Your comprehensive guide to anxiety and stress reduction and a more relaxed life
Volume two: Mental strategies to reduce anxiety [ Anchoring/conditioning and anxiety || Meditation and anxiety – Open Monitoring vs Focused Attention || Self enquiry and anxiety || Journaling to relieve anxiety || Core transformation process || Sleep and anxiety || Laugh your way calm || Breaking anxiety patterns with the NLP fast phobia/trauma cure ]
This series is broken into three volumes. Not every idea will resonate with you. That is why there are many. Choose what you are attracted to and know that you have many options if the one you choose isn’t as successful as you would like. Each volume overlaps but is separated into approximate categories as follows:
Volume one: Deconstructing anxiety. This volume shows you how anxiety works so that you can reverse engineer it and therefore know how to change it effectively.
Volume two: Mental strategies to reduce anxiety. This volume gives you methods and strategies to change your response to situations using proven mental based techniques.
Volume three: Physical strategies to reduce anxiety. This volume gives you methods and strategies to change your response to situations using proven physical based techniques.
Volume two: Mental strategies to reduce anxiety
[ Most of the idea’s and techniques in volume two and three of this series on anxiety work best when used as a practise or preparation rather than a way to stop an anxiety attack if your levels of anxiety are intense. I don’t like the word ‘attack’ but for some people it is how they feel. For example: If you are in the middle of panic and you try to breathe in a certain way to stop it.., in some cases doing so can make it worse. This is because the very act of doing something from a place of panic may reinforce the belief that you are doing it because you are in danger. For this reason it is always better to catch yourself early by knowing what your own triggers are and doing something different right then instead of waiting to ‘see’ if it will get worse.
Remember: “Anxiety can be uncomfortable, but you are safe.” ]
Anchoring/conditioning and anxiety
Psychologists will often tell you that anxiety is comparable to an intolerance to uncertainty. To most people uncertainty or change is to be avoided. And unfortunately we live in a world where change is really the only constant we can rely on. Things WILL change. And that’s a good thing. Without a certain level of uncertainty life would be predictable and boring. The other common aspect to anxiety is what is referred to as meta-cognitive worry or worrying about anxiety.
How do we make uncertainty easier to live with and change how we feel about anxiety in general?
Feelings about feelings
In volume one of this series we introduced meta states and feelings about feelings.
Remember: “Anxiety can be uncomfortable, but you are safe.”
Knowing how feelings about feelings can effect your experience, you can use this to your advantage. And sometimes this can be a better way to handle anxiety than trying to outright get rid of it. If you can become curious about anxiety for example.., what might you find out that changes your life for the better?
One of the ways to do this is by the use of anchoring or conditioning. What this means is that you access a desired state.., create a link to that state.., and use that link to change the ‘flavour’ of the anxiety experience.
One way is to change it to curiosity or at least change it to feeling curious about anxiety. Curiosity is a similar perspective on the situation in question, but a different feeling.
Another way is to create a different feeling state altogether for that situation.
A third way is to create a re-useable trigger for calm, that is easy to access at will.
All three of these options can be accomplished by the use of a conditioning technique called anchoring.
I’ve written a comprehensive article on this website about using anchoring so I won’t repeat that here but I will put another slant on it to describe these particular uses.
QUICK TIP: From ‘Feel good consistently, anchoring’ article.
Thinking about the future on purpose from a place of excitement, humour or determination will literally start to ‘colour’ that future with these feelings. Currently you may be doing the opposite. Take a small amount of time each day to purposely daydream a calmer more exciting future. It isn’t a waste of time.., done correctly it is literally preprograming your future.
Once you have read that article the following will make more sense but I will summarise it here too.
Altering anxiety with anchoring
To change anxiety to curiosity or make yourself feel curious about your anxiety, first remember and fully associate into a time you were really curious about something or someone. Then do one of two things.
Either create a physical anchor (Like described in the article linked above) to use as described in a type of mental rehearsal.
Or.., while maintaining that curious feeling state.. slowly introduce memories of examples of situations where in the past you have been anxious. Only do this at the rate that you can maintain the curious feeling. Then again while maintaining the feeling of being curious.., imagine future situations that in the past would have made you anxious.
Doing this a number of times over a number of days will link the new feeling with the situation/s and change your future response. In effect you are using the same mental process that created anxiety about the future, to create a new feeling. The mind already knows how to do the process.., you are simply altering the parameters.
Creating a new feeling instead of anxiety with anchoring
The same technique applies to creating a totally different feeling for those situations. Like calmness for example. As I have mentioned already though, sometimes it is better to make the change a shift, that includes getting the message of anxiety. Just feeling calm may not do that. Feeling curious however is more likely to lead to learning something and taking action. And learning and taking action are great antidotes to anxiety.
Creating a re-useable resource with anchoring
The third idea of creating a re-useable trigger starts with the same anchor creation as changing the feeling but is more geared to being used in the moment. This is however more reactive than proactive. It does have the advantage of being able to stack more examples of feeling good on top of the anchor though to make it stronger. IE: When you notice yourself feeling a strong positive emotion you can add it to your anchor for use later.
Anchoring in this way also happens automatically when you practice other idea’s in this series on ways to reduce and eliminate anxiety. For example.., when you practice the breathing technique in times when you aren’t anxious.., it becomes more powerful and it’s own anchor to be used in times when you are anxious already.
This is an important point.
Practice these idea’s when you can in a calm state, so that when you are not calm, the practice is easy to remember and use.
You could even choose to anchor/link calmness to your favourite music that you can then play later when you need to.
Meditation and anxiety – Open Monitoring vs Focused Attention
There are two types of category for meditative practices.
Focused attention (FA) meditation is a convergent (reductive) style of meditation. This is where you constantly bring your focus back to a mantra. image or your breath. By comparison, open monitoring (OM) meditation is a divergent (expansive) style of meditation. This is where you allow your thoughts to wander in a free flow of thought to thought with no judgement or analysis of the thoughts. At worst this gives you two options to explore. At best you may get better results from open monitoring style meditation practices. Because anxiety tends to be a left brain activity and has reactivity at it’s core, OM meditation has potentially more benefit for people with anxiety. Rather than practising focusing on one thing in FA meditation which is the nature of most anxiety challenges.., OM meditation will help you practice a more right brained free flowing thought pattern.
In the article called…
I cover in more detail what the differences are between OM and FA styles of meditation.
QUICK TIP: From ‘Become a creative genius’ article.
Mindfulness is the process of noticing all there is to notice in any moment. Make a practice of expanding your awareness by purposely looking for things to notice that you haven’t before or that are unique to that day. Look up for a change. What can you hear not just close to you but in the distance? How does the sun or wind feel on your skin? Do this on a regular basis and your set point of calm and alertness will change dramatically.
Self enquiry and anxiety
Often psychologists define the difference between fear and anxiety as being that fear is clear and present danger while anxiety is unknown danger or uncertainty. We can actually play on this reference to uncertainty by using the same mechanism of uncertainty producing thought to our advantage.
You can use the same self questioning that is common with anxiety to ask more empowering questions. Instead of “What if I mess up my presentation at work?” purposely ask yourself “What if I get into the flow and give the perfect presentation?”
The structure of the question is the same but the content is vastly different to what most people are used to asking. Don’t dismiss this as just interesting.., it is surprisingly powerful.
Read the article on this website called
for how to effectively do this.
QUICK TIP: From ‘What if this is the best article you ever read’ article.
Use the power of doubt to your advantage. What if you doubted your anxiety to be real or that it has any control over you? What if you doubted doubt itself???
When someone feels anxious there is a reason for it whether that reason is a valid one or not. Where anxiety goes on for long periods of time the reason is usually due to past experiences. Often once that past reason and experience is looked at with ‘new’ eyes, the power of the experience goes away.
Obviously self enquiry into why you may be getting anxious can only go so far and seeking guidance from another trained person can be hugely beneficial here.
It is possible to do it yourself though.
Remember: “Anxiety can be uncomfortable, but you are safe.”
For example: Ask yourself this question and really sit with it until you get multiple answers or one that gives you that aha eureka moment of discovery…
“What would I have to believe is true about myself in this situation to be feeling like this?”
“What is the worst that could happen in this experience?”
Sometimes just knowing the answer to either or both of these questions will reveal the underlying beliefs holding you in anxiety. And knowing that alone can weaken the belief or enlighten you as to how outdated or even silly the belief is.
Journaling to relieve anxiety
In a similar way to self enquiry and open monitoring meditation.., free flow writing or journaling can reveal un-useful beliefs and open you up to making new associations to specific events and situations. Correct journaling, is done in a free flow manner where you let your thoughts flow out on paper or type them without pausing or judging what is written. Done this way journal writing is basically creating a dialogue with your unconscious mind.
Also of use is to keep a small notebook with you for a week and note down each time you get anxious and what you were doing and thinking about at the time. Again, don’t dismiss this as trivial. Writing things down like this will reveal patterns and lead you to make new discoveries about what is really causing you issues. You may discover that actually if you make one small change in your preparation or perception, all the anxiety goes away.
Recognising your own patterns
The other thing this does, is make you aware of the patterns instead of just having them happen. And this has the effect of making you aware that the pattern is ABOUT to happen before it actually does. The brain works pre-cognitively. It is always thinking slightly ahead of time. We just lose track of that because it is so automatic. By making it less automatic for a period of time, you gain control back of a wandering mind.
Recently, a modified online version of journaling has shown that by including writing about positive aspects, the success rate is higher and applicable to a wider field of use. This is of course quite similar to gratitude practices but with the aim of helping people whom find it difficult to see anything positive.
Core transformation process
Developed by NLP trainer Connirae Andreas, this process gets to the core of emotional and in some cases even physical issues. I highly recommend you buy her book by the same name. You can find an NLP practitioner to guide you or with a little research you can try it yourself. The idea behind the process is the assumption that every habit or emotional reaction has at it’s core a positive intent. IE: to keep you safe or prepare you for what might happen for example.
With that understanding.., if you were to ask yourself the question “What does this anxious part of me want for me that is positive?” you might get an answer like ‘To keep me safe’. Then if you were to ask “If I have that feeling of safety fully and completely now.., what do I get from that, that is even more important?” You might get an answer like ‘A sense of calm’.
The real reason you feel anxious
This line of deeper questioning then continues until you reach what is called a core state. Core states are states like oneness, love, being etc. This core state then gets used to ‘re-colour’ and alter the experience of the previous states identified during the process. In essence you use the real underlying positive reason for the anxiety to neutralise the anxiety itself. You start with the feeling of beingness or peace and behave and act from there instead of trying to get there from the surface feeling of anxiety.
I’m over simplifying the whole process and there are more steps than this but that should give you an idea. It’s really a proven step by step way to engage in deep self enquiry with often permanent and life changing positive results.
Sleep and anxiety
The connection here is obvious. Anxiety can cause issues with sleep and sleep quality can cause issues with anxiety. Improving one will improve the other.
I’ve written a comprehensive series on sleep called ‘the better sleep series’ which you really must read if sleep quality is an issue for you. There are idea’s in there that it is likely you have never heard of before.
QUICK TIP: From the ‘better sleep series’ articles.
One of the best places to start with sleep is setting a regular time to go to bed and get up. Our bodies and minds operate on what is called a circadian rhythm or body clock.., and this can easily get out of sync/time with anxiety. Get out of bed at the same time even if you are still tired. Combine that with getting outside within an hour of sunrise and the sunlight itself will help reset your sleep quality and time. There is much more than that to learn so please read the better sleep series of articles.
Both a good nights sleep and a stress reduced life have at their core the ability to switch from an aroused state to a relaxed one. There are ways to maximise that though that are not mental in nature. Anxiety relief and sleep quality are not just mental games. That is why this series is separated into both physical and mental strategies. Once you get a hold on good sleep habits, anxiety will be much easier to manage.
Laugh your way calm
Humour is and always has been a great antidote to feeling bad. And anxiety is no exception.
Remember: “Anxiety can be uncomfortable, but you are safe.”
I remember seeing a quote many years ago that said… ‘Stress.., the overwhelming desire to ch*** the living s*** out of some a****** who desperately deserves it’. In fact when I was doing hypnotherapy sessions at the time and made flyers to put in letterboxes and on notice boards.., that was literally what the notice said at the top. It was a bit edgy and probably put people off because people take their problems so seriously. Which is the very problem. If you take your problems seriously.., they will be serious problems! There’s an important distinction here. Always take a person and any desire to help them if they ask for it seriously.., but not the problem.
If you can laugh at yourself or your behaviour, you can change it much easier. Sometimes I make funny video clips or messages and send them to friends. They get to laugh once. I get to laugh dozens of times.
Find ways to laugh. I know it may be hard to find things funny when you are anxious or stressed and I’m not suggesting that as an in the moment fix. But even if you watch funny video material and see and hear other people laugh while not laughing much yourself.., it will still have an effect on you. Why? Because by observing and hearing things that are familiar to us, we fire off the same neurons in the brain as if we were doing it ourselves.
And who knows, by laughing more at others you may just learn to laugh more at yourself and your repetitive thoughts as well.
See the article I wrote on mirror neurons as to why that is true.
QUICK TIP: From ‘Mirror mirror in my brain’ article.
The fastest way to learn by observation is to focus on people doing things that are close to what you can do too. We all know how to laugh, relax and be excited. Some people are better at it than others though. Hang around and experience the behaviours and conversations of people who are funnier, more relaxed and more excited than you. The attitudes and behaviours will start to rub off on you.
Breaking anxiety patterns with the NLP fast phobia/trauma cure
As we have learnt, short term anxiety is appropriate. It’s when it becomes repetitive and goes on through time that it becomes a problem.
And one common thread for anxiety that is long term like this, is that it has at it’s root, past events that have built a neurological pathway in the brain. IE: A habit has been formed that is partially or completely automatic and happens consistently despite your attempts to stop it.
This is where it is useful to break that chain of past events to free you to respond differently in the present and future.
Years ago I modified a process from NLP that has gained a lot of attention and success. That process is called the NLP fast phobia and trauma cure. In basic terms it allows you to scramble that pattern in the brain and therefore release you from the negative emotions attached to it. Phobia’s and trauma that have lasting effects do so because the brain falsely learns that ALL similar situations are dangerous. This can have long lasting and life altering effects way beyond the original event that caused them to start.
The process itself as my modified version is available on this website here:
Don’t be fooled by its simplicity. It’s very powerful.
QUICK TIP: From ‘free yourself from your past…’ article.
You don’t always have to find the root cause of your anxiety to release it. Each time you experience a similar situation it gets linked to the original as a chain of significant emotional events. Dealing with even one of those significant emotional events will often break that chain. The brain is clever in its ability to generalise and create associations between things. And in the same way it is just as clever at generalising a change to include those associations.
In volume three of this anxiety relief series we look at the physical based strategies for reducing and eliminating anxiety in your life.
See you there…