"Reality Check": How to think constructively to manage fear and stress

*This was originally posted on ACAT's Blog

problem solving.jpg

When I began my training as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, my biggest "symptom" was not pain, it was anxiety.   I had started to have panic attacks, where I felt light headed and would begin to hyperventilate, and I was afraid I was dying.  Often, the fearful thoughts centered around having an allergic reaction to something that would prove fatal.    (I have had three incidentsof strong allergic reactions, one to medication, one to food and one undetermined, none of which has been fatal.)

During the second year of my training, I noticed that I had not had any "incidents" in recent memory.  A couple of years after I graduated, I recall watching a panic attack come on while I was riding the subway.   I felt a flush of heat rise from my heart up to my ears (adrenaline rush?), my heart started pounding, and I began to think "I'm having trouble breathing".  As I observed myself, my mind remained calm, and I thought to myself "Wow, your body is experiencing sensations of terror.   Yet, I don't feel afraid.   I am remaining conscious, I can breath even though I have concerns that I can't.   Wow, this is so interesting."  As fast as the symptoms came on, they subsided.   The event made a strong impression on me because my reason stayed clear and I did not mistake the symptoms for something dangerous.

The process of training in the Alexander Technique gave me skills to refrain from my habit of anticipatory anxiety.   I would not have realized this pattern of behavior if it weren't for the contrast I noticed.   Over the years, I have seen how my focus on releasing physical tension from my body has had a beneficial influence on my mental state as well.

Try This:

Notice a topic you may be concerned about, or worrying over.  (There's plenty of issues facing us, such as the state of today's economy.)

Write down the thoughts of concern or worry you are experiencing.

Which ones are based on current facts/circumstances?   Which ones are based on what might or might not happen?

Now, take a moment to think of allowing your shoulders and jaw to release some tension.  Notice what that is like.

Now, think about something you are concerned or worried about.

Return to releasing your jaw and shoulders.   You may have noticed that they tensed again when you put your attention on your concerns.

Continue to move back and forth between actively releasing tension in shoulder and jaw; and thinking about things that worry you.

What's the next step?

This activity is beneficial in and of itself, as a way for you to see how your thinking affects your tension levels, and that when you put your attention on your muscular tension, you can find some relief.

The next step you might explore is to consider the source of your worry or concern.   Which thoughts are based on current facts, and which are the result of anticipatory anxiety?   For those that are based on facts, what actions can you take to address the concerns?   For those based on anticipation of what might happen, go back to working with your muscle tension as a way to reduce the impact this habit of thought has on your stress levels.