Val is a life-long student of unexplored human potential and many challenges that self-honesty throws at us on that path.
How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.
-- Thomas Jefferson
Innocent, Albeit Very Unpleasant
An anxiety, or a panic episode, which are only different by their intensity, basically start from the same nervous/endocrine excitation -- and for all their alarming experience, are not anything more "serious" than a toothache.
Just like a tiny nerve at the bottom of our tooth may give us an exaggerated feeling as if our "jaw is falling apart", so an anxiety episode may give us that doomsday sensation that we are about to lose all control and go crazy.
Thus, before we get any further, it will be of a great help to memorize this fact about anxiety:
It's nothing serious, you are not about to lose your mind, and it's all about how you deal with it, how intense, and how long it may pose a problem for you.
Most of the first-timers have an exaggerated response, mainly because some of the symptoms of anxiety mimic a heart attack -- like a cold sweat, racing heart, shortness of breath, maybe jelly legs, stuff like that.
But I will assume that I am writing for those already "veterans" in their experience with anxiety, not with the beginners who might as well rule out the possibility of something being wrong with their ticker.
You know what I mean. Telling you here that "anxiety is an innocent experience", I am not saying that cold sweats, racing heart, shortness of breath -- per themselves -- are necessarily "innocent".
But you already know all this, and now let's treat all those symptoms as an anxiety episode, not anything more seriously.
Life is ten percent what you experience and ninety percent how you respond to it.
Coming Always as a Nasty Surprise
One of its most unpleasant features is that an anxiety episode may be triggered by just about anything. I mean, it doesn't have to be a screaming kid in the grocery store with a mother ignoring her. It can happen while you are watching a nice movie, listening to your favorite music, having a great time at a party, or in the middle of your telling a story, with suddenly forgetting a name or a word.
Even as we sleep, it may wake us up with a feeling of terror, with heart pounding in our throat, with cold sweat, and that sinking sensation in the pit of our stomach.
If you happen to be a sufferer, you already know all this too well, but I am merely trying to play a smart ass, well versed in human issues after having read one huge shitload of those books -- so that you may also expect a tip or two, not just my sympathy.
Now, I have no way of knowing how familiar you may be with the nervous system, but to avoid some boring lecturing -- I am capable of minimizing my smart-ass urges -- suffice it to say that, other than brain, we have an autonomic nervous system consisting of sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous networks.
The former one is basically attached to our survival instinct and its fight/flight mechanism whose duty is to keep us ready to face any threats to our survival -- real or imaginary. Sympathetic nervous chain works in tandem with stress hormones, notably adrenaline and cortisol.
The latter one, parasympathetic nervous network counteracts the "jerky one" just mentioned, while it's predominant at times when we feel at ease, composed, and happy.
I don't have to tell you that very little will be said ahead about this good guy in our nervous assembly -- because the star of the show is our somewhat hyperactive sympathetic response to life.
Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.
-- Arthur Somers Roche
Two Shots of Adrenaline -- Not One
It's useful to know something about the stress hormone adrenaline as much as it pertains to anxiety episodes.
There are something like "primary" and "secondary" shots of adrenaline that we get during an anxiety episode.
The primary one happens at the very onset of it -- and let me get ahead of myself right away by saying that;
If we managed to just let it run its course, we would not only minimize the whole experience, but also retrain nervous system to get rid of anxiety attacks.
So, it's basically that secondary shot which makes anxiety as crappy experience as it is. It accounts for our knee-jerk reaction to that onset of it, which amplifies the whole episode.
In other words, in those brief moments we treat the primary shot of adrenaline as a "danger" to our biological equilibrium, which calls for another shot of adrenaline.
At his point it would be good to remember something smart about our emotions:
It's not our emotions that hurt -- but our resistance to them. When we "don't like" an emotion, we cut the flow of energy to it, we suppress it, and that inner conflict is the one that hurts. If we let the emotion run its course freely, it would soon be replaced by something else in our emotional repertoire.
Think about it.
At that first sign of anxiety, do we tense up in that natural reflex reaction to something unpleasant -- or we just accept it and let it run its course. It's all about retraining our nervous system, so we can skip that secondary adrenaline by putting on a Mona Lisa smile, with chin up, dropped shoulders -- while acting as if nothing out of ordinary is going on.
By acting as if nothing of a threat is happening, you are rewiring your brain with new neural pathways -- now taking those alarms less and less seriously.
Until one day when they disappear altogether.
In a simplistic sense, anxiety mechanism reminds me of a toddler's tantrum, which diminishes after we keep totally ignoring it and letting it run its course -- unpleasant as it may be in the process.
Not everything that weighs you down is yours to carry.
Breathe for Calm Nerves
Now, don't be surprised when I tell you that something as silly as a bad habit of shallow breathing, or even suppressing it for some seconds, may greatly contribute to the anxiety condition.
We never really think much of it, but our nervous system, aside from the heart, is the biggest consumer of oxygen in the body. You can go without food or water for quite some time, but only minutes after you deprived yourself from oxygen -- well, you know it, it's the beginning of your end.
But then, while never bringing us to that level of oxygen deprivation, our body may do some crazy tricks to dull our crappy daily emotions, whether boredom, anger, worry, whatever -- by making our breathing shallow and quick, with some pauses inserted.
Another of such crazy tricks is with overeating, as the most of the available energy goes to digesting a heavy meal, dulling our crappy emotions and providing some time of that artificial peace. Its tranquilizing effect is often obvious with a sudden need for a nap.
But, back to the breathing problem.
Our solution is in cultivating a habit of breathing slightly deeper, with an emphasis on regular and rhythmic. Just look at a sleeping person, especially one that snores, and you'll see how deep and regular is their breathing, as they are in that relaxed state of mind/body.
That should give you an idea how important breathing is to our emotional equilibrium.
Also notice babies, how all of them breathe abdominally, belly raising with each inhalation, and dropping with each exhalation. If the element of a pristine innocence should be further added, look at dogs and cats how they breath abdominally as well.
As we get older, and with all the new complexities of living which make us more stressed out, we start breathing with our chest -- which is nervous breathing giving a boost to our sympathetic nerves.
Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.
-- Walter Anderson
You Are in Charge at All Times
Of other causes of anxiety that are worth mentioning -- it could be a lack of sleep, stressful job, marital problems, food sensitivities, especially sugar and white flour, dehydration, overwork, abuse of alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, not even to go to the recreational drugs.
In all these areas you have the power to make necessary changes, and I am listing them up like this only to bring to your attention a possible few that may apply in your case.
When it comes to how others are affecting you, see the physical reality of it -- that you and they are occupying a different personal space, so whatever their behavior may be, it's outside of your personal space, making you a sort of "untouchable".
No one can physically walk into your personal space to push some emotional buttons there, so, since everything in your own space is of your own make, you might as well insist on making some good quality emoting.
And finally, a little technique called "focusing", which I remember from 1970's when a whole bunch of useful books were flooding the bookstores.
As I remember it, you focus your attention on that "felt sense" of anxiety in your body. Locate it -- is it in your throat, in your chest, in your stomach, maybe lower back, how about in your head, and which part of it.
Then go beyond it, and try to figure the "quality of that felt sense" -- is it something buzzing, burning, heavy, red, blue...how would you best describe that "felt sense of anxiety"?
Amazingly quick changes could happen as you are attaching your focused consciousness to something of an unconscious nature. That act of qualifying the sensation of anxiety makes it dissipate.
O.K., so much about it, I hope some of it may turn useful to some of you. It did help some of my friends and family. Sometimes just becoming familiar with the basic mechanism of anxiety may, by itself, bring about a big relief.
A very useful advice for removing an anxiety episode
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2022 Val Karas