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The 90 Second Anxiety Hack & Other Anxiety Tips

Anxiety isn't always bad.

It can motivate you to prepare, can alert you to real danger, and can help you to be cautious in situations requiring that. If you’ve experienced anxiety, you probably have more empathy towards others.  However, when you can no longer escape from feeling anxious, past trauma or PTSD are involved, or it is leading to panic attacks, this is when you need to look at ways to heal.

Our bodies are constantly trying to help us. Basically, our minds act like super computers and are continuously trying to see around corners and alert us to danger.

Sometimes, our brains like to warn us of all the ways things could go wrong and how we could fail.  With 95% of our thoughts being a repeat of yesterday’s thoughts, and 80% of those being negative towards ourselves, it’s no wonder we often feel down and anxious.  Learning to let go of those thoughts that aren’t serving us well, is one of the biggest things you can do to change your life.

Our limbic system is at the center of this response cycle. It physically starts protecting us when it thinks we are in danger.

Imagine you are a young child on the playground.  Suddenly a large dog comes running at you growling, and you climb the jungle gym to get away.  No one is around and the dog continues to growl and tries to jump onto the platform.  You are stuck there for several minutes, until finally someone comes and takes the growling dog away. 

Many of us have had terrifying experiences or traumas in our lives.  In the moment they were happening, we were scared and felt out of control. It was hard to process what was happening.  It could have been a big trauma (big T) like the loss of a loved one, abuse, neglect, or assault, or a little trauma (little T) like a teacher that was unkind to you or made fun of you in front of others.  Depending how we were able to process what happened, sometimes our limbic system’s trauma response gets stuck.  Our internal system remembers that situation and can go into a fight, flight, fawn or freeze mode to protect us when we are in a similar situation.  Even when we think of being in that situation again!

The brain doesn’t store memory from trauma in the same way it stores other memories.

This is why it’s not always clear why someone is experiencing anxiety and it appears that it’s coming from nowhere.   However, even though you do not have an active memory of this traumatic event, the next time you are around a dog and it begins to growl, your body may start to react.  You might feel your heart begin to speed up, you may feel your fingers tingle, or your throat tighten.  

The amygdala in our brain sends signals when it assumes it’s time to protect us from a perceived danger.  Next, our limbic system jumps in to rescue us from the threat.  Our limbic system doesn’t know that the dog in this example, is actually safe.  Often, because of the past trauma, it is doing what it believes is best and comes to your defense.  You may even just think about being around a dog and start to feel the rush of the stress response inside of you.  At this point, you can feel trapped.  This is where anxiety can become overwhelming.  This is where you need to use your tools to reteach your body and mind that you are okay and that the stress response is no longer needed. 

So how do we stop the unwanted stress response?

First, learn some basic breathing and grounding techniques. When you feel the anxiety starting to take off, these grounding techniques will help to calm the body and the mind.  There are many techniques you can choose from. Follow the links below for details, or find your favorites with a quick google search.  Just keep them in your toolbox for the next time your sympathetic nervous system decides it’s needed and goes on high alert. Basic breathing techniques are also good to do during times of non-stress to help the body regulate and begin to heal.

  1. 5-4-3-2-1
  2. Box Breathing
  3. RAIN

My favorite way to move through anxious moments it a combination of a statement and an action. 

Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk wrote a wonderful book entitled, The Body Keeps the Score.  It gives people a thorough understanding of what happens in the body and why we store this trauma.  If you have a chance to listen to him or attend one of his seminars, he’s a great resource and one of the leading experts in this field. He talks in his book of the times our amygdala sends it’s warning, and our limbic system takes off.  In this moment when we are beginning to feel the familiar anxious feelings, we need to remember that what happened is in the past, and is not what is happening now. Recognizing this helps us to switch the circuits of the brain and look at what’s happening from a new perspective. 

Many people who struggle with PTSD have difficulty with time.  When the trigger happens, they often feel that they are back in the original traumatic event.  This is why Van Der Kolk’s technique is especially helpful for healing.   I’ve taken this idea and added to it in a way that’s been helpful personally. When I would feel my nervous system beginning to spark from a past trauma, I would say to myself, THIS IS NOT THAT!  I then focus on the beauty around me, the things in the here and now.  Next, I’d move to the technique of distraction, because the limbic system response will only continue if you continue to feed it! 

Yes, it’s true!  If you can stop thinking about your fear of going into a panic (anxiety is basically the fear of fear), the physiological response will only last 90 seconds! 

What??? There is incredible freedom when you learn to just observe the limbic system’s reaction for 90 seconds or better yet, simply move on with your day!  Jill Bolte Taylor, explains this in her book, Whole Brain Living and in the interview I’m sharing.  This has been a game changer for me personally.  Now when I feel the stress response begin, I say, this (what’s currently happening) isn’t that (my past trauma), and move on to a new activity!!! The anxiety quickly dissipates and usually I’ve forgotten about it completely within a few seconds!  ABSOLUTE GAME CHANGER!

Some anxiety can be healthy, but if it’s not feeling that way for you now, have faith.  You can recover.

This doesn’t have to be a lifelong problem.  The suggestions above have been super helpful in my life.  EMDR is also a powerful tool and can be done with a licensed therapist. Also, practicing meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and breathing will help your body reset. We absolutely can heal our internal trauma response and go on to live a beautiful life. 

If you are tired of walking alone in an anxiety riddled life, we promise you that there is hope.  We just launched Hope Social in Chandler Arizona (hopesocial.org).  This is an opportunity for teens and young adults to do life’s sometimes difficult journeys together with other peers walking the same path.  

Wishing you great days ahead!

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