My life is spiralling out of control – stress and anxiety
If in the midst of a crisis you are prone to worry, anxiety or panic, then you may feel your life is spiralling out of control. At times you might also suffer from mood swings and destructive impulses, which means you need to restore some balance in your life. While the stress builds up you may notice your reactions become more conditioned and automatic. You may get carried away by intense feelings and struggle to resolve problems under pressure or deal with unexpected events.
As your nerves begin to fray you may not know how to cope and find yourself ‘acting out’ in ways that seem erratic and disproportionate. You probably end up feeling overwhelmed with excessive worry and fear; experiencing cycles of unpredictable behaviour and racing thoughts. Even when you’re not in immediate crisis, you may ‘feel on edge’ going about your business with a creeping sense of unease like stepping around on eggshells. This brings constant simmering tensions to the surface in your relationships, as you draw other people into the downward spiral. And because your life seems out of control, you experience a constant series of dramas and are always looking for the next disaster just around the corner.
Here are some everyday examples of this:
You may feel anxious in large groups or social situations like parties or business meetings, because you’re worried about what people are thinking of you. You might have an irrational fear of being abandoned or betrayed by a loved one. You might feel anxious about being rejected by friends and family. Or even imagine being fired from work. You might have a constant sense that something awful is about to happen to your children or the people you love. Perhaps someone is going to discover a guilty secret and reveal it to the world. Or you constantly doubt your decisions and rarely feel comfortable in your own skin. Never mind making your own choices. All too often you rely on someone else to make them for you.
Stop! Please just slow down and breathe. I’m not joking with you… do it.
Find yourself a quiet place like a bedroom, a park bench, or your garden. Any place that you use as a safe haven or sanctuary. Settle down in a chair, on the grass or lie back on a pillow. Play some relaxing music. Close your eyes and slowly turn down the white noise in your mind. Begin breathing with a steady, gentle rhythm you feel comfortable with – not too slow; not too deep. Focus only on the sound and sensation of your breath, until some calm is restored and your thoughts go down a few notches. Stay with it awhile. Notice as your heartbeat slows down. And your throat and chest begin to open up, feeling less constricted. You aren’t going to die or have a heart attack. This is a state of panic that will subside if you take the necessary precautions. Gently roll out any tensions in your neck and shoulders. Then firmly massage the muscles around the base of the skull until they begin to loosen up. You could even do this in a warm shower with the lights switched off and any noise drowned out by the rush of water. Listen and pay close attention to the sensation inside your head. Wait until the tension eventually slides out of your body, before you stop.
I know that many people have tried this before or have been told to calm down and breathe. They may feel patronised and even more frustrated, when you’re practically gasping for breath, or feeling intense episodes of panic and dread. You probably can’t imagine how breathing will help. But it will. And if practised regularly it will create new neural pathways in the brain that condition you to act more calmly under pressure.
You may be convinced nothing can stop the thoughts, beliefs and imaginary scenarios playing through your head. But neuroscience tells us that once the ‘fight and flight response’ is triggered in the autonomic nervous system, adrenalin and cortisol will keep on pumping up the volume until you deactivate the sensations and stimuli that cause anxiety. Once these chemicals have been released, you must learn to interrupt them with new chemical neurotransmitters that can restore a sense of calm and homeostasis.
Given that you cannot consciously control your adrenal glands, your heart rate, or the lactic acid priming your muscles for a nervous reaction; the only alternative is to take voluntary control of your breathing. Your lungs are part of the same autonomic nervous system. They will help regulate your emotions, send new chemical messages to the brain and deactivate the ‘fight and flight response’. When you do this, I cannot promise your problems will suddenly disappear, but at least you give yourself a small window of opportunity to step back from the drama and collect your thoughts and feelings. Staying with the anxiety and panic will only escalate the level of stress. So pull out of the nose dive, create a small gap in your consciousness between events and your reaction to them. Reflect and take action that feels sensible, reasonable and realistic.
If you cannot do it for yourself, no one else can. And simply freezing or relying on others to pull you out of a crisis, or pretending nothing is happening, will only increase your feeling of helplessness.
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About Gregori Savva
I am an experienced counsellor at Counselling Twickenham, Enduring Mind. I've been profoundly affected by my work with other people as a psychotherapist, anthropologist and writer. I'm captivated by the interior lives of others and the cultures they live in. Please visit my website for resources on counselling, self-help guide and resources.