This time I am going to start with a safe experiment, rather than explanation. When you design small safe experiments to work with your anxiety, it may help to have a ‘map’ in mind, and here is one I am offering to you:
The vertical column, labelled Anxiety (it could be any feeling, anger, despair, hopelessness) can be marked 0, at the bottom – for ‘no awareness of a feeling), up to 10 at the top. When you experience any feeling, do you put it near the bottom, in the middle or at the top? Note how the diagram demonstrates that feelings rise and feelings fall. They could stay the same, but most often, they are going one way or the other!
The illustration offers three levels of ‘small, safe experiment’. In the lower reaches (SUDs 0-3), you may find ways to talk to yourself or, indeed, talk to others, about those negative feelings. Your own words, rather than the words of others, may well help you find a different perspective.
In the middle (SUDs 4-7), experiments can help you to divert and distract yourself from a particular feeling. Diversion has the effect of helping us to step back or away from a particular experience. Instead of focusing on the feeling, we are able to dilute the experience – to step back and see a different or larger picture. In the world of therapy, there is a tendecy to be dismissive of ‘just’ diverting ourselves. I say, “don’t knock it if it works”. Furthermore, some diversions have direct impact on the body, e.g. controlled breathing.
At the top of the curve (SUDs 8-10)s, the experience may well feel over-whelming. It is very difficult to step back and/or see things differently when feelings are that intense. Instead, the recommended strategy is to go with the flow. Now, you can feel bad about that, or you can accept the experience. In accepting the feeling and just noticing it, you may find that the feeling is not killing you and that nothing lasts for ever. It may help to use affirmation work and acknowledge that “Even though I am feeling anxious, I can still deeply and completely accept myself“. Such affirmations, reinforced by tapping, do help some people quite often.
In phobia management, there is a technique called Graded Exposure; this provides for a slow and managed exposure to a feared object. If the exposure programme is very carefully graded, it is possible to get used to a low level of fear – to accept it and notice you can live with it. After that, we can move on to a ‘higher’ level of exposure until the time comes when I am able to say “whatever was I bothered about.…?”
As you persist with your experiments, you may find you are exposing yourself to things once avoided. In time, you may feel more confident about your ability to move up close to an experience and then move back from it.
Part of the instruction you will give yourself about what to do, how to do it and how often to do it will be inside your head. This conversation is called an ‘internal dialogue‘. It can be regarded as a ‘conversation’ between what I call ‘parts’ of ourselves, as odd as it may sound …..
Bear in mind that you can get a better class of conversation between your ‘parts’, than with the rest of the world!