#DreamBig 2018 Round-Up Part 3: Overcoming Performance Anxiety

If you’ve read part 1 and part 2 of this blog series, you’ll already have read of my struggles with anxiety and depression. Not so long ago I found admitting that impossible to do and it’s still not easy to do now. I thought I’d never be free of the affliction and in order to get on with life, would have to learn how to live with it. However, in September 2018 I found a solution which offered me a way to eradicate anxiety from my life for good.

I wrote the following as a Facebook post for World Mental Health Day 2018:

So it’s #WorldMentalHealthDay, apaz. It’s prompted me to give y’all an update on where I’m at in my journey, as I know some of you like to know and check in from time to time (and that’s great, please don’t stop doing this for each other!).

I realised this summer that I’ve been caught in a worsening hamster wheel of anxiety since a rather painful break-up in 2016. That hamster wheel has become a Spiralling Vortex of Doom consuming almost every aspect of my life since.

I have become tired of repeating the same patterns of coping behaviours, which only ever pacify me momentarily and have lead to further health issues. Fed up one day at the beginning of September, an idea floated through my head:

What about hypnotherapy?

I honestly don’t know where this thought came from. My only knowledge of hypnotherapy up until that point had been from TV and film, and I was pretty certain that how it’s portrayed in these places is certifiable BS. Still, I Googled ‘hypnotherapy Derby’ and found a practitioner with a very informative website that explained and helped put my mind at ease as to what the process *actually* involves. Turns out TV and film is, in fact, a load of BS #NoPocketWatchesWereHarmed.

It’s early days. I’ve had 4 sessions now, the first 2 and most of 3 of which were just talking ‘fact finding missions’, as I’ve come to think of them, for the practitioner to get to the root cause of my issues with anxiety. Bit of form filling in and discussion type stuff, and surprisingly to me, he wasn’t interested in the absolute nitty gritties as I had experienced in previous talking therapies.

He spent a lot of time explaining to me how the ‘fight/flight’ brain has come to be rather overactive in modern day life and perceives threats in the most unlikely of places. But yet, the mind and the body still react the same way as if we were being attacked by a tiger. Useful, huh?! No. No of course it isn’t.

So here’s the cascade of what happens when you perceive a threat:

  1. Adrenal glands immediately release adrenaline into the bloodstream to help you escape danger. Amount released depends on size of perceived threat.
  2. For 3 days after a hit of adrenaline, your body produces cortisol which is a maintenance hormone. This keeps you in a state of high alert because you nearly died 1/2/3 days ago and you don’t want to do that again. Here’s the bit I didn’t know: CORTISOL IS THE CAUSE OF NEGATIVE INTERNAL THOUGHTS!
  3. For EACH release of adrenaline, you get 3 days of cortisol. THE DOSES OVERLAP! Chaos.

That devil that sits on my shoulder and whispers voices in my ear – I now know where he lives and I’m determined to evict him!

Unlocking the subconscious

If we can turn the adrenaline off then we can turn cortisol off, which in turn eliminates  negative thoughts, feelings of self hatred and self loathing, oh and thoughts of suicide (yup, had plenty of them but please be aware that thoughts vs actions are very different things).

Sounds great to me! Yes please! My practitioner assures me that through hypnotherapy, locked in patterns of behaviour can be unlocked and rewired by ‘accessing’ the subconscious whilst in a trance state.

A trance state is a length of time where the body is deeply relaxed. In hypnotherapy, a trance state is achieved through the practitioner talking and the client (er, that’d be me) lying back and chilling the F out.

At first I felt incredibly vulnerable and restless, because whilst I am no stranger to vocally guided meditation, I had never been in the same room as the voice before! My practitioner has a very soft Scottish accent which is super soothing. Odd to admit it but I find it rather attractive which is super unhelpful when I’m trying to relax and not feel self conscious!

I’ve only had 1 full length session where I’ve been ‘in trance’ so far. During subsequent sessions, he’ll be helping me to build a ‘tool’ (scrunching toes in my case) that I can use when I feel adrenaline being released. It will remind my body of that relaxed feeling I get when in trance and that there is no need to feel danger or threat.

Unshackled from anxiety

He checks in with clients a year after therapy and his success rate for eliminating anxiety is 98.67% (296/300… YES LATE NIGHT MAFFS). I was super skeptical about his confidence when he told me this during my first session, but I am beginning to see and feel the benefits for myself and as we get to know each other better, I’m beginning to trust him more.

The thought of living without anxiety, for good, is something I stopped wishing for many years ago. After living with it for 12+ years, learning about it and myself with various therapists, and being prescribed various meds along the way, I had come to the conclusion that this was my bag and I had to make of it what I could.

But when he asked me in the last session “what does your life look like without anxiety?” I went from not knowing how to respond to being in floods of tears. I literally can’t tell you how it would feel to live without anxiety because *never* a day goes by where I don’t have to ‘deal’ with it in some way, big or small.

It is tiring. It is tedious. As my practitioner puts it: “It takes the energy of a full time job to manage anxiety. No wonder you’re not able to work towards making your dreams reality when you are constantly exhausted from fighting anxiety and battling (and failing) against the negative onslaught of cortisol.”

So, my journey continues. I’m paying him for the hope of a richer, more fulfilling life and career. Many dreams are on hold and have been for some time because I haven’t been able to believe in myself. Just knowing why that is brings huge relief. Knowing I am not broken and my problem has a solution brings relief.

3 months later

At the beginning of December, after 3 months in therapy, I wrote this update:

I’ve got to a critical point in my hypnotherapy where I’m being asked to challenge ALL the scenarios with which I experience adrenaline/anxiety. This is so I can clear out the Danger Database stored in the ancient fight-flight part of my brain so that it can no longer have a hold over the decisions I make for my life. One of the top offenders is being in crowded public spaces, especially small/narrow/cramped/path-crossing areas.

My fight-flight brain tells me “you’re large, you take up way too much space and you get in people’s way. People will shout obscenities at you of you stand in their way, so nice to the side of the room/space. Find a corner to hide in. You’ll be safe there.”

This is deeply ingrained from childhood years of avoiding shopping centres at peak times, being moved out of the way as a child and therefore as an adult (and a tall one at that) I’ve learned to fold myself away. I do it at house parties too. I like to have contact with a wall or solid barrier of some sort so I know I’m at the periphery of the space. It also means I can see the group I’m with as a whole and feel safer there out of the way, observing conversation, interaction and behaviour.

The thing is, the longer I spend putting huge amounts of effort into staying out of other people’s way so they can get on with their lives, the longer I spend not getting on with mine. I’ve found ways to cope, I avoid places at certain times. But why? Just because I’m anxious. I spent a while thinking “well does avoiding these places it *really* affect my life? I get by in this and can deal with it – I just get tired quickly in busy crowded places” and then thought – why cope when it could just not be a problem at all?

 Taking up space in real life

After therapy today I came to the Intu shopping centre in Derby. I had some bits to do anyway but my therapist said to use it as an excuse to confront and use my anchor on the adrenaline. I had to sit and eat first. Food has always been a comfort. I then sat in the quiet stillness of the Five Guys booth looking out onto the busy concourse wondering how on earth I start to address this. Literally, how do I stand in a crowd.

I had to ring my sister and talk through it with her. I felt insane asking her “so, what do I do? How do I do this?”. After talking all the crazy fight-flight thoughts out with her, I decided I’d just get another milkshake and go home. Try another day. But NO! More food ain’t gonna fix this!

So I said to myself, go and do it – stand in the crowd, take up space, be in the way – and then get another milkshake as a reward. So I did just that and it felt weird and brilliant. I anchored so hard my toes nearly cramped but it was incredibly freeing! Just to stand there in the middle of a concourse with people rushing by, just doing my anchor and going to my ‘happy place’ in my head (the tool I’ve built in trance during therapy).

I moved to the top of the escalator and stood ‘in the way’. People just moved around me. No one cared. I HATE this behaviour in others when I’m trying to get places on foot in public and had assumed EVERYONE did too and would tell you so for standing like a prat in the way. But apparently people just work around it, like ants that come across stranded debris.

It got easier the more I did it

I grabbed my milkshake reward, hopped on the down escalator and tried it again at the bottom where there were lots of crossing paths. Wow. No complaints and it was getting easier for me to do.

I walked to a narrowed part of the concourse outside a busy coffee shop. I was in much closer proximity to the walls, I felt like I was a huge obstruction. But people still went around me, no pushing or shoving or any words spoken.

I had to ring my therapist and my sister to tell them of my success! What an utterly new EXCITING experience, for something that many people don’t think twice about.

I realised I’ve taken up space and gotten in the way a lot in my life when I’m out with Morris, or have an instrument strapped to me or I’m on stage performing. But they’re all masks that I wear and jobs that I do. When I’m just being ‘me’, a lot of that stuff is not anywhere near my comfort zone. But maybe the tides are changing after my work today.

Here’s to taking up more space and getting in people’s way a lot more! 😁

Sweeping anxiety out the door

I’m currently set with the task of working through the entire Danger Database of anxiety inducing scenarios one at a time. We’ve gone through everything in trance, where my imagination is stimulated to recreate anxiety inducing moments that I can practice my anchor on. But the only way to prove to my fight/flight brain that these things are no longer a threat is to create the anxiety in real life and anchor.

My list includes:

  • Meeting up with the ex
  • Holding a spider
  • Being at height
  • Performing solo
  • Taking up space/being in crowds
  • Doing something wrong
  • Holding up traffic, getting flashed/honked at by driver behind
  • Doing new things for first time
  • Being late
  • Borrowing money/admitting to being skint
  • Feeling like I’m being a burden/wasting someone’s time/imposing myself

Many of these things can be combined into challenges which I have set up across January. It’s daunting but I cannot finish the hypnotherapy process without doing this bit. And hell! I’ve spent far too much money up until this point to quit now! Whilst the lead up to working through these scenarios in real life is super stressful, I’m so ready to see what my life looks like without anxiety. Here’s to #DreamBigger for 2019!

I hope you found this post of interest. Perhaps you have a story about a personal experience with hypnotherapy? Please share in the comments if you would like to

Wanting to find accredited professional therapists near you? This website for the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) was recommended to me a number of years ago and has always brought great results: