When I was over one million dollars in debt, I suffered from acute clinical anxiety. It is a different beast from the anxiety one might feel before an exam, when presenting, or meeting someone important.
How to Turn Anxiety into Calmness in 3 Quick Steps
When I was over one million dollars in debt, I suffered from acute clinical anxiety.
Clinical anxiety is a different beast from the anxiety one might feel before an exam, when presenting, or meeting someone important. Those who have suffered it will have their own definitions. The following is mine.
On the way to visit clients in my car, an awful pressure across my chest would grip me, forcing me to pull over and stop. Then the panic would set in, my breaths coming in shallow, rapid gasps. In the driving mirror, my eyes would bulge with the fear of failure. I was out of control, adrenalin coursing through my veins!
It got worse. At 3.00 a.m., I would find myself pacing around my kitchen is extreme distress, knowing that I had to go to work each morning, exhausted, but act as though everything was okay. I was suffering crippling anxiety and mind-numbing insomnia.
I could not go on like this. All I wanted to do was to go from anxiety to calmness - and quickly!
I dived into many areas: neuroscience, positive psychology, visualization, mindfulness and meditation to name a few. At the outset, I knew I needed a method I could summon quickly. My anxiety could build, panic rising in my chest without good reason. I also understood it had to work in stressful situations. My job was a high-pressure one of many levels heavy with responsibility. I also wanted a technique based on science. As a scientist, it was important that my solution was evidence-based to give me the confidence I needed.
Following an intense period of research and trial and error, I cured myself! I wired my brain for calmness (and a host of other empowering states of mind!)
Now when I feel my anxiety levels rising, I take three quick steps. I call it my Emotional Mastery Formula:
1. Inhale slowly and deeply, and relax your neck and shoulder muscles.
To an observer, it will appear that you have taken a deep breath to gather your thoughts—in some ways you have. The slow and deep inhalation and relaxation gives you time for choice. With choice, you can measure and consider your response, not pull it out from your brain when you are on autopilot, acting reactively.
As soon as you feel the calming effect of relaxation, and before you exhale, collect all your power of intention and concentration.
2. Focus on the sensation of calmness using all your senses.
Visualize images you would associate with a calm feeling—still water, a lake or pond, or perhaps a desert at night? Imagine colors that would bring about calming feelings—blue or grey, or the colors of a sunrise or sunset?
Bring to mind smells or scents associated with calmness—incense or perfume, or the smell of the ocean or beach? Think of the sounds would you hear if you were calm—waves lapping on the shore, a soft breeze whispering through trees, or music to chill out?
What sensations would you link to calmness—the feeling of silk, a massage, or a cuddle from a loved one?
The only limit is your imagination, but the intention is to magnify the feeling of calmness in your mind. Imagine it well up deep within you, rising from within your heart and soul.
3. Exhale, allowing the feeling of calmness to flow through your body.
The entire cycle should take from three to ten seconds. Depending on your circumstance, one cycle may be enough. However, the real benefit is this: One cycle can follow another, with each cycle intensifying the focus on your action or on the depth of your emotions.
Why it works:
First, a slow and deep breathing pattern has long been associated with relaxation and a reduction in anxiety.
Second, this is a mindfulness exercise, or an ultra-short meditation. Science has proved in multiple studies that meditation rewires the brain for, in this case, more calmness, and less anxiety. With time, the amygdala, the area of your brain controlling an overreactive stress response, can shrink!
Third, there is a saying in neuroscience: “Brain cells that fire together, wire together.” By repeating the three steps one after another, and by practicing this formula frequently, the number of brain cells controlling feelings of calmness become greater, and the connections between them stronger, and more enduring.
Finally, with every positive change in thinking and emotions, the number of brain cells in control of feelings of anxiety or panic becomes fewer, and their connections weaker and less enduring!
We all feel anxious occasionally. If we did not, we would miss the dangers in our world, failing to act when necessary. However, chronic anxiety can be a debilitating, overwhelming, and an exceptionally distressing experience. I know! Now when those old familiar feelings of panic rise, I can get back to Zen again—quickly, easily, and confidently. Mission accomplished.
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