Have you ever had to deal with someone who is suffering from anxiety? Someone who has irrational fears and can’t make a decision or do what they need to do? Anxiety is extremely common these days and is recognised as a form of depression. It is triggered by an, often irrational, fear of what might happen sometime in the future.
People with anxiety can have many fears including a fear of flying, a fear of going outside, a fear of the dark, a fear of the unknown or even a fear of taking a shower! For many of us these fears seem irrational and often don’t make sense but I can tell you from personal experience – they are VERY REAL to the person who is suffering.
Over thousands of years our minds have developed into wonderful problem solving machines and they can look into our future, see possible threats and work out ways to avoid them. But if we’re not careful we pay too much attention to these solutions and the problem solving becomes a habit. In other words we start to habitually think of problems that MIGHT happen and then work out how to solve them.
A stressed, busy or overactive mind constantly makes up these threats in an effort to help avoid them or to work out how to solve them. Eventually the person feels like their life is one big problem and their mind is always trying to ‘fix’ something. Remember the mind is a problem-solving machine, not a happiness-creating machine!
Usually the anxious person gets very little relief from hearing advice. When we say ‘the shower can’t harm you – it’s only water’, they may pretend to accept our ideas but in truth they have already understood the irrationality of their thoughts and have usually spent hours trying to ignore their fear. Unfortunately, trying to ignore a thought makes the thought even stronger. So our advice often makes their anxiety worse! It can become extremely frustrating for both people and if we have a short fuse that day we might be tempted to say ‘for goodness sake – come to your senses’!
What we mean when we use that phrase is usually along the lines of: You need to understand that you have been behaving stupidly. Now start thinking reasonably and use good judgement. We use the phrase if we are exasperated by the way someone is thinking. We use it to ‘help’ people to see things as they really are, or, to be more truthful, to help people see things as we see them!
But the literal meaning of ‘come to your senses’ is ‘restore yourself to consciousness’. In other words STOP thinking and become aware of what your senses are telling you. Yes, that’s right, ‘come to your senses’ means become more mindful!
You cannot stop thoughts from coming into your head and the more you try NOT to think of something the more you will think of it! So the solution is NOT to try and eliminate the fear but to pay attention elsewhere. By paying attention to our senses (to what we can see, hear, feel, taste and smell) we will stop our mind from dwelling on the irrational fear. This is exactly what the art of mindfulness is – developing awareness by paying attention to your senses.
So here’s the nub. If you live your life totally identifying with your thoughts, you will experience yourself and your world as a problem to be solved. Your mind will spin out of control and constantly be saying things like:
- I’ve got to work it all out
- I need to improve this
- I have to fix this problem
- I’ve got to ensure I stay safe.
- What can I do to solve this?
- Where did I start to go wrong?
- Why does this always happen to me?
- Is there any way out of this? etc etc etc
These thoughts will drive us into anxiety. If we are not careful we can spend almost all our time with our mind buzzing like that and eventually the anxiety becomes our life! We forget about joy and happiness, about the wonderful music we can listen to, the taste of our favourite food, the sight of a beautiful sunset, the joy of making a connection with a friend etc. It’s not that we want to be anxious, we’ve just developed and anxiety habit.
If we buy into those thoughts, if we focus on them, if we pay attention to them, then our life becomes a problem to be solved instead of an experience to be lived. Life was never meant to be that serious, it was meant to be full of JOY and HAPPINESS.
So COME TO YOUR SENSES! Whenever you feel anxious focus on your senses, Feel, Listen, Watch, Smell, Taste. Put on some uplifting music and really LISTEN to it. Prepare a delicious dish and really TASTE it. Go for a walk and really LOOK at the sights. Just focus 100% on one of your senses and do it really well. There is no urgency so relax, play, connect and spend time becoming more aware of what your senses are telling you.
Fixing the anxiety problem requires much more than this but this technique really helps those people who need some immediate relief from their fear dominated world. A thorough study of Mindfulness and the development of a meditation practice will help someone change those bad thinking habits and rediscover their awareness. For more information on this please go to www.johnshack.com/pause and download some of the free eBooks I’ve written on the subject.
If you know someone struggling with anxiety then I can help. Please contact me and lets talk about my one-on-one resilience coaching.