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Anxiety and the Mechanics of Action

Looking online, what is most elaborated in articles about anxiety, are how it feels in terms of fear, nervousness, panic etc., the physiological underpinnings of this and the sorts of thoughts that accompany it. One feature of anxiety that can be overlooked is how much it is tied to our anticipations of what is happening or going to happen to us.

Yet, from a Constructivist standpoint, this is exactly where we might best begin to understand it. For it is where our ability to anticipate breaks down, where things are beyond our current understanding, that we experience anxiety in terms of a loss of ease, fear, sometimes to the point of being frozen and unable to act.

In the case of panic attacks, it is sometimes more useful to make sense of what is happening, not so much in terms of our anticipation failing us, but in our anticipation of an imminent threat to our existence. Which highlights one of the puzzling features of panic attacks for people that have them. It is that they often occur when there is no apparent palpable immediate threat – it just feels that way, people react that way.

A simple behavioural change with both anxiety and panic attacks concerns learning to stop and control one’s breathing. Such a change requires a good working knowledge of the mechanics of action, whereby we co-ordinate ourselves in the act of living, which is something that Irvin Yalom, the Existentialist psychotherapist, has noted is often missing from psychotherapy trainings. It is, however, central to the Alexander Technique which teaches pupils about the mechanics of action and how to consciously co-ordinate themselves for any activity or situation, in a way that gives themselves the control to find poise and the ability to cope actively, and creatively with what they are facing. The Alexander Technique excels in this and is a powerful tool in developing the kind of stance on one’s personal history that is one of the best predictors of psychologically overcoming traumatic life events. What is also very much needed, if successful on-going change is to occur at the highest levels, are helpful ways of enquiring into core non-verbal ways anticipating ourselves and events, such as the ABC model, which I blogged about last time.

These core non-verbal ways of anticipating life events are tied to the early habits we develop in order to depend on the people we grow up with. As such they are helpful to us as babies and children. Unrevised they will subvert us, as we will then seek to depend as adults on others, as we did as infants or children, which never ends well. Living continually demands of us that we answer and revise, from the moment we are born to the moment we die, the question of whom we can depend on and for what?

Living consciously allows us to answer that question more easily, as it continually reappears in our lives, revising our constructs, as we grow older in the arc of life. For this to happen we need to accept our anxiety, for what it is, a feature our understanding of our lives, that tells us we are uncertain as to what will happen and happen to us. How we construe that anxiety, the stance we take on it is, what is important from a psychological viewpoint for an active, meaningful and rewarding life. Both practices that I work with, the Alexander Technique and Personal Construct Psychology, PCP, have different strengths that compliment each other in this. The Alexander Technique for its understanding of the mechanics of action and teaching of conscious control in the act of living; PCP as a psychology for living that facilitates the reconstruction that is continually necessary for us to feel alive in the adventure of life and its uncertainties.