Managing Anxiety, Anger, and Shame

What makes us feel anxious, angry, depressed, or humiliated? Once we start feeling those things, is there anything we can do to make ourselves feel better?

Here’s the way it works. Our body has a built in Alarm System. This system exists to protect us when we are in danger. When we feel we are at risk of harm, this system turns on and makes us want to run, fight, or play dead.

If the part that tells us to run is strongest, we feel, anxious. If the part that tells us to fight wins, we feel angry. If the part that tells the body plays dead, we feel depressed or humiliated.

The problem is that very often our Inner Alarm System turns on when we are not really in danger.

The worst time to play dead is when you are talking to someone cute, but that is what happens if your Alarm System takes over. Your mind goes blank and you can’t think of anything to say. The worst time to react as if a bear has just threatened your family is when someone has cut you off on the highway. You know your road rage is going to get you in trouble, but you can’t seem to stop yourself.

What can you do? The good news is that along with our Inner Alarm System, we have an Inner Safe System. You know that mellow feeling you have after a nice hot-tub? That’s what happens when your body believes all is cool. You want to know what it looks like when the Safe System is on? Just watch a purring cat.

The answer to your anxiety, anger, depression, and humiliation is to be able to turn off the Inner Alarm System and to turn on the Safe System.

The problem is, that feels impossible when the sirens and flashing red lights are going off in your head screaming, Danger! Danger! Danger! How do we turn off the Alarm System and send out an all-clear?

The first step is to recognize what is happening. The problem isn’t the danger you think is out there. The problem is that the Inner Alarm System has been tripped, when there really isn’t much of a threat.

You can teach yourself how to recognize that this is happening. The first step is to become aware of the clues or signals that your Inner Alarm System has been turned on. You do this by becoming aware of what is happening in your body and in your thoughts.

Here is how it works. When you feel yourself frozen, terrified, ready to kill, tormented, or mortified, you stop and bring your attention to your body.

You ask yourself, what am I feeling in my body right now? When you figure out what you are feeling in your body, you say to yourself, “When I have this feeling in my body, it is a signal that my Inner Alarm System has been turned on.”

Then you ask yourself, what are the negative thoughts I am having right now? When you figure that out, you say to yourself, “When I have these thoughts, it is a signal my Inner Alarm System has been turned on.”

This can help you recognize that the problem isn’t what you think it is. The solution isn’t getting out of your car on the highway or crawling under a table. The problem is that your Inner Alarm System has been triggered and the solution is turning the alarm off, sounding the all-clear, and turning on the Safe System.

Now how do you turn off the Alarm System and turn on the Safe System? Science proves that you can do this by paying attention to your breathing, imagining something good and safe, feeling your feet on the ground and your body in a chair, and taking a few minutes to release your tense muscles. The more you practice this, the easier and faster you will be able to turn off the alarm bells, and turn on the happy music.

Learning how to turn off the Inner Alarm System and turn on the Safe System can be made much easier with the help of a trusty guide. You can practice this with a good therapist. Or you can get this method on your iPhone or iPod Touch and use it whenever you are afraid, angry, or feeling bad. Just click on the “Shrinky’s Remedies” button below.

Dr. Glenn Berger is a psychotherapist, relationship counselor, business and artist’s coach, and young person’s mentor. He sees patients in New York City, in Mt. Kisco, NY, and around the world by Skype.

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