What is anxiety? Where does it come from? When you have first hand experience of it, you might also ask, why is this happening? Is there a genetic component? Is it physiological or chemical? Is it a reaction to some hidden or apparent trauma from the past? Is it purely psychological? Is it an existential or spiritual rumbling, reaction, crisis?
Paraphrasing the words of the renowned Tibetan Lama, Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, “ . . . it doesn’t matter if something is true or not, what matters is whether it’s beneficial (for you and others) to believe it or not, or whether it works (meaning it heals you) or not.” A good question to ask yourself is, “which reason is true?” And you might find that your anxiety, fear, panic, phobia has components of all of the above. I suggest then, that it’s most beneficial to approach your fear from all angles or from the angle that works best for you.
It’s important to begin the healing process asking these questions with our conscious mind or intellect so we begin the process of investigation and movement toward greater understanding and fearlessness. I believe that everything we think (say and do) on the intellectual, conscious, or surface level sends a message to our deeper, subconscious, or subtle mind. And in turn those deeper levels inform our conscious behavior as well. It’s a loop and anywhere in the cycle we can add positive reinforcement. In the process of hypnosis, we strategically change those messages to accomplish our wish to be healthier, happier, more connected, more loving and compassionate. Are the messages true? If I send a message, “calm and relaxed” – is it true? Maybe we aren’t experiencing that state of mind right at the moment, but does it work? Is it beneficial? Absolutely! Are we lying to ourselves? Are we lying to ourselves when we send a message, “you are a failure, you are worthless; there are threatening people and situations everywhere and no one can be trusted”? Which message is true?
The word anxiety comes from the Latin word, anxietatem, which means anguish, angst, solicitude. Others define it as a state of distress or uneasiness, apprehension, psychic tension, fear of danger, foreboding, worry, disquiet, and even more interesting, an earnest but tense desire; an eagerness. From a purely scientific point of view it’s believed that when we experience excessive stress (anxiety)—whether from internal worry or external circumstance—a bodily reaction is triggered, called the “fight or flight” response. This response corresponds to an area of our brain called the hypothalamus, which—when stimulated—initiates a sequence of nerve cell firing and chemical release that prepares our body for running or fighting. Interestingly enough, when we experience excitement, the body responds in much the same way. It’s just that we interpret it the feelings or sensations differently and so experience the event as pleasant rather than as fearful and unpleasant.
The important thing to remember, no matter how we understand anxiety, is that it can change. If it can come and go, this means it can go . . . forever, with practice and understanding. The mind has the power to effect change on a physical level. The mind can change the body/brain!
Anxiety in all its forms is painful. Some highly sensitive people experience it as utterly agonizing, even in its relatively subtle forms. Having come from a family vulnerable to anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias and earlier in my own life, suffering from these myself, I truly understand how uncomfortable, painful, and stressful these very difficult emotions can be. They can rob us of our joy, our work, the goodness of our relationships, and they can constrict and diminish our very life.
Still, I feel that those of us who experience these states are on to something. We have discovered a tip of a certain iceberg that once addressed (even lightly) can remove a huge resistance giving rise to a much fuller, richer, braver, more productive, more interesting and lived life. The other more positive way to reframe anxiety and all its forms is to think, “I am experiencing this, it is happening. What am I going to do with it? What are my choices? I can either run from it, try to escape from it, resist it, get very busy, take drugs, drink and eat too much, hide away, and never really reach safe ground or . . . I can acknowledge the tip of the iceberg, give it some compassionate attention and understanding and then begin the melting process.” The melting process, by the way, takes care of itself once we set it in motion. We don’t ask the sun to melt the snow and ice, it just does it because that’s what it does. As we bring understanding and a loving acceptance to our experience of fear, it just has to go as it no longer has the power it had when we were resisting it.
I no longer pathologize fear in the forms it takes in people who are not psychotic (I’ll leave that discussion to other healthcare practitioners). Rather I see it as a kind of messenger indicating that something needs to be investigated on a deep level. Does something need to change? Are we angry about something and do we feel we shouldn’t be? Did something happen in the past that at the time we experienced as very frightening and yet if we look again with our adult, wise mind, we’d see was really misunderstood or misinterpreted? Or perhaps there was some known trauma and if we look deeply at it now, we can begin to understand we do not need to be afraid of it any longer. And is there some physiological imbalance that’s related? Is this imbalance causing the painful thoughts and experiences? Or is the content of our life and our reaction to it causing the physiological imbalance? It’s useful to ask these questions, letting go of needing an answer. The subconscious mind will always give us what we need to know, so we can relax in asking these questions, knowing the answers will come eventually.
Now this isn’t to say I do not encourage reducing, and eventually eliminating anxiety in all its forms. I take my job seriously. But the first step is to clearly identify it by listening to what it has to say or looking it straight in the eye. The big scary monster often turns out to be . . . not that big of a deal. In The Wizard of Oz, the terrifying Oz turns out to be a little, insecure man behind a curtain. As with many of the other issues I work with, I believe we first need to know our opponent before we are able to defeat him/her/it, and understand it as not an enemy at all. We need to touch it, understand it, appreciate it for what it is helping us learn, see that it has no real power over us and then let it go. I don’t believe we can let it go unless we first have a very close look.
We are whole beings and it’s useful to walk all the paths that lead into (and out of) our anxiety. Why not address it on all levels? With this in mind I take a two-lane path approach using hypnosis to recognize, reduce and eliminate anxiety. By “two” I mean from the side of the body and from the side of the mind. Approaching from both sides effectively changes the brain’s neural pathways. Think of them like highways that have been created simply through habit. Every time you change a habit, even a little bit, the neural pathways begin to change. So you are actually changing paths, you are moving in a different direction.
Refer to Fear, Anxiety and Phobias for more information.