Don’t let anxiety take control of your life with Paul McKenna’s techniques

GP says uncertainty is ‘killing people’ from Covid and mental health

If I could give people just one ability from everything I’ve learnt, it would be to switch off anxiety and go into a state of instant calm at will. That’s because one of the greatest problems facing the world today is too much stress and worry. There is a psychological pandemic following the emergence of Covid-19, yet most people don’t have the skills to deal with these feelings. Two chaotic years of lockdowns and disruption followed by economic turbulence, uncertainty and the horror of war in Ukraine have led to anxiety becoming the background theme to all our lives.

Millions of people have trained their brains to get good at quickly going to worst-case scenarios.

With this tsunami of worry has come all of the physical and psychological effects you would expect to see associated with it – including depression, insomnia, bad or low mood, and mental blocks to people fulfilling their potential.

Anxiety, fear, panic, stress and worry are all part of the protection mechanism that keeps us safe. I use these words interchangeably as each is a product of the fight-or-flight response we inherited from our ancestors.

An ancient part of the brain called the amygdala is where we process feelings of threat and fear – it’s like your brain’s ever-vigilant security guard. When it notices threats, or even potential threats, to yourself or your ego, it is triggered into action.

When that happens, we produce a massive amount of lactic acid and adrenaline, blood is pumped to the limbs, the digestive system is halted and the immune system is affected so you can put everything you have got into either fighting or fleeing.

Such anxiety is exhausting. If you are constantly in a state of high alert and dread you will eventually overreact to everything and ultimately you will make mistakes, bad decisions and it can even lead to burnout. It also means you never get to really enjoy life.

If you think of yourself as an anxious person, I want to tell you something really important: You are not bad or broken. You have just picked up a few unwanted habits in your thinking and behaviour and everyone in the world has done that at some time.

Paul McKenna talks about his new book

Let Paul McKenna, left, calm you down (Image: Handout/Dominic Lipinski/PA – Picture posed by model)

One of the problems anxious people have is that they can’t imagine life without worry and even the thought of reducing it means letting their guard down – leading them to get more anxious!

When people are stuck in this state of mind, they go round and round in ever-decreasing circles until they are emotionally spent. That’s because the unconscious mind is not logical, it’s purposeful, and its purpose is survival.

Everyone experiences anxiety at some point. However, people who consider they are “an anxious person” have made it a part of their identity. The NHS describes anxiety as a “feeling of unease, such as worry or fear that can be mild or severe”.

From the moment they wake up, anxious people overthink, worry about problems (both big and small), imagine scenarios that could occur, and they run them over and over in their minds until they become catastrophes.

Fifty percent of the reasons why people go to their doctor are stress related, or can usually be traced back to it in some way.

So, as the first step, I’d like to make a distinction. Concern, preparation, anticipating potential problems and heading them off at the pass are functional ways of thinking and acting. Anxiety is different.

If you worry from the moment you wake up and can’t relax because you believe that if you do, somehow you will miss something and it feels like the end of the world, or if you can’t switch off, then you are suffering from anxiety.

If you’re continually running catastrophic movies in your mind, or have a constant feeling of foreboding and a knot in the pit of your stomach, if even when things are going fine you still worry, because you tell yourself it won’t last and catastrophe might be just around the corner, then that’s real anxiety too.

The good news is the answer to the problem really is very simple – and I’m going to show you step by step how to reduce your anxiety and have a calmer, more confident life.

Together, we’re going to re-programme your mind, just like a computer.

You may find that after the very first technique, you’ll start to feel better, but don’t worry if not, as each technique builds on the one before.

So, whether you start to notice positive changes straight away, or whether it takes you a few techniques, changes will happen at the appropriate speed for you. While the techniques are individually effective, when you stack them together you can experience cumulative benefits. They will help you to reach an optimum state of mind, where you can see opportunities everywhere, be resilient and optimistic.

Remember, it’s fine to be sceptical – I’m a sceptical person, I like to test things and try them out before I decide how well they work – and many of the techniques in this book were once considered “alternative” but are now becoming a part of the mainstream.

Today, I want to show you how to achieve immediate relief from anxiety, using deceptively simple but stunningly effective Psycho-Sensory and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) exercises. where touch and visualisation transform the way that you feel.

Man sitting on a sofa and feeling anxious

Together, we’re going to re-programme your mind, just like a computer, says Paul McKenna (Image: Getty)

The Freeze Frame technique

Read through this technique several times and practise the whole sequence as many times as you wish until you know you have memorised it well enough that it is almost automatic when you actually need to use it. First of all, check how your anxiety level is on a scale of one to 10.

  1. Become aware that you are experiencing a stressful feeling in your body or that your mind is racing.
  2. Put your hand on your heart and focus your energy on this area. Take at least three slow and gentle breaths into your heart, maintaining your focus on the feeling of your hand in the centre of your chest.
  3. Now, recall a time when you felt really, really good – a time you felt love, joy or real happiness! Return to that memory as if you are back there again right now. See what you saw, hear what you heard, and feel how good you felt.
  4. As you feel this good feeling in your body, imagine your heart could speak to you. Ask your heart how you could take better care of yourself in this moment and in this situation.
  5. Listen to what your heart says in answer and act on it as soon as you can.

While Freeze Frame is super quick, Thought Field Therapy – or “Tapping”, as it is more widely known – is more sophisticated and is part of a family of psycho-sensory therapies.

For many people, this technique is their “go-to” when they are feeling anxious or panicked due to a specific problem. It takes a bit of practice to learn the sequence but research irrefutably shows it works incredibly well on tackling anxiety.

WHY YOU CAN CONTROL THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS

Most of us don’t realise just how much control we can have over our thoughts and feelings, as we are not taught this at school. We are taught what to think, not how to think. The mind and body are linked in a cybernetic loop – in other words, one is always influencing the other. If you have stressful thoughts about catastrophes, that will alter your body chemistry and, in turn, change your physiology so your muscles will tense up. In contrast, when you have relaxing thoughts and say, think about going on holiday or remember a time when you were on the beach or by a pool, that also changes your feelings and body chemistry and it relaxes your physiology.

Research also shows that nearly half of what people do every day is just a habit. And some of that is really good – for instance, you don’t have to think: “Shall I tie my shoelaces?” or “Shall I get dressed?” – we just do it habitually. However, a lot of people also spend their lives living in hope that calm feelings will just magically show up!

Scientific studies have shown that when we use the tapping technique in TFT we reduce stress chemicals in our body and produce states of relaxation and calm. We also change the way our brain processes thoughts and feelings. The effect of tapping in the specific sequence I will share with you is to reset the way that your brain interprets and responds to stress, thereby altering your internal brain structure.

Tapping or TFT

Before you start, just notice how much stress you feel. I’d like you to rate your stress on a scale of one to 10, with one being the lowest and 10 being the highest.

This is important because in a moment we want to know how much you’ve reduced it.

  1. Now, take two fingers of either hand and tap about 10 times on the following points on your body, while you continue to concentrate on the unhappy feeling:
  2. Tap the side of your hand (the karate chop point).
  3. Tap on the index finger of the same hand.
  4. Tap under the nose.
  5. Tap on the front of your chin.
  6. Tap on the opposite index finger.
  7. Tap the side of your hand (the karate chop point).
  8. Tap below your eye.
  9. Tap your collarbone.
  10. Tap below your eye again.
  11. Tap your collarbone again.
  12. Place your hand in front of you and tap on the back of it between your ring finger and your little finger.

Freedom From Anxiety by Paul McKenna is out now

Freedom From Anxiety by Paul McKenna is out now (Image: )

Now continue to think about the unhappy feeling as you do this and each of the steps that follow:

  1. Close your eyes and open them.
  2. Keeping your head still, keep tapping between your ring finger and little finger and look down to the right, then down to the left.
  3. Keep tapping and rotate your eyes around 360 degrees clockwise, and now 360 degrees anti-clockwise (unless you suffer from motion sickness, in which case, skip this bit).
  4. Now hum the first few lines of “Happy Birthday” out loud.
  5. Count out loud from one to five.
  6. Once again hum the first few lines of “Happy Birthday” out loud.

Stop and check – on a scale from one to 10, what number is the unhappy feeling at now? If hardly any of the unwanted feelings are there, congratulations. If it has not reduced enough yet, just repeat the tapping sequence until it does.

  • Adapted by Matt Nixson from Freedom From Anxiety by Paul McKenna (Welbeck, £14.99). Visit expressbookshop.com

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