High Anxiety: Mea Culpa

At the root of most all presenting problems that bring people in to seek help, anxiety is the culprit!

Ask any therapist, family physician, healer, astrologer, tarot reader or psychic and they will likely concur that the underlying catalyst for unrest is anxiety.

And yet, it is so misunderstood.

For 10 of my 20 years in the field of personal development, I specialized in anxiety disorders. Impressive? Well, what does being a specialist actually mean? It certainly commands respect and credibility but what really is the secret behind being so special in a particular field?

What creates a specialization is experience. That's all. Nothing more, nothing less.

Consider this: The Cheesecake Factory specializes in 50 kinds of cheesecake, even though they have over 10 pages of other appetizers and main dishes on their menu (and portions that could feed half of Ethiopia, but that's another post!) So why cheesecake? Because it's a very popular dessert and for years, all that was on offer was probably just strawberry flavor. So in 1978, following frequent requests for more variety, a smart chef/entrepreneur came up with an original idea to branch out. He became a 'cheesecake specialist'.

Baskin-Robbins have developed close to a hundred flavors of ice cream since 1953 and their specialty is simply the variety of flavors on offer. Prior to the 50's it was enough to enjoy vanilla and chocolate ice cream. But, hey, they are considered to be 'ice cream specialists'.

How about a plastic surgeon who specializes in 'Denise Richards' pretty nose-jobs but will perform a dozen other cosmetic procedures. My guess is that he received so many requests for pretty turn-up noses that he found his niche!

Actually, specializing is something we all do.

I have never had an anxiety attack in my life. No sweaty palms, no shortness of breath or flashbacks. But, hundreds of my patients and students have. So, I learned from them early on that these were symptoms I needed to understand at their deepest root cause.

Indeed, the common denominator of presenting problems and concerns with which they would enter into therapy or seek my counsel was anxiety. So it became my specialty because I dealt with it the most. (For other specialties, please see upcoming posts on addictions, writer's block and mid-life crisis!)

I bet you didn't know that you 'suffered' from anxiety until you started reading this...

We are constantly bombarded by triggers that stir up our anxiety. In order to better help you identify these triggers, I'm going to give you a simple way to recognize how your body is reacting with symptoms of anxiety, long before you have an actual episode or panic attack.

There are 4 categories of 'signals of anxiety' or early warning signs that we may have been triggered into feeling uncomfortable or anxious, without our being aware. Here are some examples:

Physical Signals - nail biting, finger tapping, hair twirling, teeth grinding, frequent yawning.

Behavioral Signals - acting out multiple addictions, withdrawing, arguing, avoiding and passive-aggressive withholding.

Emotional Signals - dejection, sarcasm, impatience, cynicism, apathy, ambivalence.

Cognitive Signals - boredom, confusion (foggy thinking), dissociating (spacing out), obsessing, creatively blocked.

Who knew that being sarcastic meant you were anxious? That means 90% of the British population has an anxiety disorder. Sounds about right.

So what is the benefit of recognizing these signals? You now have evidence that anxiety is brewing beneath the surface and it's your job to "take the kettle off the boil". In other words, rather than simply being sarcastic and pessimistic about your life, recognize that you need to deal with your anxiety surrounding failed relationships, mounting debts and the extra 30 pounds you're carrying. You could be snippy or you could just own it!

It's true that it's not so easy to address many of our underlying challenges and fears (see Fear of Success).

I have found that just being educated on the true nature and cause of anxiety can reduce the fear of the unknown considerably. By educated, I don't mean CSI Google! If you want to find bizarre symptoms to prove your own disorder, then you'll surely find them.

Rather, I mean for you to understand how anxiety begins with our interpretation.

The Beat Goes On...

To illustrate this, I will share one of the more embarrassing stories from my early life on the road... My small band was playing at London's famous Hippodrome in 1984, opening for a hugely successful pop artist and consequently, we had the place filled with our friends and prospective A/R record label scouts. I was to begin drumming from behind the curtain followed by the smooth entrance of the guitarist, bass player and highly anticipated lead singer, sporting a spiky Billy Idol platinum hairdo...

The excitement and adrenalin pumping through my veins was palpable as I sat there waiting for the lights to go down and the curtain to rise. This was our moment to be discovered!

As I began to play what was supposed to be a simple four-on-the-floor groove, my adrenalin took over, and all at once, I became the bionic drummer!! Never has a human drummer emulated the speed of a drum machine as I did in those few moments, to the sheer horror of my band! It was 'showcase suicide'.

And all because I interpreted in those few moments behind that curtain, what was to become the most exciting showcase of my life.

It was clearly not to be, but my body's autonomic nervous system (ANS) didn't care. It did as it was instructed: supply adrenalin and power to my heart and limbs.

Now, what if in a parallel universe, I was behind that curtain, anticipating the lights going out with absolute dread and panic of performing in front of such a huge crowd. Performance anxiety could have rendered me paralyzed and unable to even lift a stick.

All because I would have interpreted those same moments with fear and impending doom. My ANS would have pumped the same adrenalin and hormones through my body, but the flooding of negative interpretations in my thoughts would simply lead to an experience of anxiety and panic. That simple!

So, the way we begin to address anxiety is by paying attention to the signals that serve as early indicators that trouble is brewing under the surface. We then look to our  interpretations and pessimistic thinking about those triggers to determine the way we will feel and react.

In this way, we have touched on the trigger, thought and deed.

I've dealt with anxiety disorders as both a coach and a therapist. The difference in working with an experienced life coach is that you will get far more than a keen understanding of the sources of your anxiety. You will get more than an explanation of how anxiety works to disable you and keep you from reaching your potential.

Working with you, a coach will help you clarify not only the root of your anxiety, but the road out of the incapacitating fog of worry. Insight is vital, but action even more so.

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High Anxiety: Mea Culpa! by Jamie Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


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