There are no Tigers in the Arndale

When clients come to see me for help with panic attacks, anxiety or stress, I’m always surprised at how harsh they are on themselves. They will often use words such as “pathetic”, “ridiculous” and “stupid” to describe how they are feeling or how they are acting. I know that what they really mean is; “this isn’t logical and makes no sense to me” but these critical judgements only make the situation worse. I often ask if they would describe a friend in this same harsh way, and they look at me in horror and say, “Of course not!”

We like to see ourselves as rational and in control but much of how we feel and act is not based on clear, logical decision making. The part of our brain that reacts to anxiety developed long before the “logical, clever thinking” part of our brain even existed. It controls our mood and actions much more than we realise. This can make us uncomfortable and feel that our body and mind are out of our control.

The subconscious responds to an exam, a job interview or perhaps even walking around the Arndale on a busy day, in just the same way it reacted to seeing a sabre-toothed tiger in the jungle. It increases our heart rate (to make us more able to fight or run quickly). It reduces the amount of blood to our brain (we don’t need to think, just fight or run), leaving us feeling light-headed. These responses were helpful in our past, facing that tiger, but they are the opposite of what we need when we are about to sit down to take that exam. Here we want to be calm and mentally focused.

So, you see, the responses that we had labelled as “stupid” are nothing of the sort. They are powerful survival responses that have kept us alive as a species for thousands of years. It’s just that they have not caught up with the modern world.

By being kinder to ourselves and understanding that our subconscious is trying to protect us, we can learn more appropriate responses to our modern stresses and anxieties. We can reassure our frightened brain, that there are no sabre-toothed tigers in the Arndale.

Article was originally published on Friday 28th April in the Eastbourne Herald

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