Anxiety is a wily companion. It inserts itself into your thoughts, taking them off in an unwelcome direction. It causes your stomach to churn and palms to sweat. It encourages your inner critic to convince you that you’re not good enough. Over the past few weeks my coaching conversations have centred on living with anxiety and how to bring it under control and ultimately banish it forever. For some coaching clients, anxiety induces obsessive and compulsive behaviours aimed at controlling the uncontrollable. For others it creates an unhealthy need to gain external approval. Others still are plagued by catastrophic thoughts made worse by the ever-present spectre of Covid-19.
It’s useful to understand what’s happening inside your brain when you’re living with anxiety. You can then take charge and retrain those functions that trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response and cause you to ruminate or obsess.
In my book, ‘The True You’, I explain how your mental conditioning occurs to create disempowering core beliefs. Those beliefs operate as a lens through which you process everyday experiences. Conditioning is like a software programme downloaded to your brain by often well-intentioned parents or care-givers and others who played a role in your upbringing.
The trouble is that this programming creates ‘stories’ that are often anxiety-producing. You then unconsciously develop coping mechanisms that perpetuate the cycle as you are living with anxiety. The best way to achieve lasting relief from anxious thoughts and unhelpful behaviours is to update your ‘software programme’. You can replace those disempowering ‘stories’ with an entirely new and consciously selected core belief. Reflect on your tendencies, your coping mechanisms and those patterns you repeat in life and relationships. You will begin to recognise the ‘stories’ and disempowering beliefs that have been at play since childhood.
Research shows that your ‘hardware’ – your brain – is neuroplastic until very late in life. Essentially, you can download new ‘software’ containing empowering beliefs and stories to replace those that have been operating for decades. By simply focussing on a consciously chosen core belief and repeating it enthusiastically and with feeling, your brain will develop new neural pathways. Once the new core belief is established as a neural pathway, your ‘hardware’ will notice and interpret your environment in ways that no longer induce anxiety. This is what I call the ‘foundational work’.
From a solid foundation, you can adopt habits that support specific parts of your brain in ways that retrain how they are triggered and react. Those habits include exposing yourself to situations that trigger anxiety, but with the appropriate supports in place. Getting a good nights’ sleep, exercising regularly, meditation and breath work are all ways to calm the amygdala so that the fight or flight response isn’t triggered by events that aren’t truly threatening.
With a new foundation, you can shift your focus to thriving in life. My new book, ‘9 Secrets to Thriving’ shares the 9 practices that will take you from simply surviving, to thriving.
I’d like to help you thrive through anxiety by gifting ‘The True You’ to you when you follow this link. If you are ready to adopt practices for thriving in all areas of your life, you can listen to ‘9 Secrets to Thriving’ here.