A 2015 study found that putting feelings into words can reduce physiologic symptoms of anxiety. In fact, the study found that the more words we use to describe our anxiety, the more our symptoms of anxiety are reduced.
The participants in this study didn’t expect putting their anxiety into words would reduce their anxiety. But physiological testing showed that it reduced all the same. What’s more, the reduction in anxiety occurred regardless of whether the ‘labels’ people used for their anxiety were spoken or written down.
Write down in a notebook, in some detail, the way you are feeling when you become anxious. Use as many extreme, even exaggerated, fear words as possible.
We human beings have an innate need to express ourselves. Putting experiences into words can dilute it’s impact, as we have to use the left prefrontal lobe of the brain to verbalise in this way. Since anxiety is essentially an emotion expressed through the right hemisphere of the brain, this activation of the left hemisphere can reduce our experience of anxiety.
But in order to show our instincts there is nothing to fear, we need to do something else as well.
Face Our Anxiety
In nature we avoid what might be deadly. But in a more complex world, what we avoid starts to feel threatening even if it most certainly is not. To live a life of avoidance is to live a life of fear. A diminished life.
If you want to convince your fear instinct that something is dangerous, it’s simple: just avoid it or flee it when you come across it.
If you happen to panic, for example, in a particular store, and then run from that store, as far as your fear is concerned there is something deadly in that store.
Now, simply because you ran away from the store, it might feel overwhelming, terrifying even, to go back into it.
Had you stayed in the store until you had calmed down, the instinctive conditioning might well have been different. If nothing had happened in the store and you regained a sense of calm while you were still in that store, than the fear instinct would have had no cause to tag that store as a deadly threat.
If you stay in a situation rather than run from it, then eventually fear switches off, because if the situation was really life threatening you’d run away. So you train your instincts partly by how you behave.
Run away and fear builds; stay and the fear diminishes.
And it works the other way around too.
People who make themselves calmly and repeatedly do something that is life threatening are communicating to the fear instinct that what they are doing isn’t potentially deadly.
Think old time lion tamers putting their mouth in lion’s mouths, those fearless souls shooting themselves from the mouths of cannons, or people who repeatedly doing parachute jumps. Because they are voluntarily going towards these experiences, the fear response gets the message these experiences are not threatening.
Of course, staying in a situation when you are panicking, or going towards a situation you are frightened of, is much easier said than done.
But I can help you do this by:
- Teaching you other alteration strategies
- Going with you to visit the feared situation or place and helping you put strategies in place so you can visit these situations or places feeling relaxed and calm.