Those who suffer from acute anxiety will know the feeling. There is a pervasive sense of threat, as though danger lurks just around the corner. On waking, the heart rate rises, and the feeling of insecurity starts. It can be experienced as nausea, a lump in the throat, a weakness in the muscles, a headache, neck tension, a need to lie down, a need to hide, a desperation for company.
It is possible to spend so much time with the experience of anxiety, that a person ceases to believe that there is such a thing as peace – such a thing as relief from all these symptoms. But it is possible, and, often, peace arrives slowly, like a very long spring.
CREATING SMALL HAVENS
There are several things that can be done to create the environment for peace. One of them is creating small havens in your day – small places and times of safety. The human mind and body are very responsive to cues, so we might as well build into our day peaceful cues, that set us up for short, protected , peaceful times.
A simple example would be setting aside the same time each day to watch a particular TV programme that you find tranquilising. Get used to setting yourself up with a drink and a blanket – cues that tell your body it is relaxing and being cared for. Another example might be taking a short walk at the same time each day; again, your mind and body will pick up on the cue, and start looking forward to the routine.
FREQUENT, BRIEF CONTACT WITH FRIENDS
Another good peace tactic is to create an environment of frequent ‘social strokes’. By strokes, I mean little positive interactions. If you have four or five regular friends, then try to make sure you reach out to them gently with little messages. Not heavy, long interactions, but light, brief, frequent ones.
This will remind the mind and body that it is in a positive environment. The advantage of sending small messages of humour, acknowledgement or gratitude, is that they are easy to reply to, and unburdensome on both sides.
One of the characteristics of anxiety is having big expectations in short timescales. If the mind is feeling weak, this can be damaging, and cause further panic. It is sometimes better to create small expectations over longer timescales.
For instance, if you are feeling guilty for having a messy house, then choose a small area to tidy, and give yourself a decent length of time to tidy it. Don’t expect to do the whole house. Making these small improvements can be immensely reassuring to the tired brain.
Try to choose things that make an evident difference to your routine life. This means focusing on things you use frequently. Maybe tidy up your most used kitchen cupboard, or your bathroom cabinet. Something that will make you smile inside when you see it each day.
The reason these small tactics help reduce anxiety, and increase peace, is that they work at your life in tiny, easy to manage stages. They also directly counteract the symptoms of anxiety.
Through creating little places and times of safety, you will at least have small parts of your day that feel safer than others. One of the symptoms of anxiety is the sense of threat, and, by creating little havens, you will be teaching your mind and body to lower your alarm settings.
Through frequent, brief contact with friends, you will at least have moments dealing with positive messages. One of the symptoms of anxiety is fear of negative interactions, and, by creating positive message paths, you are teaching your mind that the fear is unnecessary.
Through small improvement projects, you will at least make progress in something. One of the symptoms of anxiety is being hard on yourself (guilt or low self-esteem), and, by inventing little positive projects, you are teaching your mind that you are good and capable.
If we suffer from anxiety, we can forget what peace is like.
Three simple tactics which help are:
Creating little havens in your day, times you set aside for rest, entertainment or exercise
Regularly sending and receiving short, positive messages with trusted others
Small, unpressured improvement projects