Can anxiety be cured?

I'll be honest with you, I drank too much last night and it's taken its toll. One product of excessive alcohol consumption is anxiety which is why I (normally) moderate the amount I drink. Of course, alcohol is just one cause of anxiety. There are many ways to induce it but the mechanism is always the same.

If we look at what's happening chemically in the brain it can help simplify things. When you interact with another person in a positive way your brain produces serotonin. Your brain will do the same thing when you take any kind of positive action in your daily life. Serotonin is associated with feeling good. Is your kitchen untidy? Do some washing up, wipe the surfaces and sweep the floor and you'll get a reward - a serotonin boost.

So why does drinking alcohol cause anxiety? Because it inhibits the production of serotonin. When you smoke the same thing happens. Intoxicants create a pattern in the brain similar to serotonin thereby making your brain conclude it doesn't need to produce any.

The chemicals associated with feelings of stress and anxiety are cortisol and noradrenaline and as everyone knows they're not pleasant. Unfortunately, as humans, we seem to be predisposed to anxiety. This is probably because it keeps us safe, at least in the short term.

Anxiety is an appropriate response when faced with a saber-toothed tiger or a food shortage but it's not that helpful in a modern environment especially if you want to be happy. Biologically we are little different from our stone-age ancestors and being anxious would have kept them alive by making them hyper-vigilant when faced with a potential threat. If survival is your goal it's best to assume the worst....about everything!

When you have clean running water an abundance of food and a strong roof over your head there aren't many situations where anxiety is appropriate in the modern world and although it serves a purpose it's long term effects are extremely detrimental to people's health and well being. I think everyone is aware of this but not everyone is aware of what's happening on a neurological level and what the solutions are.

One of the solutions is to look for solutions. When you put your attention on positive decisions you activate a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. This is a small area at the front of the brain and is associated with focused attention and conscious awareness. The part of the brain responsible for triggering anxiety is the older reptilian area known as the limbic system. Part of this system is the amygdala. The amygdala is constantly surveying our surroundings for signs of danger and when it concludes there's trouble it will respond by making you anxious and stressed.

So come on, think positively and you'll feel better! Unfortunately, it's not that easy for everyone. What is more achievable is taking positive action. What can you do right now that will help you feel a bit better? Even posing the question will help. At any point in time, you are in a good cycle or a negative one, either being solution-focused or problem-focused. The important thing to realise is that you can do something about it and that one thing is to ask yourself 'What can I do?'. Bad moods can evaporate when you decide to do something positive so do the washing up, go for a walk, join a class or try meditation. Or you could try self hypnosis.

There's nothing unusual about hypnosis, in fact we all enter hypnotic trance states throughout the day. The key to reducing anxiety is to influence these trance states in a positive way. If you're walking along thinking about how annoying your partner is or how unlucky you are you are experiencing negative self hypnosis and it will result in feelings of anxiety, depression and stress. We're all hypnotizing ourselves every day and so learning how to influence the process is of vital importance.

These days I find that when bad things occur I am much less reactive. Someone insults me and there's a gap where I can see my potential responses. Cycling around Bristol gives me a chance to evaluate my progress. When I'm shouted at by an angry driver/cyclist/pedestrian, I don't shout back. I can see the emotion start to form and I let it go.

Can Anxiety be cured? Yes, in my opinion it can but more importantly it can be prevented.

Here are 3 things you can try right now to feel calmer

  • Pay attention to your breathing. Don't try and do anything in particular, just witness your breath. Focus the mind in your center (just below the navel), relax your body and watch your breathing.

  • Breathe in and think 'Calm', breathe out and think 'Relaxed. This is simple self hypnosis.

  • Get a pen and paper and write down any goals that you have. How do you want to feel? How do you want to be? What kind of life do you want?

Tai Chi Beginners Course starts May 25th!