Tips To Deal With Anxiety
Or… a review of ‘The Anti-anxiety Toolkit’ by Melissa Tiers
I can’t remember exactly when I first began to feel really intense anxiety. I recall thinking that it started very early on when I believed it was a phobia to blood. Many years ago, when I was a child, I passed out after witnessing my brother coming home from a dental procedure and literally recovering on the couch, spewing up mouthfuls of blood. I had gone to the kitchen to make myself a glass of Tang and, next thing I know, I was being awoken with my family surrounding me. I had put my tooth through my lip and ended up back on the chair nursing my own wound.
After that, I had always thought the sight of blood would make me pass out and, frequently, it did. Understandably, I had associated the two but as time went on, it became obvious that it wasn’t as literal as what I thought it had all been. Over time, it began to morph and sometimes I would find that I would begin to experience this feeling of anxiety in my body before it translated to the mind telling me that something was wrong. Before I knew it, I was feeling my heart race, an explosion of internal dialogue going off in my head telling me that I was going to look foolish, my body was jittery, and I knew that if I did not get out of that exact location, I would pass out. As a result, I had to leave. I had to run.
The last major attack that I had occured in the theatre. My mind had been allowed to race to more gruesome detail than even what the show was hinting and the fear of looking a fool and losing control took over. Before long, I had to excuse myself and race out to the foyer to pull myself back together while looking pale, unwell, and feeling completely confused and down on myself.
It’s only now that I have learned more about anxiety and recognise this as the hardwired ‘fight or flight’ that I can understand what is going on in my body and what was leading it to produce these panic attacks.
Since then, I’ve had a fascination with anxiety and how it impacts on the body. It has led me to research the various types of anxiety that exist out there, understanding the difference between Generalised Anxiety Disorders and Social Anxiety through to what we understand as being Phobias. It has also taken me to explore how different therapeutic approaches work with anxiety. For example, a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approach is more likely to want to reframe the content of the thoughts where as an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) approach is more likely to have us move into a detached observer position with our thinking and recognise that a thought is simple a thought and to learn to mindfully allow it to pass. It doesn’t try to prove if the thought is real or not, simply that we’re having ‘that thought’ and to ‘defuse’ from it so that we don’t put up as much struggle with it.
It is this concept of stepping back and observing – this disassociation – that has become the most useful tool for me in dealing with my own anxiety.
I remember being in a class one day on the topic of anxiety and someone had mentioned a technique they had used to defuse their anxiety. What they had discovered was that, when a ‘panic attack’ started to come on, they could focus on the back of the head of the person in front of them and imagine that they were looking at the back of their own head. Provided the person in front was calm and composed, this could allow the person to disassociate and to imagine that they were sitting there calm and peacefully. I recall thinking that it sounded like a load of rubbish however I was absolutely shocked and surprised at how incredibly well this worked for me when it came time to put it this technique to the test. It worked, and it worked really, really well. Lesson learned – no matter how simple it sounds, don’t dismiss it until you’ve tried it.
While the purpose of this piece is to offer up some advice to people who do wish to gain some insight into how to manage their anxiety, it is also an opportunity for me to review ‘The Anti-anxiety Toolkit’ by Melissa Tiers too.
The first thing that has to be said about this book is that, while it isn’t very big, it is absolutely crammed packed with useful information for both someone who experiences anxiety and a therapist who wishes to learn some new tricks. At a little over 100 pages, it can easily be read within an hour or two, which is great if you’re a new therapist and keen to pick up some last minute strategies for dealing with your upcoming anxiety clients. Additionally, in my own experience, there are so many books out there who are twice the size of this and barely manage to offer more than a couple of useful tips yet this is one book that has at least one useful thing, if not more, on every single page. I found myself reading each page and imaging how I could use this with my clients. Certainly some of the ideas around metaphors and the NLP based work could easily be incorporated into a hypnotherapy session to really help clients to lose any anxiety that may be existing for them prior to moving into what they would like to feel instead.
What is really useful about this book is that Tiers goes into some detail around why these techniques work. She is a big fan of neuroplasticity and takes some time to talk about how adaptive the brain actually is; if you can start to create new associations and connections within the brain, you can easily ‘rewire your brain’ to no longer feel that anxiety.
At the start of the book as she is talking about the ‘bully in your brain’, she talks about the structure of anxiety and asks us to think of anxiety as a network of neural clusters in the brain that create an area of association. We would understand this easier as the learning process; when you begin to learn something, there is that awareness of the fact you’re learning but then as you practice and perfect, it becomes second nature. For most people, driving a car is a classic example of this. You’ll ‘bunny hop’ your car down the road in the first few weeks but fast forward a couple of decades and rarely will you actually be concentrating on ‘driving’ when you’re behind the wheel of the car. In fact, I’m usually either listening to music or audio books when I drive my car now!
Tiers’ goes on to explain that the brain can be rewired because ‘if you can interrupt the anxiety and then connect that cluster to a more resourceful state like relaxation, you will be cross connecting those neurones and loosening up the area of association that had been keeping that cluster strong.’
As I said before, this book actually crams a lot in a very short amount of space and, in some ways, there are parts of the book where I really wish Tiers had extended it and offered more. There is a brief chapter on EFT which Tiers states she swears by and, while it is useful in whetting my interest (especially as her own experience of EFT seems to reflect the experience I had with the disassociation technique above), I would’ve loved to have had a little more in this text to round out that knowledge.
Tiers refers to this disassociation as ‘shifting perspectives’ in the book. She says, “Every emotional state has a set of biochemicals associated with it. When you have a certain biochemical state in the body, the brain generates more thoughts and emotions that are similar. It’s as if you have a certain pair of coloured glasses on so that everything you look at is coloured by them. When you are in a depressed state, everything seems depressed. Your past, present and future are all coloured by that biochemical pair of shades you’re wearing and it’s really hard to see a better way or solution until you take the glasses off. This is why most of these techniques involve a step off, or out, of the memory. This allows you to dissociate long enough for you to take those glasses off and think about a better biochemical state.”
For those experiencing anxiety and finding it hard to get relief, picking up a copy of ‘The Anti-anxiety Toolkit’ may be a great starting point for you. Of course, given my own experience with anxiety and my own understanding of how it works, seeing a qualified hypnotherapist may also help you to discover the root cause, work to resolve that, and allow you the freedom to move forward comfortably and in control.
Melissa Tiers does an excellent presentation here that includes some of the tips that you’ll find in the book.