Where anxiety stands in our way...

There are 1 in 5 of us who will suffer from anxiety condition at any given year. This often leads to an inhibition in us achieving what we want to achieve, so why is it there? What is anxiety?

Evolutionary biology shows us that anxiety is an emotional signal telling us that that we need to act on circumstances in order to aid survival. But where there is persistent, unhelpful anxiety it is usually rooted in experience that has been stored as trauma.

For reasons I won't go into here, difficult experiences can be stored as trauma and can cause a malfunction of the method that the brain has evolved to help us to survive.

Whenever we experience sensory input, the brain instantly performs a number of complex procedures, all without us even noticing. This pattern of a traumatic experience is stored in a way that the amygdala (the part of the brain that acts like a super vigilant security guard to protect us at all times) can instantly register any moment that a similar situation is matched to that pattern.

When this 'threat pattern' is matched to a current experience the amygdala then sends out a high priority message to key areas of the brain that there is an urgent threat to our wellbeing. The person experiences this in the form of powerful emotions which flag that there is action to be taken. Glucose is sent to the legs and the autonomic system readies itself and possibly enacts a fight or flight protocol.

This is a phenomenally powerful and successful system and has enabled us to not be eaten by tigers or bitten by poisonous spiders for many a millenia.The problem is that we no longer live in the jungle, but we are over stimulated with experiences that our brains pattern match to and misinterpret as threatening to us more often than there are actual threats.

At the less debilitating end of the trauma scale, we might never get on a bike again having fallen off as a child. The amygdala is telling us not to get on a bike again as that is pattern matched as a threat to our survival and a risk not worth taking; emotions flood the brain to encourage us to action - run away or withdraw. Of course our rational brain knows better, but when the emotions fire the rational brain is inhibited.

At an extreme level, we may encounter an every day experience and react as though it is a matter of life or death. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a debilitating malfunction of the amygdalian 'security system' that can happen where extremely traumatic experiences have been experienced. An otherwise healthy ex-soldier may become a dribbling wreck at the sound of an old car backfiring, their brain having pattern matched it to experiences in a warzone.

Life coaches could use an appreciation of this neurological 'security system'; is surely critical to good practice. Yes, sometimes a person might just get back on the bike and ride out of sheer will, or through the power of our drive expressed within our imagination. Even relaxing deeply may enable a client to be able to face a situation where their emotions have been tripping them up. But where the trauma has been powerfully stored in the 'existential threat' category, and is causing unwanted reactions or aversions, the solution does not seem so readily available.

Fortunately, in the last thirty years a hypno-therapeutic technique has been developed that literally, and miraculously moves memories from the 'existential threat' storage category, to the 'not very important' storage category. It has evolved from the work of Milton H Erickson, founder of hypnotherapy, and probably the most important psychotherapist of the 20th century. Richard Bandler, one of the co-founders of NLP, helped to develop it and it has now been re-defined and refined by the Human Givens Institute. It is variously called the Rewind Technique, The Fast Phobia Cure, and the VK Dissociation Technique.

This technique has been clinically proven to be highly effective in the treatment of PTSD and a host of other trauma related conditions such at OCD, anxiety and even depression.

A critical advantage of this dissociative technique is that it does not risk further embedding the traumatic events as unhelpful patterns, as the client is in a highly relaxed state of REM consciousness. Indeed, the client's wilful access to the REM state, the mammalian brain's programming state, is vital to the functionality of the technique.

In conclusion, if any client that is suffering from behaviours that relate to traumatic memories or experiences, real or imagined, refer them to a therapist trained in this technique. NOT a talking therapist who may well dredge up the experience and reinforce the emotional tags on the original event.

A more comprehensive explanation of the technique can be found here: