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  • Sarah Wellband

A is for .....Anxiety

There is very little in modern life that truly presents a life threatening danger, yet some people find certain situations absolutely terrifying. Going to a social event, talking to a stranger, driving to an unknown area, a job interview, public speaking or taking part in a group event are all well known anxiety-inducing situations. Since the pandemic, the number of cases of health anxiety have risen exponentially.

For horse riders the anxiety can be very specific - some are happy to canter and jump in an enclosed school but the idea of hacking fills them with dread. Others are simply petrified of mounting their horse but, once safely on board, are completely fearless.

So, what’s going on? Why are you so scared of something you see other people doing everyday without a second thought?

Your mind has two components; the conscious mind which is rational and logical and can consider complex issues; and the subconscious mind, which is responsible for your emotions, your imagination, your automatic thoughts and action and - crucially - your core beliefs. Core beliefs are the way you think of yourself, other people and the world at large and are set in the period between three and 10 years of age; before the time at which your conscious mind begins to develop and is able to decide what’s true and what isn’t. What this means is, whatever you learn and absorb at this time is accepted without question - no matter if it’s not objectively correct or even if it’s completely misunderstood, it will become a ‘truth’ for us.

If you developed a ‘truth’ in your childhood that you weren’t clever enough, good looking enough, popular enough or just simply not as ‘good’ as other people this will be stored in your subconscious mind. When, as an adult, you are faced with a challenge that doesn’t fit with your internal view of yourself - or if you have to do something that you previously tried to do and it didn’t go well for whatever reason - your subconscious will try to stop you doing it. Why? Because it is always looking for the best strategy for the most happiness. If a core belief or a previous experience informs the subconscious that it’s not going to make you happy then it makes sense (to it) for you not to do that particular thing.

So the mind will inform the body - the sympathetic nervous system - to do whatever is necessary to avoid the situation; to fire up the fight or flight response. Hence the sweating, shaking, light headedness, upset stomach and blushing that we all associate with anxiety.

At the same time the subconscious will bring negative thoughts, images and memories to your mind in order to reinforce the idea that you shouldn’t do this particular thing. Your imagination is limitless so it’s not surprising how vivid and upsetting the ideas can be - all in order to protect you!

So, now we know why anxiety happens, what can we do about it?

First of all, do not try to fight, squash or avoid anxiety - it won’t work and it’s not a good idea. Anxiety has an important place in our lives. It’s the emotion that tells us something is too important to forget or ignore. Remembering to check you’ve the door key in your pocket just before you slam the front door? That’s anxiety. Checking the girth one last time before you get on your horse? That’s anxiety. Studying for an exam, preparing for an interview, getting dressed up for a date - that’s all down to anxiety telling you to pay attention, because it’s important.

When anxiety strikes, take a moment to listen to what it’s trying to tell you. Remember, your subconscious mind doesn’t have the power to think deeply, to rationalise or to consider options - it’s your ‘inner child’ to your logical adult. Sometimes all you need to do is to take a deep breath and say to yourself (out loud if you wish) “It’s OK, I’ve got this”. Tell your subconscious that you are an adult now, with all the wisdom, knowledge and experience that you’ve accumulated since you took on board that core belief that’s currently holding you back. You are simply not the same person.

Don’t worry if you make a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes every day; it’s part and parcel of being human and humans learn from every experience. Just remind yourself that your record for getting through bad days currently stands at 100%.

If anxiety is a problem for you - please talk to me or one of my CONTROL System colleagues; we can help you talk directly to your subconscious mind and change the thought patterns which are stopping you from achieving your goals and dreams.

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