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How to master anxiety in uncertain & challenging times

In our culture dominated by technology, we have forgotten to handle insecurity and uncertainty. Especially during uncertain times, people experience fear and sometimes panic. And even before the lifetime prevalence in the US was 31%. Find your way back into your competencies and activate your skills - because only then can you master challenging situations. In this short video I will introduce you to some efficient techniques to find your way back into your strengths.


Transcript of the video

In the last weeks I have been approached by more people than usual suffering from anxiety and panic. May it be concrete, diffuse or generalised anxiety, which is a bit like anxiety of anxiety - kind of spiralling up and fueling itself. So I would like to introduce you to a couple of simple techniques to hopefully enable you to support and help yourself. And I have already introduced you to two important techniques, rhythmic breathing and meditation, in the prior videos. So let us start with a very important and simple fact, anxiety in itself is neither good nor bad, but rather what ensured our survival. So if you imagine you’re standing at the corner of a street and a car is approaching you at high speed, you do not want to think - you just jump aside - very good. Whereas if you are giving a presentation or standing in line at the supermarket and somebody is coughing - anxiety or panic might be not so good. You’re probably better off to act rationally, in the case of the latter, see if you have enough distance and when coming home thoroughly wash your hands etc. - you get the idea. We all know that internal dialogue: I should not have anxiety, why am I anxious, I am a wimp anyway et cetera - not helpful at all. So drop that storyline.
As I mentioned before pain multiplied with resistance equals suffering. So with a bit of meditation practice, you will be able to distance yourself not only from your thoughts but also from your feelings, like anxiety. And it is a huge difference if you are anxious or alternatively, if you observe anxiety arising within you. So the first technique is to simply observe the feeling of anxiety on a body level - on a physical level - within you. Where do you feel anxiety in your body, how does it feel, does it get stronger or subside, does it expand or contract and so forth. In most cases - by simply observing it with an attitude of acceptance and equanimity - you will experience that it subsides within 60 to 120 seconds. The more you try to make it go away the more energy you are directing towards it - very simple: energy flows where attention goes. You could also take the more funny turn: thank god - obviously my reptilian and middle brain are still working flawlessly and I still have the limbic capacity to react lightning fast with heightened vitality - how invigorating!

If you are already in a situation being anxious, one of the most effective and efficient techniques might be to withdraw energy - respectively attention - from your anxiety and actively distract you. So one of many methods would be to count up and down irregular. Your short-term memory - and not as most people do say 7+/- 2 - can hold 5+/- 2 information at once. So try to count up five irregular numbers, for example 7 - 16 - 33 - 41 - 57 and then count the same numbers down 57 - 41 - 33 - 16 - 7 and do that for as long as you need. There was an an Italian psychologist, who very successfully treated his patients suffering from anxiety or panic with the distraction method. He asked them to dance pirouettes into the supermarket. Guess what? They were so occupied with dancing, they did not have energy nor time for their anxiety and entered the upward spiral by experiencing: anxiety does not control me and I am back in the driver’s seat. By the way, they did not have to wait in line to pay - as an advantageous side-effect. And we are talking about people who have not left the house for quite a while because of their anxiety.

We do not have the time to dive into the Polyvagal-Theory, but just trust me that your vagus nerve plays an important part in all that. So another technique would be to simply hum along. When you are humming the vibration of your vocal cords and throat is soothing your vagus nerve. Sounds too simple to be true - but it works. Alternatively you might have heard about tapping. Just - with two fingers - tap a few points in your face, for example your forehead, eyebrow, temple, under the eye, between nose and mouth and your chin and this will also positively influence the state of your wages nerve. In this situation it doesn’t really matter what other people think about you. And hey - maybe in some time ahead you will be travelling on a plane again and doing this exercise, you might get the whole row for yourself. In case you are more interested in the Polyvagal Theory, there are excellent conversations between Stephen Porges and Gunter Schmidt available on YouTube.

What might support you particularly with diffuse anxiety, so for example - and that’s totally understandable in the current situation - being afraid of an uncertain future is to get a handle and a grip on it. Maybe you know Master Yoda, that’s the little wise guy from Star Wars who said: named the fear must be, that banish it you can. And that’s totally spot on. If anxiety becomes diffuse, it gives you the impression of being helpless and powerless which is just more fuel into the fire - that only produces even more anxiety. There is a very simple technique that has been proven beneficial in those situations. It is called pre-meditatio malorum and was first used by Stoic philosophers. Simply sit down and get a piece of paper drawing for columns. In the first one you write the title „worst-case scenario“ and then really think and write down what could be the absolute worst case scenario possibly happening. Then take one or two minutes and write below your estimate of the probability - so 5 or 10 or more percent - that this is really going to happen. The title for the second column is actions or countermeasures. So here, please do take your time and do not stop after you have written down two or three - but really do take your time to think what are possible actions from your side, which resources you could utilise, who could help you with gathering more ideas and so on and collect as many as possible. Let that sink in for a minute or two and then move on to the third column and the title is best case scenario. Just write down what could happen, if you are able to put in all the actions you’ve written down while facing the challenge - the first column in case you might have already forgotten. And very often there is the possibility of something good happening. Again write down a percentage of probability this is going to happen. Okay, okay I do know it sounds too simple and too good to be true, but I observed in dozens of cases that people suffering from diffuse anxiety and people who were devastated - after half an hour had a smile on their face. The fourth column would be if there is any chance to go back to the situation prior to the worst case scenario. This might be the case in some situations. It can be helpful to do that exercise with another person who from time to time offers you a new impulse or nudges you in a different direction.

And one very important last thing. What I observed very, very often, is that simply knowing that you have a few techniques at hand to actively regulate yourself, also in itself significantly diminishes or reduces the level of your anxiety because it puts you back into the driver seat. We will also take a deeper dive into those concepts in our webinars.

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