It’s often said that the anxiety sufferer is his own worst enemy and in a sense that’s true. If you’ve ever just listened to what the voice in your head is saying to you, without you even realizing, you’d be pretty amazed.
This really hit home to me a couple of weeks ago after yet another trip to my therapist. She asked me to go through an exercise to help me tune into what my brain was telling itself every time I get an anxiety symptom. For me my anxiety centers on my heart. I’m always paranoid I have a heart condition or that I’m about to have a heart attack or something equally absurd. The ‘evidence’ for this generally consists of chest pains (sharp, tight, crushing, skipped beats, tingling – you name it!), palpitations and giddiness. But I’d never really stopped and considered how my mind reacts when I have such a sensation and when I did it was quite a shock.
I can’t say with any certainty but I’m pretty sure that when so called ‘normal’ people have a chest spasm they don’t immediately say: “oh, I’m going to die’. They probably just pass it off as a heavy dinner. In fact a friend’s dad was so far this way inclined he actually tried to cure a genuine heart attack with a Rennie’s Indigestion tablet! (He lived to tell the tale you’ll be pleased to hear). Me on the other hand – and I’m pretty sure this goes for you as well – have an entirely different reaction. “I’m going to die” or “this could be a heart attack” are common favorites. As such the body responds to this and you have the makings of a vicious cycle. Before you know it the pains come more regularly. Maybe they spread to the stomach as well. Maybe you notice an odd rhythm in your heart. And all the while you’re feeding this by further telling yourself you’re going to die.
So, what can you do? Well, I guess the first thing you do is break the cycle. If you’re anything like me then you’ve been to the doctor’s a hundred times and every time he’s told you you’re the picture of health. So how’s about we start believing him? Every time you get a little flutter dismiss that voice that tells you you’re dying. Replace it with something like this: “I know I’m okay, this is just an anxiety symptom. It’s harmless, it won’t hurt you.”
Yep, I know what you’re thinking. This seems too easy to be true. And you’re right, I have made it seem simple. In reality it is hard work to reprogram your mind. You’ve spent days, weeks, months – even years – telling yourself you’re going to die and for a while you’re brain might not believe you. But stick with it, I promise you, within a few days you will start to notice a change.
If you want to find out more about how to accept anxiety symptoms for what they are then I recommend ‘Self – Help for Your Nerves’ by Dr Claire Weeks.