Now, we learn fears in two ways; by example and by experience. It’s that simple. If as a four year old child you witnessed your own Mother crying hysterically, arms flapping, cowering in the corner of the living room, all because she saw a daddy long legs… there’s a strong chance you’ll now associate spiders with Satan himself. You quite literally soaked up her emotions like the tiny little sponge that you were, and adopted them as your very own.
Alternatively, when we physically experience a traumatic event, we then quite naturally assume all future experiences associated with such an event will play out in the exact same way and thus develop the fear of it happening again. From personal experience this is exactly how I am with the tube. The tube stopped underground once, I was alone (Yet sandwiched between 450 sweaty bankers) and I started to panic. It honestly felt like I was drowning in a sea of suits and beards. Now every time I go to get the tube, my brain immediately reminds me of this event and I start to imagine it happening again. Not cool when you’re already 10 minutes late and end up doing an Irish jig at the top of the escalator, unsure of whether or not you might actually die on your commute to work.
When experimenting with different ways to handle my fears & panic attacks, I found personification to be an extremely useful tool. Each time you pick up a fear of something, imagine that fear as a person. A really annoying little gremlin child who just won’t leave you the hell alone, and follows you around asking if you have any games on your phone. Eventually he jumps on to your back and clings on for dear life, chatting away in your ear and weighing you the fuck down whilst you try to fight him off. The more fears you have, the more annoying little gremlin children you pick up along the way, until you’re too exhausted to get out of bed in the morning because you quite literally just feel TOO HEAVY and you haven’t slept because you’re sharing your bed with 19 small green men who will not. shut. up.
This is how we see our fears. Annoying, little, green, evil, man-children.
But when we actually stop for a moment and consider what our fears are really trying to do, we can see that they are not little gremlins that want to wind us up until we eventually explode. They are actually trying to save our lives. WE ASKED FOR THEM. We sensed danger, and they came running. Fears are actually on our side, who’d have thought it? Now consider it from this perspective. Each time we pick up a fear of something, imagine that fear as a person. A big, strong man on a horse (Ryan Gosling riding naked & bareback plz) with a huge sword, ready to save the day. Only when he arrives, there’s absolutely nothing for him to do. (Although I could think of a few things, ifyougetwhatimsayin’) Why? Because whatever ‘fear’ you’re imagining doesn’t exist. You did exactly that – Imagined it. And your body responded with those wonderful surges of unnecessary adrenaline. You see – your imagination is bloody powerful.
Essentially what you are doing is a form of ‘creative visualisation’ and you are literally tricking your brain in to believing that whatever ridiculous scenario you’ve thought up in your mind, is actually happening in real time. Do you ever picture yourself tripping and falling flat on your face and feel that surge of embarrassment at the mere thought? That emotion you feel right there, that is energy. As is absolutely everything else in the entire Universe. The chair you’re sitting on, your toothbrush, the sun, the moon, a badger, your Grandma. It’s all just energy.
Here’s how it works.
Thought is a very fine, light form of energy and therefore can be changed very quickly and easily. Consider how easy it is to turn one single thought in to feelings of utter dread, and convince yourself you’re ‘having a heart attack’ or ‘about to die’ within the space of about 0.001 second. Now thoughts and feelings have their own magnetic energy which attracts energy of a similar vibration. This is physics lol. (I’m terrible at science so bear with me.) A great example of this energy in action would be those moments when you ‘accidentally’ run in to someone you’ve literally been thinking about all week. YOU KNOW WHEN YOU JUST KNOW. And then it happens and you’re all weirded out like “I KNEW IT. What a bloody coincidence”. It’s not a coincidence. It’s energy.
Now when we create something (like panic – yay!) we always create it first in the form of an idea which acts as a sort of blueprint for what you’re about to experience in real time. This idea literally guides the energy flow into that form and eventually manifests in the here- and-now. I’m pretty sure 96% of you will have read about the ‘law of attraction’ in an attempt to get a brand, spanking new car on your drive. Well, this my friend, is the exact same thing. Whatever you think about, you attract. So if your mind is constantly living in the future rather than this exact moment right now (Where by the way, you are 100% safe) then you are actively choosing to go down the path of fear and anxiety. You and only you are in control of your thoughts. And I know that this fact alone can be pretty god damn scary, because you often think you could quite possibly be going bat shit crazy, but you’re not. You can train your brain to think wonderful, happy, anxiety-free thoughts all day every day, but it takes practice. Impatience will get you nowhere, so I beg you to stick at this.
It’s important to know why this takes so much practice and patience. And the answer lies in the science behind how our brain works. When I began to research in to and learn more about the inner workings of the brain, I could finally begin to comprehend exactly what was happening to me on a scientific level. (And it’s surprisingly comforting.)
The fact is, we live the majority of our lives on auto-pilot. We do the exact same shit every single day. Wake up at 7am, (press snooze), drag yourself to the bathroom, brush your teeth, strip down, stare at your boobs in the mirror, jump in the shower, get out, frantically blow dry your hair upside down, go to work (late), worry about life, come home, make dinner, watch 3 episodes of Dinner Date, trawl through Instagram while eating crumpets, genuinely wondering why you don’t have abs yet and then off to bed you toddle, only to repeat it all the next day. Inspiring stuff, I know.
Anyway, by demonstrating the exact same behaviours every single day, we end up having the exact same thoughts, choices, experiences and feelings…every single day.
In his AMAZINGLY simplified book “You are the Placebo” (for people who aren’t that great at Science but are interested in brains and ting) Dr. Dispenza says this, (It’s quite brilliant):
“Now take a look at your life for a moment. What does this mean for you? If you’re thinking the same thoughts as yesterday, more than likely, you’re making the same choices today. Those same choices today are leading to the same behaviours tomorrow. The same habitual behaviours tomorrow are producing the same experiences in your future. As a result, you’re feeling the same every day. Your yesterday becomes your tomorrow – so in truth, your past is your future.”
So basically, you’ve trained your brain every single day to act in a certain way without you even having to think about it. If fear and panic are part of this daily routine, then they are happening on a subconscious level. When we consider that 95% of our brains work on this subconscious level, choosing our thoughts and feelings for us based on past experiences, then that teeny weeny little 5% of your conscious mind that says “Oh don’t be stupid, there’s no need to panic” Is actually at a bit of a loss, don’t you think?
Let’s take for example the horrendous fear that you might be about to have a panic attack. You had one once, twice, a hundred times before, it doesn’t matter. The important point here is that you have a strong memory of a really bloody awful past event. Now when this particular really bloody awful past event happened, you actually changed the chemistry in your brain. Your thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, feelings and perception of reality were all transformed through neurological rewiring and chemical re-signalling. (Fancy, eh?)
Now the more you think these thoughts, the more the brain fires its neurons which activate its wonderfully complex neural networks in the exact same sequences, and so the stronger they become. (Think of it like a gym for your thoughts.) Your brain is learning to act on auto-pilot, so worrying and panicking is literally becoming a natural, automatic response. In order to change this response, YOU MUST FIRST CHANGE YOUR THOUGHTS. By reinforcing your new ways of thinking through constant practice, your brain will begin to activate new neural networks, which will weaken the older, negative ones. Got it?
My previous post about Fear & the Ego can be accessed here and describes my favourite meditation techniques for overcoming anxiety.
Panic attacks are a little different. Let’s look at a few little tricks you can do to dissolve the fear quickly and easily, and how you can keep practicing these techniques until one day you wake up and realise you’ve not had one for weeks – and you’d been so wonderfully happy and preoccupied that you didn’t even notice. Can you smell the freedom? Woohoo.
Remember earlier when I compared our fears to Ryan Gosling riding naked & bareback on a horse? I’m gonna run through this with my tube fear so you can see exactly how it works.
I’m sitting on the tube, and all of a sudden it stops underground in a horribly dark, smelly, rat infested tunnel. It’s the height of summer; everyone is crammed together and my face is dangerously close to a strange man’s armpit. I immediately assume that the train has malfunctioned and we will inevitably be stuck here for the rest of eternity. I have no water in my bag and rations of food will quickly become sparse. I have no phone signal down here, so I can’t call my parents and let them know that I am dying a slow and painful death. I’m vividly picturing my death certificate which reads, “Cause of death: suffocation by sweat patch.”
The more I try not to panic, the more the impending sense of doom wells up inside of me, and adrenaline is being pumped through my veins to help me fight or flee the scene which my body can only assume is Meg Vs. an untamed, hungry lion. Only I’m stuck. Well and truly wedged, with nowhere to go. Suddenly I hear hooves in the distance, the entire tube gasps with delight as Ryan Gosling somehow manages to make his way down the tunnel, opens the doors, fights his way through the crowds of people until he’s finally standing, by my side, sword in hand, ready for battle. WHAT BATTLE? The tube sets off again, the adrenaline slowly drains away and I’m left with clammy hands, a rapid heartbeat and a knight in shining armor that I quite frankly didn’t need.
It’s pointless!! There is NO danger. There is nothing to fear but the fear itself. You are NOT DYING. Panic attacks cannot kill you. NO ONE HAS EVER DIED FROM HAVING ONE! And if it’s only the fear that you really fear… then the panic attack is literally as bad at the situation is gonna get. And if you’ve survived one before, you’ll survive a hundred more. Only you don’t bloody have to.
A few more wonderful tips for surviving panic:
- Fill your mouth with spit. (Gross I know, but the brain associates dry mouth with panic. So when you fill it with spit, it magically tells the brain everything is okay.)
- BREATHE AMIGO. When you focus on your breathing you are present in the moment, so fear of the future cannot bother you. Focus intently on deep, slow breaths. Rapid breaths take in far too much oxygen and this just contributes to the panic.
- Tense your whole body as much as you can, hold for 10 seconds and then let it go. When you let it go, it’s like all the tension has just been squeezed away. Works wonders.
- Say out loud “I am safe.” Another great one that Wayne Dyer taught me (God rest his wonderful soul) was to say “I want to feel good!” out loud. It really works.
Anyway, let me know how you go. If Ryan Gosling isn’t your type feel free to replace him with which ever man/woman you wish, and if you’re not in to horses you can always substitute my guy for a goat. Get creative. Make yourself laugh. Stop taking life too seriously.
You can do this. HEART YOU A LOT. x