Episode 11. 'Mum! Chill Your Beans.'

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o mice and men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou art blest,compar'd wi me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e'e.
On prospects drear!
An' forward tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

Excerpt from To A Mouse
Robert Burns

Reading about good old Rabbie Burns' mouse, he makes it clear that plans go wrong and when they do, we can be left very disappointed. Unlike his mouse, who only knew and understood the present, we are burdened with the ability to remember old wounds or past failures, which loom in our minds to ruin our present peace of mind. Equally, because we cannot see into the future, we conjure up fearful guesses and predictions.

Replaying these miserable old videos, without an intention to change my response to them, isn't helpful to me. Nor is worrying about a future, I perceive is mine. I know infinite possibilities exist in each choice I make. In the end, we become what we think. I use this to comfort me, to keep the anxiety cycle from whirling up. My thoughts often cause anxiety, and my anxiety causes unpleasant thoughts.

Before I learned to stop anxiety attacking me, the slightest upset or worry could cause me to whirlwind myself to cyclone level, in the blink of an eye. People around me would run for cover.

It's horrible to think people didn't want to be around me, or worse - were afraid of me. If I'd continued this way, I would have faced a lonely future. Not only that, illness would have continued to dominate my life, with other illnesses adding to the first burden.

Anxiety driven states, or as I call it - my spin-dryer head, not only drove me crazy, because one worry sparked another. The impact of it on my physical health was huge.

The affects of anxiety on mental and physical health are well researched and well documented. Sufferers often isolate themselves which increases the anxious thinking, often leads to depression, a sense of doom and over time can shorten life expectancy.

Other issues such as  elevated heart rates, increased blood pressure, headaches, stomach and muscle pain, panic attacks and marked loss of libido can be catastrophic.

When I would cycle into a cyclone, my kids would shout 'Mum! Chill your beans!'  Although  knew it was good advice, I couldn't find a way to do it then.

It's very important to find help for anxiety, for reasons I've outlined and it's too difficult to go it alone.

It's not all hopeless though. On my recovery journey I found many things to help myself. One great thing that majorly helped is to control my breathing. It soothes and slows the racing thoughts and sense of doom.. There are some great guided meditations on YouTube. You don't have to have spiritual beliefs for these techniques to work. It's simply neuroscience. Pick one you like. I go for a nice, gravelly deep-voiced chap, with a hint of an accent. There are loads of them, pick one for about 20 minutes and just give it a try. I end up feeling relaxed, calm and able to sleep. And it's all achieved by me.

Being mindful also diffuses my natural, learned, hectic and painful thinking. I practice the five senses mindful exercise, which I learned only recently. When I feel anxious, I look around the room for five different things. (Neuroscience again! this action tells your central nervous system you are not under attack.) Then I focus on what I can hear. I identify different smells. Next a scan of the body with my mind to determine what I can physically feel. The points at which my body is in contact with the chair, my feet on the floor and so on. Then a focus on what I can taste. It's usually coffee and cigarettes. You are allowed to eat a sweet or a mint at this point if it helps. All this only takes a few minutes, but it buys me time to remain calm. More importantly it changes the way the central nervous system reacts to circumstances. Over time this practice changes the natural anxiety default setting to a more appropriate response in a non-threatening situation. Should you see a sabre-tooth tiger under the table, when practising this, then by all means engage the flight or fight response. It is appropriate!

While practising new healthier behaviours, I've had a few setbacks. I know that it's normal to have vestiges of old behaviour popping up, so I try to view these as an opportunity to check myself. I review what I'm doing and analyse why something went wrong. I then amend or fine tune my practices to make them work better for me.

It's okay to admit I'm struggling sometimes. It's okay to take a rest, to re-group and to re-think. It's even okay to have the odd meltdown. For me though, it's not okay to choose to give up and to stay stuck in a wretched place, welcoming that old companion 'Pessimism' back through the door - some guests are barred for life.

Chilling my beans is a necessary procedure for me to find peace of mind from anxiety. It opened  a place within me to enable me to see my life's purpose and to keep me moving  towards that purpose. Doing all these things brings calm to my thinking. This peace of mind makes me happy. 

So chill your beans It's good for you.

©Gillian Cullis 2018


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