My brain doesn’t always offer the best guidance, I accept this. The wires are faulty.. sort of like a phone that works 85% of the time, so you put up with it.
I accept it, but it still catches me off guard. After all, haven’t we been raised to believe life affirmations such as; follow your heart and go with your instincts?
Well if I followed mine on a regular basis then this would’ve happened:
Interview for current job – Jumped over the table and ran out of the building screaming.
Panic attack during meeting – (please see above response.)
Heart palpitations at desk – Rang the hospital and declared that I was about to die
Stomach tension/tightness – Googled ‘stomach problems’ and convinced myself that I have cancer
Trouble sleeping – smashed my head against the door until unconscious.
I could go on but I’d be typing for a while.
To clarify, the faulty 15% of my brain applies to situations that make me feel anxious. My instincts on the basics such as; food and whether or not Kit Harrington is FIT (answer = yes) are shit hot!
If I’m worried then my brain can misinterpret an event to be the equivalent of a nuclear strike and send distress signals to the Amygdala. The Amygdala (or Amy as I call her) completely freaks out and activates my body’s state of defence. Racing heart, stomach tenses, I can’t breathe properly and my limbs feel numb. These are all common symptoms of the ‘Fight or Flight’ defence that helps humans react to danger, otherwise known as a panic attack.
The problem is, my defence system is triggered by situations that wouldn’t normally be considered dangerous. A meeting with colleagues isn’t life threatening, (although I suppose that depends on who you work for,) but in publishing you’re reasonably safe. Nevertheless, because meetings can make me feel anxious the distress signals are fired and my body reacts.
So what if I decide to ignore my instincts and do the complete opposite of what they suggest? This is extremely hard and upsetting because it isn’t natural. For instance, would you lie on train tracks during rush hour, or climb into a cage with a shark? No, of course not! Ignoring my instincts makes me feel just as terrified as I would be in that shark cage, or on those tracks. We’re (humans) not designed to reject them and the brain reacts by temporarily making the physical symptoms ten times worse. Now the important thing to remember here is the word ‘temporarily,’ because it is. On average these horrendous feelings last between 60 and 180 seconds and then slowly dissipate. If you can weather the storm then you will be rewarded with your freedom.
But how should you weather it exactly? Well the brain will advise that you fight the feelings of panic with all the resistance you can muster. But in contrast, you should embrace them. Let them come and get it over with. Admit to yourself that you’re having a panic attack, but it’s OK. Nothing bad will happen. You’ll feel incredibly uncomfortable for a while and then it’ll pass. I’ve said this statement many times before, but it’s bloody important so listen up: Whatever you do DON’T LEAVE THE SITUATION – It’s true, leaving will stop the panic attack. But it will also communicate to your Amygdala that it was right to trigger an attack because there was danger. So what do you think will happen the next time you’re in that setting or a similar one? BINGO and off we go again. Stay put and let the attack wash over you. Is it easy? No. Will you be instantly cured? Ha, no. Will it get easier each time? YES. On average I’d say that every attack I’ve had was between 3-5% easier than the last one. It might not seem like a lot but trust me you’ll notice.
After the attack the brain will encourage you to chastise yourself for being weak or crazy. But once again we’re going to reject this instinct. If you can, go to the toilets or a private area, somewhere with a mirror is ideal. Look at yourself, smile and say (quietly) well done, I am SO proud of you. That was a very scary experience and you stayed put. Then promptly treat yourself to something nice.
On a similar note, I’ve noticed that this misguidance can apply to activities that actually help to improve my anxiety, such as; Exercise, drinking less caffeine & alcohol and talking about how I’m feeling. For example, lately I’ve been struggling with the ‘tell-tale’ signs such as; muscle tension in my stomach, tremors and emotional outbursts. It’s a combination between the time of year and my hormones. I know for a fact that an early morning jog will reduce my anxiety levels. But every time the alarm goes off my brain screams: “It definitely won’t help, you’re too tired. Stay here.” This morning I had to practically drag myself out of bed. It’s so frustrating! Just once I’d like to spring out of bed and cartwheel to the kitchen (which would be even more impressive considering I can’t cartwheel!) It’s partial human laziness and partial brain sabotage.
Reading David Carbonell’s book also helps to calm and reassure me, but my brain disagrees; Don’t bother, you know it all off by heart anyway. Reading will take so much time, just have a glass of wine and power through it. The wine is a quick fix, but it always resurfaces.
Admitting to someone out loud that I’m feeling anxious or panicky really helps. BUT you’ve guessed it; Don’t tell anyone, It’s not that bad this time. They’ll get fed up of hearing about it soon, just keep this to yourself. WRONG. What happens to a can of coke that is repeatedly shaken and left outside in the sun? It explodes (probably.) Think of yourself as that can and let some air out before the pressure becomes too great. My friend Roo is visiting tonight and although my instincts are begging me not to say anything I’m going to set aside 20 minutes and tell her about how I’ve been feeling this last week. I even texted her in advance so that I can’t back out later. I don’t expect her to solve anything, but It’ll help:
I’m scared Roo. I’m worried that I’m going to get ill again and won’t be able to cope. I couldn’t tell you why this is happening, it just is. I don’t want to face the attacks again, I don’t want them. People will think I’m a fraud. Who am I to give people advice on my blog if I still get anxious? My stomach has been in knots for days and I can’t unwind it. I f**king HATE feeling like this.. it isn’t fair!!
It’s strange, but sharing this with you guys makes me feel better already. At least I know that you’ll understand completely.
So the next time you’re in a stressful situation and your instincts kick in, take a minute and assess them. Is it the right thing to do in the long run? As Dr Carbonell says: Choose long term freedom over short term comfort.