Here is a relatively simple method you can do which may be effective in helping you overcome anxiety, panic or a phobia. Let’s take as an example a fear of…..swimming. Let’s say as a child you had some negative experiences while learning to swim. Perhaps you were thrown into the deep end before you really knew fully how to swim; or, perhaps you went running into the pool without your inner tube around your waist and soon found yourself, even in the shallow end, mildly terrorized as you realized you didn’t have your inner tube. There could be any number of experiences that would have generated intense emotions of stress, anxiety, fear and terror. Now, despite the fact that you are an adult, and might even be able to swim, you still have strong negative emotions about being in or near a swimming pool which subtracts from your enjoyment about being around a pool with friends. How can you overcome this?
First, you need to understand that the anxiety and fear is based on association. You see the swimming pool, or get near it, and that associates in your mind with the intense negative emotion of your childhood experiences. It may not be rational, but these associations are lodged in the subconscious mind which is not rational. It is, however, creative –and literal — meaning what you imagine in the mind is taken as real. For example, if you imagine sucking on a lemon rind, you may begin to salivate, even though the lemon rind is only imaginary. Internal images can and do affect the body. Anxiety and fear are chemical bodily responses based on mental images. So, the trick is to replace negative mental images and associated physical responses with positive ones….And, here’s a way you can do it yourself.
First, you need to find three items. The first item is a small rock, any old, plain rock, but it needs to fit easily within the palm of your hand. The second item is a similar rock, but it needs to be a nice rock, a beautiful rock, and also needs to fit easily in the palm of your hand. The third item is a necklace with a pendant that you really like, one that is not only beautiful to you, but something you would like to wear. This also needs to fit into the palm of your hand.
Once you have these items, you can begin the second step. For this step, you need to create the proper environment. It needs to be calm and quiet, peaceful and serene. A place you will not be interrupted. You can do this exercise sitting down, however your arms and palms need to be resting on an armrest. You can also do this laying down, flat on your back with your arms along your sides. Whether you are sitting or laying down, you need to be comfortable.
To start this exercise, you are going to place the plain rock next to your left hand and the nice rock and the necklace/pendant next to your right hand (unless you are left handed, in which case the items are reversed). You’re now going to pick up the nice rock and the necklace/pendant with your right hand and hold it in your right palm making a loose fist to cover it up. Now you are going to close your eyes, take a deep breath and call upon memories, both visually and emotionally, of any situations from your recent or historical past in which you felt courage, strength, happiness, joy, power, control, success….any positive experience. Magnify these positive images and emotions. Relish in them. As you have those images and feelings, lightly squeeze your right palm around the nice rock and necklace/pendant. As you experiences these images and emotions, feel the rock and the necklace/pendant in your right hand. You want to associate positive images and emotions with feeling the rock and necklace/pendant in your right hand. Do this for several minutes really building up the positive images and feelings and simultaneously squeezing the rock necklace/pendant in your right hand. Then, after several minutes of this, open your palm and place the nice rock and necklace/pendant aside. Take a deep inhalation and a full exhalation.
Then, pick up the plain rock in your left hand and allow yourself to remember both visually and emotionally, the situation which has been evoking a panic, anxiety or phobic response. As you have those images and feelings, lightly squeeze the plain rock in your left hand. You want to associate the visual images and emotions of the anxiety/panic/phobic response to feeling the rock in your left hand. If you find the emotions become too intense, place the plain rock aside, take a deep breath and pick up the nice rock and necklace/pendant in your right hand and do that side of the exercise again for a few minutes. Then, put that aside and go back to the left hand side. If you can tolerate the images and emotions of the anxiety/panic/phobic response, then continue feeling it and simultaneously squeezing the plain rock in your left hand. Do this for several minutes. Then, put the plain rock aside. Take a deep inhalation and a full exhalation.
You have completed the exercise, but will be doing it again. So, you need to store the rocks and the necklace/pendant. Pick up the plain rock with your left hand and the nice rock and necklace/pendant in your right hand. Place them each separately in a convenient place, preferably hidden from others. When you do this exercise again the following day, you will get the plain rock from its storage place with your left hand and the nice rock and necklace/pendant from its storage place with your right hand. You will then get comfortable, place both rocks and the necklace pendant by your hands as before. You will close your eyes and start with one deep inhalation and a full exhalation. Then, you will pick up the nice rock and the necklace/pendant with your right hand and begin the process described above. After no more than 5 minutes, you will put it aside, take a deep breath, and pick up the plain rock with your left hand and begin the process described above for that side. When finished, you will “close up” the session as described above.
For about a week, do this simple exercise at least once a day and preferably twice a day. A good time is in the morning before the daily routine begins and near bedtime at night. However, it could be done anytime as long as you are calm, relaxed and in a quiet uninterrupted environment.
At the end of the week, you are going to begin the process just as you have done, but this time, as you begin, you are going to pick up the plain rock in your left hand and the nice rock with your right hand at the same time (leave the necklace/pendant by itself beside your hand) and you are going to bring your hands together and switch rocks. You are going to place the plain rock from your left hand into your right palm covered by a loose fist and the nice rock from your right hand into your left palm covered by a loose fist. This can be done simultaneously by simply bringing your hands together and switching rocks. Then, put your hands back down to your side loosely covering the rocks with a fist and take one deep inhalation and a full exhalation as you squeeze both fists tightly at the same time feeling the rocks in your palms. You are then going to bring your hands together and hold both rocks together in your clasped palms and allow the rocks to mingle and move around together inside your palms for a moment. Then you are going to bring your conjoined hands with the rocks inside to your chest and hold your hands with the rocks inside upon your chest and take three deep inhalations and three full exhalations.
Then, while still holding both rocks in your clasped hands, you are going to open your eyes, get up, take the rocks outside and drop them on the ground, together, preferably somewhere you will not see them again Then, you are going back inside, pick up the necklace/pendant with your right hand and put it in its storage place. The next time you go to a swimming pool…or whatever environment causes you an anxiety, panic or phobic response, wear the necklace/pendant. If while at the environment and wearing the necklace/pendant you start to feel anxiety or panic, touch the pendant with your left hand.
Give it a try….it certainly cannot hurt and you may even find that your intense unpleasant conditioned reaction to a stimulus is much less intense and much less unpleasant. In fact, you may find you simply have no abnormal reaction at all.