Have you ever seen a child throw a temper tantrum? One minute things appear well and the next they begin to whine. The child may start to get frustrated, angry, or upset and then begin to cry, scream and even kick.
This tantrum can last for seconds to several minutes and can stem from a number of reasons.
They may be hungry or maybe grew tired of their toy. Maybe they want to watch a movie or possibly take a nap. Or maybe they decided the blue gloves aren’t as good as the red ones.
Either way, the child begins to scream and cry louder and begins to kick or collapse to the ground. All in an attempt to control what they are feeling.
Now if you have ever been in this situation, or seen one unfolding in the grocery store, you know that attempting to force the child to “calm down” rarely works. In fact, the tantrum often persists and may even get worse.
In this situation, the child is being faced with an unknown situation. It is very likely that they have no idea how to handle it. They feel hunger pangs, they feel tired, they don’t think the blue glove will work as well. They begin to experience feelings and sensations that they are unsure what to do with. Being calm is one of the most difficult things for them to do.
The Root of Anxiety
The reason being, at the root of this tantrum, is fear. In this state, their Nervous System is in a high state of arousal. Being calm will require a series of steps to bring their Nervous System out of fight or flight which most kids at that age don’t know how to do.
But, if you are a parent, or have ever been around young kids, you may know a trick that could end the tantrum very quickly. What happens if you offer the child something they enjoy? Or, suggest something NEW and FUN?
The child’s mood will shift from a state of FEAR to EXCITEMENT, instantly! The reason for this is, anxiety/fear and excitement are all high states of arousal for the Nervous System. There is not as much that needs to change to go from one emotion to the other.
Once they are out of that fearful state, they begin to focus on all the things they will enjoy about this fun, new, and exciting experience. Over the course of several minutes, they begin to fully enter into a calm state.
We can use this same approach as well. When we are feeling anxious, trying to “calm down” can often lead to more stress and more anxiety.
Rather, the fastest way to shift our state is to begin to focus on something EXCITING.
When we are anxious our Nervous System is in a high state of arousal AND is focused on something negative. Moving to a calm state requires us to focus on something positive AND move to a low arousal state. This could take several minutes, hours, or even days depending on the circumstances.
Transitioning to a state of excitement only requires us to begin focusing on something new and positive. In fact, you don’t always even need to focus on anything, in particular, you can just say “I’M EXCITED!”
Since you are already in a high arousal state, your Nervous System has a much easier time transitioning out of a state of anxiety. Continuing to focus on something exciting allows your Nervous System to start to come down and begin the physiologic processes to bring you back into a parasympathetic state.
You then begin to think clearer, breathe slower, process stress, and take action to fully move you out of your anxious state. Just by offering up something new and exciting.
Our Nervous System is designed to protect us and keep us safe and it does a very good job of it. But, at times this protection can prevent us from living the life we desire if we are unable to switch out of it.
Using what we know about Neuroscience and Neural Integration, we can help teach our Nervous System to begin to work with us to help lead us to live an Optimal Life!
Exercise to Try
- Take several deep breaths through your nose and out your mouth. Inhaling for 4 seconds. Hold at the top for 5, and breathe out for 6 seconds. Repeat 4-6 times.
- Recognize you are suffering from anxiety and your Nervous System is in a high state of arousal.
- Shift your focus to something exciting. This can be related to what you are anxious about or something unrelated. If at the moment you can’t think of anything, simply repeat “I’m excited! I’m excited!”
- Write down one action step that can help lead you out of anxiety and toward your desired outcome and ideal life!
Remember from last week’s email, there is no place to get to, you are already where you need to be. Breathe and take the next step!