Medication, Talk Therapy and
Breathing Techniques are so commonly recommended to help people with ANXIETY, yet they are so ineffective.
Here is what you can do about it!
The main reason is that this is what has been done for so long, so it has become almost ‘common knowledge’. The amount of times I have had clients tell me the first thing they tried to do was to breathe, or they go online to learn what to do and get a simple breathing technique.
A Doctor, when they learn about anxiety (and they don’t spend much time at medical school talking about anxiety - they might have one lecture on it!) quickly learns to treat you with drugs and/or refer you to a therapist (if a severe, a psychiatrist).
Most people are aware that anxiety affects (or is caused by) their thinking, so they assume this will be best handled by a psychologist. This assumption is lacking, as you will soon learn.
Most times the Doctors use medication because that’s the only tool at their disposal.
In the same way psychologists use words - because that is their way they help their clients.
Some of them teach breathing exercises, because that is another tool.
The reality is that they do not have another approach, and so over time, keep doing the same things.
I have worked with so many people who have tried all of the above - breathing, a variety of talk therapy approaches and medications! And still did not make change. What's worse is they start to think a few things:
Both these things sadden me, because the person who is suffering is not broken and they don’t have to learn to live with it - they just need more effective strategies that actually deal with anxiety.
So, to explain in more detail why these approaches fall short, I need to explain a little bit about what anxiety really is.
Note to reader : for most people, anxiety is caused by the accumulation of stress over one's life. Sometimes, it can be caused by other medical conditions - this article is not talking about these types, where the best approach is to treat the underlying condition.
We all have an ability to deal with stress. The body is hard wired to deal with stress; this is our inbuilt survival response that has evolved over thousands of years of evolution. The fight or flight response is this part of the Nervous system that responds to stress.
Over life, we slowly accumulate stress.
The easiest way to think about this is with the metaphor of a glass : a glass can only store so much liquid. Each stressful event is like more liquid that gets added to the glass. We keep adding more over life and we seem to be fine.. Drip by drip, stressful event after another, we keep adapting.. until one day we are at capacity and we probably don’t even know it.
When we are at maximum capacity, there is no more space. After the next droplet, the next stressful event, this causes a very different response. This produces an overflow, in what feels like out of the blue. We have a big response - for some people this is like a switch and the anxiety goes on! Or they get their first panic attack.
Think of a glass under a tap that is slowly dripping. It fills up and eventually overflows.
Now, the negative thinking (and other life stresses), is like the dripping of the tap.
The experience of anxiety, of something being wrong - the overflow, actually creates in itself another stressful thought. So, like a loop, this thought creates more stress - the anxiety causes anxiety. I have had so many people tell me “I am anxious about being anxious”.
For most people, anxiety is like a cup that is always in an overflowing state, or very easily overflows
Medication will not do anything to do with the accumulation of the liquid; it will, ironically, add to the volume as the drug now needs to be metabolized from the body and in itself is another stress. But what it does do (for those it somewhat works for), is that it stops you from being aware of the overflow. But this overflow is still happening.
Whatever happened in life, past stresses and traumas and current challenges, has not been dealt with. So, masking the problem is not helping. Imagine if your fire alarm went off and you found it annoying so you stuck a giant pillow over it to make it sound less loud, or you took the battery out. Yes, you might solve the noise, but what if the symptom was there for a reason?
Also, medication almost always has side effects. The one I hear most commonly, is that my clients feel more numb while on them.
The amount of people who have told me they don't work or only work for a short amount of time, but keep taking them because they are scared to come off them is unbelievable to me. This is not the answer.
Remember, anxiety is the accumulation of too much stress in the Nervous system - medication does not resolve this, so it will not be an effective solution.
Now someone might try breathing techniques. This can be great for some people at helping them shift their state, but this is only temporary.
So many people try breathing - the lucky ones have it help them, but many clients have told me over the years, it simply does not work.. and why would it? Once again, it does not address the full cup - and because the cup is full, they will quickly return to a previous ‘stressed out’ state.
This leaves us with talk therapies. Many people are aware that the stress in life is coming from their thinking, and so having a conversation with a therapist / counsellor / psychologist can be helpful, but what they don’t realise is that when the body is in an anxious state (from the accumulation of too much stress), the mind will follow.
So, most people become aware of thoughts they should not think, but can’t seem to change them - and this is because the body is stuck in a state and driving the thoughts.
Many clients have told me they have gone to a therapist and it was helpful at first, but then over time, they just kept saying the same thing and did not really walk away with any tools. They are aware of what they should not be thinking, but then just felt worse that they could not control their thinking. When we are under stress for too long, we access a different part of the brain - midbrain - which produces fear based thinking.
If you have anxiety, what can you do about it?
You might have been suggested to take medication, or someone refers you to a therapist or suggests you try a breathing technique.. What should you do?
My suggestion is to go to the cause and address this first.
And because anxiety is about the Nervous system being under too much stress, stuck in what we call a defensive physiology (stressed state), it makes sense to address this.
Going back to the glass metaphor, it would make sense to empty the glass as much as you can. If possible, make the glass bigger so you have a greater capacity to deal with more stresses that life throws at you (become more resilient), and reduce the stresses that you can (negative thinking) that is coming into the glass.
Only when we bring your body out of defence and into growth, will the mind be able to easily think thoughts that match this. When you feel safe, the prefrontal cortex will become more active and you will become conscious and in control of your thinking.
Medication, breathing and talk therapy will not take the body out of defence (too much accumulation of stress), and will not help it move into growth - and so they are not effective strategies.
So, what is an effective strategy?
What I use in my clinic is what I believe to be the most effective strategy that comes from a technique called Network Spinal Analysis.
There are not many practitioners in the world, but if you are lucky enough to find one (do a google search - also called Network Spinal) make sure you also address your mindset.
We do this in our clinic and you are more than welcome to contact me for information on our 12 week mindset retraining program called Wellness Mindset Mastery, but most importantly, seek out someone who can address the accumulation of stress in the Nervous system.
The approach that I use gets amazing results every day, and it makes sense why - we reset the Nervous system, which is where the other approaches miss the mark.