Whilst my work often takes me into the treatment of anxiety there are some common themes that I see when working with clients (children, teens and adults) which come from well-meaning friends and family but are having catastrophic or distressing results for the individual struggling with anxious thought and feelings.
This week’s blog explores three reasons why telling someone to ‘push through’ anxiety could be having a crippling result and be ending in tears…
Please note – the scenarios and examples used are related to anxiety and should not be confused with nerves or adrenaline from excitement e.g. pre-performance nerves.
Reason #1 – It’s not safe for their brain
The brain’s key job is to keep us alive and to keep us safe. In situations where the brain experiences a situation which feels unsafe or creates anxious feelings the subconscious creates a pattern of behaviour that this is ‘NOT SAFE’ and as such will do all it can to remove a person from it. Think about this scenario – an employee is being bullied at work, initially they push through and try to cope, over time they lose sleep and find themselves feeling emotional, pushing through for longer they may experience palpitations, breathlessness, slowed thought processes to the point where they eventually struggle with nausea and sickness at the concept of going into work. The first signs that the brain felt unsafe came early on, but it is only at the latter stages that the person will opt for support or to be signed off or leave work. However at starting a new job they feel anxious from day one – because the brain has developed a pattern that work is UNSAFE.
Understanding that a person experiencing anxiety has a cross wire that a situation is unsafe allows us to better understand their symptoms and gives us warning NOT to encourage them to ‘push through’ but to step back and acknowledge what triggered this change and intervene with appropriate professional support.
Reason #2 – You can exasperate the issue
Building from point one we can begin to understand that advising someone experiencing mild anxiety to ‘push through’, ‘get on with it’ or ‘ignore it’ often exasperates the symptoms to moderate or severe anxiety as the brain will do all it can to ensure that they are safe. This does not mean taking to bed and never moving again but finding the right therapeutic interventions can allow an individual to move out of the anxiety cycle much quicker. (NB see therapy suggestions below).
Ignoring or pushing through anxiety very rarely removes the issue and in most individuals they can track their anxiety back over many years but tried to ignore it before it spread into other areas deeming them all as being unsafe.
Reason #3 – We can reinforce patterns
By consistently pushing ourselves to do things that cause us anxiety or anxiety related feelings we can reinforce the neural pathway in the brain which creates the very behaviours. As anxiety is caused by an unpleasant feeling in a particular situation by forcing an individual to repeat these situations we travel down the same neural pathway in each event and thus reinforce the issue. (NB: This pattern can often be seen when talk therapies are used to treat anxiety and thus many individuals can explain why they feel anxious but the symptoms are not lessened and sometimes attach to other events). In order to change the pattern we need to re-programme the emotional drivers to them, e.g. replace the anxiety with calm through effective treatment.
So what CAN we do to help?
1 – Be understanding (even if it is hard) – anxiety is a cross wire connection where the brain has decided that a situation is no longer safe and can cause harm. These feelings may start off mildly and progress to more severe physical responses – treating the individual with understanding and not dismissing their (very real) symptoms is the first step to help
2 – Regulate breathing and find somewhere safe – An individual who is struggling with or experiencing anxiety will find this eased if they return to a safe place. Be aware of areas that they find safer (e.g. often large open spaces are triggering) so in the event of any physical reactions you can find somewhere safe and peaceful to calm down breathing/mind/focus.
3 – Seek Support – Conventional talk therapies may help the individual make sense of their anxiety but rarely impact alleviating the symptoms. Seeking out a responsive hypnotherapy practitioner or BWRT therapist can allow the individual to re-wire their thinking to the triggers therefore removing the symptoms and allowing them to start experiencing situations again.
NOTE – Anxiety can be a crippling issue and in severe cases leave individuals feeling overwhelmed and isolated. As such finding therapists who are well qualified in effective techniques can be life changing to their situation.
For more details about Nicky’s work please visit: www.astepatatime.org.uk