Imagine you had a magic horse that could speed you away from danger.
This magical steed could also whisk you at frightening rapidity away from threats before they arise. It could, and does, work to keep you safe. It’s energy is enormous.
But now envisage this horse out of control. It dashes you away from opportunities and steers you away from that which could be good for you.
It prevents you from seeing friends or even going out! It seems to have a mind of it’s own regardless of your real needs.
We all have these “magical steeds” but sometimes they become unruly. Our anxiety is way above and beyond what is useful to us. Our anxiety gets us moving away from what is harmless or even beneficial. This anxiety makes us feel bad too.
There are many ways we can let our anxiety know who is really in charge!
Anxiety is just like water, it takes many forms.
Water can just be water, but at the same time can manifest as steam or as ice. It can be life-saving for a person who is dehydrated or fatal for someone lost at sea.
But what is anxiety?
Anxiety too takes many forms. It might raise it’s head as crushing panic. It might manifest as the sickening flashbacks of post-traumatic stress disorder. Then again, it might hang around like an unwanted house guest as generalised anxiety, or tip up as a baffling yet powerful phobia. Depression too, is often fuelled by unresolved anxieties. And certainly anxiety seems to be the root of OCD and for some of us the decent into addiction.
I want to focus specifically on discrete episodes of heightened anxiety. I will be sharing with you some useful tips to help minimise and control specific burst of anxiety, such as panic ‘attacks’.
It goes without saying that we ‘need’ to learn to relax deeply and often. Relaxation is the antidote to fear and stress. BUT this can be extremely challenging when we are in the mist of some catastrophic all or nothing thoughts, produced by our anxiety. Here I want to give you some really simple behaviour alterations that can help you more effectively that just being told to relax.
Also our behaviour is so often a reflection of what we feel and think, but because we exist in feedback loops, what we do also influences how we feel and think.
There are many things we can do to align our anxiety so it’s only there when we need it to be (to motivate us to fight or flee an actual physical threat) and we do this by introducing some behavioural interventions.
So what did I mean by ‘feedback loop’ when it comes to our anxiety?
The mysterious power of chewing gum
“Why is it, that chewing gum, helps me feel calmer in situations that would usually send me into a spiral of panic?”
Fear of course, is a survival instinct. We need it to help protect us from physical threats. You don’t cure anxiety. You help align it, so that it behaves itself and works for you only when it’s needed.
Our instinct, at least in part are blind. They take their lead so to speak, partly from what we do and experience. To a degree we train our instincts the way we might train a pet dog.
Anything, we do sends a message to the fear instinct that we are not facing a present and immediate threat that will cause our fear instinct to back down. Fear is a big investment of energy, and our bodies know that we need to conserve energy and not waste it.
So the answer to my question “Why is it, that chewing gum, helps me feel calmer in situations that would usually send me into a spiral of panic?” is;
One of the first things to switch off when my flight-or flight response kicks in is salivation, because I don’t need to be eating if I’m trying not to be eaten!
If I am in a tricky situation and I chew gum, the gum makes me salivate. This salivation feeds back to my fear instinct that all must be well, and so all the other symptoms of fear get reduced in a domino effect.
By chewing gum in a usually stressful situation, I am sending the message to my instinctual mind that “this is unthreatening that I can afford to chew and salivate!”
Any behaviour that contradicts the fear narrative, whether it’s salivating, talking, acting normally or staying still instead of running, will start calming things down pretty quickly.