A few weeks ago, I wrote about how to employ first-aid for anxiety. In that discussion, the type of anxiety being addressed was the kind which was triggered by a perceived external stressor in the person’s environment, such as a having a difficult conversation with a person or receiving bad or threatening news . This type of anxiety begins directly in the amygdale and can produce intense physical as well as emotional reactions.
Today I want to talk about a different kind of anxiety which can also produce intense dysphoric symptoms but which originates in the neo-cortex of the brain and comes from an internal-anticipated threat, rather than an actual or immediate one.
While the intentional breathing tips offered in our previous blog are very helpful, sometimes the flow of unwanted thoughts and worries stemming from anticipatory anxiety will continue. That is because, with externally triggered anxiety, it is possible to withdraw and physically remove oneself from the toxic stimulus to lessen the impact of the stressor . With an internally-based, anticipatory anxiety, it is not possible to distance oneself from the distressing source and, so, other techniques must be employed.
Rather than relying on physical isolation from the distressing stimulus, a technique which I call Sensational Distraction (SD) can be used to disrupt/distract the stressful cascade of thoughts and anxious feelings. With SD, a person can shift the focus and attention of their immediate experience from thinking thoughts to perceiving sensations in their body and thus stop the flow of disturbing thoughts and calm the distressed state of mind.
Although many distractors can be used , an especially effective technique for lessening and stopping anxiety I call the Orange. The orange relies on SD and is employed after a person realizes that s/he is experiencing anticipatory anxiety, to calm one’s mind. The technique involves four steps and goes like this:
- Take an orange and hold it close to your face. Look at it closely and notice the color, the shape and texture of the fruit.
- Push your fingers deep into the orange and tear it open. Notice the sticky feeling on your fingers and hands.
- Bring the orange up to your nose and deeply inhale , smelling the pungent aroma .
- Bite into the orange and taste the sweetness of the fruit’s moist flesh.
What you will notice and be surprised to discover is that instead of feeling anxious or worried about an anticipated negative event or outcome, your attention and mind will be awash in the intense sensations of sight, touch, smell and taste derived from interacting with the orange. The cycle of anxiety and negativity will have been broken and a sense of calm will have been restored
When the anxiety has calmed and the unwanted thoughts have ceased, the neural connections to your cortex have been re-established and you will be able to reality-test and further calm your worries concerning the likelihood of the imagined threat.
As always, if anxiety problems linger, please consult with a therapist who is experienced in dealing with anxiety disorders.
Rev. Michael Heath , LMHC, Fellow AAPC 9 7 2019
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