How Playing Detective can Help You Conquer Anxiety

One of the toughest things about dealing with anxiety is that it can be incredibly confusing. You may be feeling fine one minute and then anxiety strikes in a moment and everything changes into a devastating storm of physical symptoms and negative emotions. If you don't know why, or how, it happened and the attack seemed to come from nowhere you may be left feeling vulnerable to future episodes that could also happen without warning.

But the reality of the situation is that anxiety always comes from somewhere. In general, we experience anxiety because we are mentally overloaded and our nervous system is too frazzled. It may be due to a run of stressful events, or a single trauma, or it may be due to an accumulation of mental overload, where there is too much to process. It may happen gradually, or it may happen suddenly, but there is a point where the mind feels overloaded and reaches the tipping point that triggers anxiety. This is the mental  equivalent of the straw that broke the camel's back.

Prepare to Play Detective

Our mind reaches a tipping point where everything feels too much, and we feel like we can't cope anymore. Our thinking becomes unruly and disturbed and that's when we begin to suffer with anxiety.

One way  master anxiety and panic attacks is to get specific with them and start noticing their patterns. This will start to give you clues and opportunities to take action and make small adjustments.

It might be helpful  to carry a notebook with you and make a point of jotting down any thoughts, feelings or physical sensations that you experience just prior to having an anxiety attack.

and Start Looking for Clues...

It may take practice to get used to observing what's happening in your mind and body just before anxiety erupts. The idea is not to get into the drama of the experience and allow your mind to take up your mental energy by trying to impress on you how awful it is. You already know that. What you are looking for is a clue that gives you an understanding of what might be triggering, or adding to, your anxiety. And from there, we can look at what you can do to change your experience.

It's simply a matter of objectively noticing what's going on in your body and in your surroundings before an anxiety episode.

Super Sleuth Questions to ask yourself:

  • did you feel stressed about something just before your anxiety peaked?

  • where you alone, or with someone else?

  • if you had company was it someone you feel you can completely relax with? Or was it someone that you feel less familiar or comfortable with?

  • what kind of mood do you think you were in before you experienced heightened anxiety?

  • were you feeling hot or cold?

  • are you aware of any negative or fearful thoughts that were present in your mind?

Also try and think back and remember if you'd had caffeine, or any other stimulants.

Over the next couple of weeks try looking for clues and see if you can detect any triggers that cause your anxiety to spike. Once you know your triggers you can begin making some supportive changes that will help you manage anxiety.

It's very common for something  as simple as a change in temperature to provoke a sudden increase in feelings of anxiety. If you discover that's happening with you then you can be prepared to step outside for some fresh air, or carry a fan or some cool water. You know what will help you feel more comfortable and being prepared means that the confusion and mystery is taken out of anxiety. 

Building a Buffer

The other essential thing to do in managing stress and anxiety is to build a buffer. When our minds and nervous systems feel overtaxed, we are left with a sense that we have no buffer between us and the world around us.

In that state, it's easy for us to dissolve into a state of panic really fast, or we may loose our temper over the least little thing; and the reason for that is that we have no cushioning. We have no buffer. No space to manoeuvre between where we are and how we're going to respond to anything that happens to us. That puts is in a very uncomfortable situation because it robs us of the ability to be at cause and be responsible for how we want to deal with situations. When I studied NLP (nuero-linguistic programming) one of my tutors made a very interesting point about the word responsible. He broke it down into two words response and able.

How are we able to respond at any given moment? If something happens and we automatically experience anxiety, or anger, that means that we are not able to respond in any other way than on automatic pilot. We are reacting spontaneously to the prompting of a disturbed mind and nervous system. 

When we create space by building a buffer, we are giving ourselves room to breathe, room to think, and room to decide: "Who do I want to be?" and "How would I rather respond to this?" And the way we create that buffer is by taking good care of our minds and our nervous system by giving them a break. 

The easiest way to start doing that is to set yourself aside  some quiet time. Even if it's only for ten minutes a day, where you follow along with a guided relaxation process that's specifically  designed to give your mind a break and help you enter into a deeply relaxed and supported state. 

photo by stephenjohnbryde

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