There is little debate that most anxiety is a symptom of internal cognitive/psychological machinations. That is, we are thinking in a way that is generating the anxiety. We think in both mental pictures and internal dialogue and depending on what we are telling ourselves, and what we are seeing, we may generate irrational anxiety. We often do not hear what we tell ourselves, or see those internal mental images, consciously; but they nevertheless exist as a subconscious process and have tremendous power over our moods and emotions. As an example of just how powerful our mental imagery can be, imagine sucking on a lemon rind. You may find yourself salivating, from nothing more than a mental image, an imagination. Anxiety too is a chemical response produced by imagination. Those imaginative images in our mind may not be true at all, but they nevertheless produce neurochemicals – and anxiety.
Since imagination can produce anxiety, it is reasonable to assume it can also minimize or reduce anxiety. So, the following is an exercise using imagination in a way that may help diminish anxiety responses when they arise. You may need to practice this exercise initially while not anxious to get the hang of it. But, once you are familiar with it, you can do it easily at the onset of anxiety.
Imagine a dial; a large dial with a movable needle pointing to a scale between 10 arcing to the left and 0 arcing to the right. In the middle is 5.0. Imagine increments from 0 beginning with 1 and then 2 and then 3….up to 5. From 5, see the dial’s increments divided even more definitively, such as 5.5 to 6 to 6.5 to 7. From 7 see it with even more divisions such as 7.25, 7.5, 7.75, 8, 8.25, 8.5, and 8.75. And then from 9, it goes 9.1, 9.2, 9.3, and 9.4 up to 10. Imagine this dial in detail with color and texture. You can make the needle and the numbers any color, and any texture, you like. Develop a mental picture of this dial and become very familiar with it. 10 represents very high anxiety/panic levels. 0 represents extreme relaxation and calmness.
At some time when you are most relaxed and comfortable, visualize this dial and note where the needle is pointing. Perhaps it is pointing to 2. This is a calm and relaxed state and the anxiety meter is indicating such. As you see the needle at the 2 level, note what you are feeling in your body. What does this level feel like? Let this feeling flood over you…really FEEL it.
The next time you feel anxious, visualize this dial and note where the needle is pointing. Perhaps it will point to 7.75 on your anxiety meter. Then, because it is YOUR imagination, you can lower the needle to 7.25 and then 7.0 and then 6.5. Each time it lowers a notch, take a deep breath. Slowly, you can bring the meter down to a 5 and maybe even a 4. As the meter gets closer to the 2 level, the calm and relaxed feeling associated with that level will increase, as the anxiety level associated with 7.75, or wherever you may have placed it during an anxiety attack, will decrease.
The key to success with this method is to focus on the dial and seeing it move slowly downwards notch by notch taking a deep inhalation and exhalation of breath with each movement to a lower notch. If the mind is focused on the imagery of the needle moving to lower numbers, it won’t be able to entertain the irrational imagery and internal dialogue generating the anxiety…and the anxiety will diminish, as the needle moves down to lower numbers.
It certainly cannot hurt to give it a try; it is simple, safe, non-medicinal and free.