Overcoming Anxiety through 6 6 Breathing and Acceptance

Overcoming Anxiety through 6-6 Breathing and Acceptance

Anxiety is an issue that many people will seek help for. They will search you, find you, and expect you in a way to be able to help them reduce or eliminate their anxiety. In many ways, it’s a common thread – Whether someone is seeking help for insomnia, depression, performance enhancement, often enough, anxiety is part of the issue.

Going further, there are specific issues that we could call anxiety issues, fear based issues, phobias, panic attacks, general anxiety, all sorts of different things like that. Even OCD is often combined with a feeling that something bad will happen. There are some fear based issues which certainly going to be represented, but it’s a universal experience.

Overcoming Anxiety


In therapy, people are often seeking to eliminate or overcome anxiety, possessing the belief that if only they could get rid of it, then life would be OK. Therapists often utilize elaborate strategies to assist with this. Often this encourages the false belief that anxiety is in some way bad, wrong or a sign of a malfunction. But is this true?

Anxiety is a natural response to aversive events and it is inherently useful at times. When it becomes chronic, problematic and maladaptive, it is often indirectly being maintained by our attempts to avoid it.


How to stop being anxious about anxiety

A perspective through which we could view anxiety and the effects it produces on us is that we fuse with ideas. An idea goes through our mind, and we behave like this little thing that has occurred to us is a fundamental truth. This idea could be an identity level thought – “I’m an anxious person. I’ve always been an anxious person. I can’t speak in public because I might have a panic attack”. Another one might be “I could only do that if I didn’t feel anxious about doing that”.

These are the kind of ideas that you might hear from your client. “I couldn’t do that”, “I’ve got to give a wedding speech”, “There’s no way I could do it because I might…” And they’re going to express some kind of anxiety, have a panic attack. So these concepts that they have fused conducts to this little idea that is like a rule or a truth, it begins to really limit their experience.

And that typically results in what they call experiential avoidance. Experiential avoidance is not that we’re just avoiding behaviors like speaking in public. We’re the only creature on the planet that avoids things that we think could make us feel a certain way. So we’re avoiding feelings, we’re avoiding anxiety.

For instance, one of the things Anthony noticed in many clients with panic attacks was that when asked when was their last full blown panic attack, the person would really have to cast their mind back and remember that it was two years ago.

The point is that since then, whenever they feel even a rise of adrenaline, whenever they have an experience that they are interpreting as ‘here comes the anxiety’, they back off. Therefore, it’s not just about the thing that they think triggers it or the thing they wouldn’t be able to cope with. This shows that we get into the habit of avoiding unpleasant thoughts and feelings.

And this is really key because there’s this notion that floats around out there that it’s not healthy to be having an unpleasant thought or feeling. If we speak to people who are not signing up to being an anxious person or having an anxiety problem.

If we ask them, do you experience anxiety about things? They’ll say, yes. We say, do you have calamitous, catastrophizing thoughts now and again? They’ll say yes. The difference is that they’re not fused with those ideas that “that means I can’t do something”. And equally, they are prepared to engage, to step in to that situation, even if their knees are knocking a little bit. It doesn’t mean we can’t step forward.

When it comes down to looking at the body of techniques, most of which are well known in hypnotherapy world, we have to wonder – does it help people defuse rather than separating out? Does what we’re doing, does the discussion we’re having, the questions I’m asking, the techniques I’m using, does it help weaken the dominance of this rule based responding?

And does it help strengthen the person in such a way that they could voluntarily engage with the complexity of their emotional reactions? And we could see that as true acceptance. Acceptance is being intentionally open, flexible, and non judgmental in relation to your moment to moment experience.

Many therapists are already doing that, having never considered acceptance or ‘acceptance and commitment therapy’. They already do it: they allow people to feel something, to let it come up, knowing you’re safe. So again, it’s not that the concepts are brand new, but we wouldn’t want as therapists to fall into the client’s game.

And the client’s game is “When I’m free of this, I’ll be able to do that” when, in fact, if we could do some of the work at the level of the client’s sense of self, at the level of a healthier view of life. In a paradoxical way, that would also imply that it’s psychologically healthy to have unpleasant thoughts and feelings as well as pleasant ones. It’s okay. We don’t have to elevate them to mean what they appear to mean. They’re just thoughts. They’re just feelings. They don’t have to dictate what happens next.


How to stop being anxious about anxiety


If we were to break down anxiety, first of all, there is a stimulus. There is something – it could be a situation, an object, a thing, it could be a thought, a “what if ?” Following that, at some level, there is a perception. Looking into the Human Givens model, the second step would be a ‘pattern match’.

At some level, your brain is always making predictions because it is a pattern matching machine. To put this into an example, there is a stimulus, which could be you got to give a wedding speech. There’s a pattern match back to ‘I had a traumatic event at school where everyone laughed at me’. There’s a pattern match, then there’s an emotional response.

Again, I want to put some distinction between the feeling, even though these two things are often combined, an emotional response you could think of… Even amongst experts, there aren’t clear definitions and certainly not consensual agreement about exactly what emotions are, right? But you could think of the emotion almost as the firing up of a variety of systems. There’s going to be a neurological response to that pattern match. There’s going to be a physiological response, a behavioral response, and then we get to feelings.

There is a stimulus. Some of our techniques go to work upon that. Sometimes we can work with that stimulus, we can change it, we can bring it into the room, we can know we’re safe and no longer experientially avoid it, we can engage with it and even the feelings that it brings up.

There’s the pattern match, which again, is taking place non consciously, automatically. This is how your world is being built from moment to moment, based on what your brain expects. Some of the techniques we use where there’s some imagery involved that we manipulate, that we move around and we change. That may be the level we’re operating at.

We’re making it more of a challenge for your brain to pattern match on that in the same way. We have this emotional response, which again was triggered automatically before, and the subjective element of that that we’re calling feelings. So again, there are so many different ways of confronting things, of getting past things, of dissipating things, of moving things externally or symbolizing these emotions or feelings in some way.

Although there are many techniques here and there, the real value is in understanding the principles and recognizing that those principles often tie into defusing from a dominant rule, which was just based in a stubby little sentence which we’ve been carrying around. And also, again, choosing to engage with the variety of emotions we have. Once you have this lens to look through, I promise you that when you’re listening to your clients, you will hear it.

When we’re experiencing thoughts, it feels like we are thinking. It feels we are doing something when in fact, we’re not doing anything, we are experiencing thoughts. We take ownership of them like “Yeah, what a good idea. I’m glad I remembered that.”, but you’re not involved any more than you were involved in the rise of adrenaline. It gives you that distance. And again, that’s what first drew me to act is because one of its key ways to defuse is to bring the observing self, that perspective into people’s minds.

Because often, especially in anxiety inducing thought patterns, we’re very much there. We’re in the first person, we’re feeling it, so we’re avoiding it. Whereas if we can see thoughts as thoughts and feelings as feelings, then we can see them rise and fall. We can know that no thought or feeling has been there forever. We’ve remained. Doing some of that work doesn’t have to be too deep, too profound.

When working with clients, we’re not just understanding and emphasizing. It’s not about not trusting our client, but we don’t have to wholeheartedly believe the surface meaning of these sentences. They’re part of the pattern, they are automatic. They learn, and it’s overlooked that they’ve become rules the person is essentially living by. And then when it comes to technique, whether you use parts work, whether you use the arrow technique, whether you use the never ending story or the rewind, just be mindful.

At what level are we operating here? Are we disrupting this pattern? Are we accepting of the range of experiences and allowing them to rise and fall? Is there some way we could uncouple the stimulus from the pattern match or the pattern match from the emotion or the emotion from the subjective feeling? Is there a way that we could learn to live that would allow us to stretch ourselves to experience?


Ways to regulate anxiety

A great way to deal with anxiety is to stop what you’re doing and take a breath. One of the best breathing technique to reduce anxiety and give your system an opportunity to present things other than these black and white catastrophizing kind of thoughts is 6-6 breathing. This is something that has an effect on the very first breath. If you were to do this for 1 minute, things are going to start to regulate and settle down.

6-6 breathing is breathing in and out of the nose, in for 6 seconds, out for 6 seconds. It’s not a deep breath, it’s not a full breath, it’s not feeling the chest. It’s just feeling your tummy rising. If you put your hand on your tummy, even better because you get a bit of physical feedback. It is about five breaths per minute and it represents a sweet spot for the most of the population. It has an incredible effect on part of your brain that’s responsible for regulation of so many of these systems.

So having an awareness that “I’m not my thoughts and feelings” is good because when they come, you can stop. You can breathe. The next thing that we can do really quick is, it’s almost like a microscopic version of parts work. We can acknowledge the part that’s driving these thoughts and feelings. And without necessarily going through all the steps of parts work, we can acknowledge that whatever it is you’re trying to do whatever the positive intention is.

“I’d like my creative mind to find other ways to achieve that while allowing me freedom from the irrational fear and anxiety or allowing me to present in a calm, confident manner”. It’s like striking a deal. You are saying: “Hello, there you are, adrenaline.

There you are, anxiety. Whatever it is you’re trying to do for me, I want you to go ahead and do that.” Notice how you feel when you do that, you may feel like a little shiver for instance and it’s almost like you’ve opened the taps you were trying to keep shut. Then you continue: “Okay, I’m safe here sitting in my chair. Whatever it is you’re trying to do, whatever your positive intention may be, I want you to do that.

And then I want to allow my creative mind to make the necessary changes that will allow me freedom from the irrational fear and anxiety, while allowing me the freedom to do whatever it might be”. It sounds rather like acceptance again, doesn’t it? We’re acknowledging there is a feeling and we’re accepting it may have a preservation function, but rather than avoiding it, you’re acknowledging it and inviting it to pass you by.

If you’re trying to avoid an anxious feeling at all costs, it could lead you to what you imagine going beyond your current feeling. An acknowledgment of the moment that you’re experiencing – Something is trying to communicate within you. You’re going to assume some positive intention. You’re going to get into dialogue with this system of yours. It’s working for you. So six six breathing coupled with inviting the anxiety rather than avoiding could be a first step in dealing with it in a healthy and productive way for you.

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