Do you suffer from anxiety, fear or panic attacks?
Why is it that so many people suffer from anxiety? The majority of my clients come to me to resolve issues directly or indirectly related to fear, anxiety and some times panic attacks. Whether it is worrying about an upcoming presentation or exam, getting on a plane, performing on stage or at an interview, giving birth, dying and leaving a family behind, getting the next promotion, failing to meet Mr Right or like me thinking that harm would befall my children if we were separated for a lengthy period of time, feeling anxious is normal and every one of us has felt anxious or afraid every now and then. It is when the anxiety is so intense and chronic that it cripples you and prevents you from leading a normal life that it becomes a problem that needs to be addressed.
For as far as I can remember, my dad, was an overly anxious man. He worried constantly and was mostly in an agitated state of mind. So when in turn I suffered from anxiety I didn’t really give it much attention and just thought that it was genetic. I worried about everything and anything and spent sleepless nights tossing and turning in my bed churning all kinds of negative thoughts about future events. I used to envy people around me that looked calm and relaxed and wished that I was born with such a gene.
Then at the age of seventeen something terrible happened. I said goodbye to my cousin, who was also my best friend, as she was going on a holiday to London with her parents the next day. The next morning my cousin was dead. I was in shock. No one had prepared me for such a catastrophe. One-day life was normal; the next day life for me came to a standstill. I found it difficult to make sense of this new reality. So I buried my feelings deep within the crevices of my unconscious mind and somehow found a way to move on.
When I became a parent for the first time, a new kind of anxiety was added to my previous lists of anxieties: separation anxiety. I found the prospect of being separated from my child extremely unbearable. I felt anxious and afraid that something terrible would happen to her and I won’t be present to save her. This anxiety not only affected me personally but also had a great negative impact on our family life and stood in the way of my husband having the chance to naturally bond with his daughter, as I felt terrified leaving her even with him. It was insane! I first assumed that the way I felt was part and parcel of motherhood. However as I listened to other mums I realised that something was seriously wrong with the way I felt and behaved. I needed to do something about this and fast.
I dealt with this fear the way I have dealt with all my other fears and anxieties, I took a plunge. At first I started slowly to do the very thing I feared the most. I allowed my husband to take my child for a stroll in the pram and I stayed home. I allowed my neighbour, who had been offering countless times, to babysit my child while my husband and I went out for a meal one evening. And when my daughter was two I dared to send her to nursery for three mornings a week. There was one problem with this solution. I suffered immensely in those few hours when I was away from my daughter and didn’t really have any quality time. I wanted to find a way to be comfortable in those situations. I wanted to be anxiety free. The real solution to my problem came much later when I came across NLP.
According to Dr David Burns, there are many forms of anxieties: fears/phobias, performance related anxieties, obsessive-compulsive behaviours, social anxieties and post-traumatic disorders. And there are also many theories and therefore treatments relating to anxieties. Many people prefer taking a pill to get rid of their anxieties. But since anxiety relates to our thoughts about a future event, it makes more sense and perhaps a more lasting and empowering solution if we were to change those thoughts about those upcoming events in order to get rid of our anxieties once and for all. That is exactly what NLP offered me.
Discover your strategy
If you take my case for example, my anxiety came as a result of my having thoughts of all kinds about horrible events that might happen to my daughter while she was away from me. I was extremely creative in this respect and my over active imagination served me well by giving me the most horrific scenarios. I felt that as long as she was with me she would be safe as I would be able to save her. Through NLP I became first and foremost aware of these thoughts and images that I made inside my head. Awareness is the first real step to change. It might seem obvious, but in reality these processes that took place in my brain were very fast and outside my conscious awareness. The process we do in our brain to produce a behaviour is referred to in NLP as a strategy.
This strategy is very common in cases of extreme fear and panic attacks. In most cases the strategy is played so fast in our brain that the only thing we are aware of is the fear or panic, which is the final step in the strategy- the end result. Using NLP the client can discover the strategy that they make in their head to produce the fear. By discovering the individual steps and sequence in this process, the client is then aided to change it. By changing it, we change the end result. In other words, anxiety, fear or panic disappears. The easiest way to understand this is if you think of it like the recipe for a cake. There are certain ingredients, and they need to be added in a certain sequence to get the perfect cake. If one ingredient is missed or the sequence of steps jumbled, the end result will be different.
The brain doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined thoughts and therefore, my body reacted physiologically to my imagined thoughts as though they were real. So changing my thought pattern ultimately had an effect on my physiology.
Change your belief
The second thing that I needed to work on was to challenge the validity of my thoughts, the beliefs I had surrounding the issue of what might happen when I am separated from my daughter. Often anxiety results from unrealistic and distorted thoughts or beliefs. And some of my thoughts were certainly just that! This is done by what is referred to as Meta programming. These are simply questions that are designed to challenge your perceptions and beliefs. In his book, When Panic Attacks, Dr. Burns uses what he calls Truth-based techniques to examine the evidence for our negative thoughts. What was the probability that something terrible would happen to my daughter when she was away from me, and was it really true that I am the only person in the world able to protect and save her? Sometimes this work can hint at an underlying root cause or past trauma that might be linked to one’s anxiety. If this is indeed the case then Time Line Therapy can be used to heal such a trauma.
Time Line Therapy
The root cause of my separation anxiety was of course the death of my cousin when I was 17 years of age. I just buried my feelings instead of processing my emotions and making some sense of this tragedy. My traumatic experience made me think of doom and gloom every time a loved one was late, or for some reason didn’t answer their phone. In such a situation I would conjure up in my mind the worst possible disasters, when in reality there could be so many innocent, non-sinister reasons to explain the situation. I believed that I needed to be always prepared for disaster. Fate will not catch me unaware again!
Through Time Line Therapy I was able to mentally travel back in time and view the past with a fresh perspective, learn what I needed to learn to heal and come back to the present with new skills and more empowering coping mechanisms.
NLP simply changed my life. This doesn’t mean that I do not feel anxious. It means that my anxiety is normal, realistic, transient and appropriate to the situation. It meant I was a more relaxed and calm parent the second time round and when the time came for my eldest daughter to leave home and go to university I was able to cope well with this separation. Although emotional, I was able to let her go and have my mind conjure up all the wonderful and positive experiences awaiting her in the years to come.
Recommended reading: When Panic Attacks by David D. Burns M.D.