Soften and Release the Symptoms of Anxiety & Feel Better
‘I met Spike for my anxiety problems. I appreciated her emphasis on building the feeling of safety and stability alongside the tension release. It struck me straight in the middle of the first session: I suddenly felt safe! It was so important not to focus only on the trauma release but also on building new, safe ways.’ – Helena B
‘I had one session with Spike after a period of bad insomnia and have slept really well ever since! It was so nice to feel so supported, and it also helped to soothe my anxiety too. Highly recommended.’ – E Vallerini, Hastings
Pretty much everyone feels worried or anxious at some time or another. And for many of us, there’s an ongoing background of nagging anxiety that’s hard to shift. This is natural, common and understandable.
Learning how to feel safer in your body, more grounded, stable and content, is an essential element of my approach to anxiety and other forms of discomfort and distress. I will offer you simple, pleasurable practices that will build resources and give you ways to stay calm and connected even through the toughest times. You can either choose the method you’d most like to experience, or I can tailor an approach to suit you.
Key Methods for working with Anxiety
My key methods for working with anxiety are listed below. These are some of the ingredients we can explore together to help re-set your physiology, build resilience and find resources that are a great antidote to anxiety and stress in general:
Tension release exercise (TRE®):
TRE is a fabulous tool for re-setting your nervous system, and something that can be learnt and then practised on your own, wherever and whenever you want. TRE safely activates a natural reflex mechanism of shaking or vibrating that releases muscular tension, calming down your nervous system. When this muscular shaking/vibrating mechanism is activated in a safe and controlled environment, your body is encouraged to return back to a state of balance. People generally report feeling calmer and more content when they practise this process.
Embodiment and grounding:
Learning to feel safe, grounded and connected in your environment is a great tool to dial down anxiety. We can find your ‘anchors’ and work on simple, embodied ways for you to practise the skill of feeling fully present and grounded wherever you are, and whatever the situation. It really is possible to learn to feel safer and more comfortable in your body and in your life.
‘Exceptional moments’ – Positive Neuroplasticity:
No-one is anxious for every waking second. There will be times, perhaps fleeting, unnoticed or forgotten at first, when your attention is fully diverted and engaged in something safer and more pleasant for you, and your system stops sending the ‘danger’ alarm. I will work with you to identify – or learn how to create – these moments of safety, and teach you how to enrich and absorb the beneficial sensations for ongoing consolidation in implicit memory, and, over time, for effortless long term recall.
I’m a qualified nutritionist so, if you like, we can discuss what you like to eat and drink, and how you can add in foods that are good for your microbiome – the healthy mix of gut ‘fauna and flora’ that contribute to health and good mood. You may be surprised at what a difference just a few simple nutritional changes can make.
Mindful movement and slow orientation:
Paying attention to safe, pleasing signals in your environment and your body are great for increasing parasympathetic (rest and digest) activity and dialling down anxiety. Movement includes everything from breathing, blinking, blood flow and digestion through to athletic activity. We can work on your simple movement and orientation repertoire to give you more tools to soften distressing signals and feel more sense of ease, aliveness and vitality.
Together we can explore how your brain is currently mapping your body, and how to refresh the signals to create a richer, more nuanced and ultimately healthier and happier experience of yourself.
But experiencing frequent bouts of worry, fear, or at worst a sense of catastrophic threat is unhelpful and draining on many levels. It can feel as though you’re stuck in ‘danger mode’, with alarm bells going off mentally, physically and emotionally.
‘Happiness is a skill as much as it’s something that just happens to you.’ Stacy Bare, Iraq Veteran
Primitive brain parts can become too good at predicting danger, so they activate at even the smallest trigger. The oldest part of the brain is called the brain stem. It’s sometimes called the ‘reptilian’ part of the brain. Think of a panicky, anxious lizard: at the first sign of trouble it either freezes stock still, or it scuttles away into a dark hiding place. This is a primitive avoidance reflex we humans have inherited, which can take time and regular effort to change. A lizard would find it difficult to learn any other way to respond!
The least evolved parts of our brain don’t verbalise or rationalise, so simply thinking positively – ‘I’m fine, no really, I’m fine’ – is unlikely to work. If we feel threatened enough we’ll react super fast with a rush of activation. Or we’ll freeze, or collapse into numbness and exhaustion. Just like a terrified critter.
‘Now…there’s a respect for the power of the body in conveying sensory information to the brain and literally tilting or distorting our perspective on the world.’ – Dr Stephen Porges
So what can we do?
To begin with, simply appreciating that anxiety is your brain’s valiant attempt to protect you may well help a little.
It’s also worth recognising that we’re really good at learning from bad experiences: in fact we over-learn from them, we register them deeply and hold onto them in ‘implicit memory’. We’re not very good at all at learning from positive experiences, or benefiting from them in lasting ways. So we have to train ourselves to let go of the anxious conditioning and replace it with more beneficial perceptions. It can take skill and regular practice to really embed good news in your system, but it can be done.
We’re multi-faceted, complex individuals with our own unique biological make-up, life experiences and personalities, which means different things will work for different people. Creative, multi-faceted approaches to the problem of anxiety are more likely to have success than a single ‘one size fits all’ approach. Many things may work for you some of the time; one or two may work almost all of the time. Together we can work out your perfect fit.
‘You’re not going to get anywhere if you think there’s going to be the brain region or the hormone or the gene or the childhood experience or the evolutionary mechanism that explains everything. Instead, every bit of behaviour has multiple levels of causality.’ – Prof. Robert Sapolsky, 2017
Creating ‘Safety Signals’ in your Mind and Body – Two light-hearted approaches
What’s Your Silliest Moment?
Why be playful in how we move and behave? Because playfulness increases our ability to learn by increasing our ability to create and strengthen neural connections. Some trauma experts (including Dr Peter Levine) also assert that playing uses the same pathways as trauma, so you can’t experience both at the same time.
This certainly rings true for me. The single most powerful thing I learned to do during a period of extreme, persistent anxiety was to make myself get up, do a silly dance, and sing ‘Knees up Mother Brown’! I did this every single time I got panicky and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, because my trauma pathways were screaming at me to stay silent and freeze. It was also astonishingly effective. My fear subsided more and more completely each time I did my song and dance routine, until I’d largely de-conditioned my overactive anxiety reflex.
To put it another way, the most primitive reflex parts of my brain wanted to immobilise me so that I wouldn’t get eaten by a bear, but I used my fine new intelligent brain parts to send a multimodal message back: I had a knees-up going on and I wasn’t going to leave the party for anyone, least of all a big, hairy, non-existent bear.
Laugh for ‘Las Vagus’
Laughter releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. It brings the parasympathetic nervous system into dominance, and increases ‘vagal tone’. The vagus nerve is part of our parasympathetic (responsive) system, and its activity is fundamental to our sense of safety and our emotional adaptability. I trained as a ‘Laughter Yoga Leader’ because laughing made me feel so much better.
Whenever you feel relaxed, happy or content, try noticing how it feels in your body and your emotions. Notice what your face and voice are doing when you’re enjoying yourself, maybe even exaggerate it a bit. Or notice other people being playful and imagine what it must feel like. If acknowledging happiness triggers sad thoughts, let them be. Life is bittersweet, and it’s natural for that to happen. Then, if you can, let the sadness go and return to the more beneficial feelings. I will teach you how to use the more positive experience to soften and disrupt the less useful ones. This is a key part of self-directed positive neuroplasticity – an approach well grounded in neuroscience, and which can start to bring results with just a couple of weeks of regular, small amounts of practice.
‘If I can get the feeling of safety and trust, which I can even get from a memory, I can down-regulate my mobilisation fight-flight or my shutting down responses.’ Dr Stephen Porges
‘With skill, practice and the right context we can reset the primitive parts of the brain…and learn to reframe sensations and be free to respond differently.’ Steve Haines