. Once you recognise this is happening it becomes easier to deal with them.
- Practice identifying your thoughts, emotions and actions individually. When we are caught up in anxiety it can feel overwhelming. Working out and recognising what thoughts you are experiencing, which emotions you are feeling and the actions you are taking (or the behaviour you are displaying) can help you to start to “unpick” and to address the causes of the anxiety you feel.
- Start to ask yourself questions about your anxiety-provoking thoughts such as – “How important is this to ME? Does this really matter? How important will this be to me in a month?” How likely is it that this will happen? What evidence do I have to say that this will happen? If it does happen will it really be as awful as I think?” “Can I find a practical solution to this? Or do I need to accept that this is something I can’t control and I need to let it go?”
- Learn how to “re-set” your mind through controlled breathing. When you notice an anxious thought or a feeling of anxiety, breathe out fully then take a long, slow breath in, counting as you do so. Next, breathe out slowly ensuring that this out-breath is longer than your in-breath was. Continue until you feel calmer. Doing this will interrupt the anxiety cycle and will enable you to start to calmly and logically address whatever it is you’re facing.
- Remind yourself that thoughts aren’t fact! Just because you think something in your mind, it doesn’t make it true. You may think that someone has fallen out with you because they didn’t acknowledge you in the corridor at work. However, the truth may be that they were just called into the manager’s office and they didn’t notice you because their mind was full of worry, wondering what they did wrong!
- Change the action first! Sometimes it’s easier to change the action or behaviour first. An example of this could be Tom who feels intimidated by the security guard in his local supermarket. The likelihood is that the security guard is bored or likes people watching, or is a little suspicious of Tom because he always looks nervous as he enters the shop!! Tom is convinced that the guard thinks he’s suspicious as they seem to stare whenever Tom enters the shop, leading to feelings of anxiety when he’s shopping. Tom could choose to greet the security guard with a simple “Hello” when entering the shop next time! The chances are that the security guard would reply and Tom would feel more at ease!
“Change your thoughts and you change your world”
– Norman Vincent Peale
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