Many people are struggling to feel safe in the world today. Threats and dangers seem to be all around and this perception can be very damaging to our mental health. Mainstream and social media play on our anxiety making it worse. It is hard to access a feeling of being safe in the world. There is no doubt that the world is in turbulent times. Dangers exist, but going through every day with a sense of immediate threat is unnecessary, makes us miserable and is harmful to our health.
When you suffer from anxiety your internal system is always set to high alert and pretty much everything is experienced as a potential threat. You anticipate the worst as though this will protect you. In contrast when you have an internal feeling of safety you have a realistic view of threat plus the confidence that you can meet challenges when they arise. This clears your perception you so that you can see the positive as well as the negative in everything and allows you to enjoy what life has to offer, whatever the situation.
From research in neuropsychology we know that with practice we can train our minds to form new mental habits. Essentially what you need to do is deprive the neural pathways that run the old story of fear and anxiety, and consciously choose a new story of safety. You can literally rewire your brain. Here’s how.
1. Think about this. Right here right now you are safe. Almost every moment of your life this is true. Dropping your attention into the present moment is your ever-present portal to feeling safe.
2. Anchor your attention in the breath and the body. This helps you to stay present to the moment and reinforces that you are here now, breathing and safe. Deepen your breathing and relax your body with each out breath.
3. When you are comfortable, warm and relaxed focus on a feeling of safety. Feel safe deep in your being. Relax and repeat the thought ‘I am safe’ over and over again. Notice if your body and mind starts to give up a little anxiety and then grabs it back again. That is normal. Keep breathing, relaxing and repeating ‘I am safe’.
4. If at some point you feel safe enough and ready, try to remember when you first started feeling scared and anxious. What happened? How did it feel? What did it make you think? Stay anchored in the breath and body and only do this if you feel able and ready. Take it slow and easy. Just pay attention without blaming yourself for what is a perfectly normal human reaction. Do you have a different perspective now than you did then?
5. Whatever it was that started your anxiety, whether you can remember it or not, try to place it back in the past where it belongs. There may be many events in your life that have been frightening. They are all in your past. Allowing them to keep you scared means that you are holding onto them. You are giving them power over your life so do your best to let them go. Come back to the here and now.
6. When fear takes over your mind it can start to think quite irrationally. You might blame yourself for events that were in reality out of your control. You might believe that you are defective somehow and that you are liable to cause events to repeat. You are taking too much responsibility. It was not your fault. You are not to blame. You will not cause history to repeat itself. Let your mistakes fade as you forgive yourself.
7. Get a reality check on your safety here and now. Are you safe in your room and in your home? Are you safe on your street and in your town? Are you safe in your relationships in person and online? Are there times of day when you are safe outside and times when you may not be. Instead of news stories with their shock headlines, do your best to understand the statistics. For example, did you know that to date fewer than 1% of people in the UK have contracted Covid-19 and 99% of these have recovered? You must of course follow the guidelines but don’t be terrified by the headlines. Talk all this through with a trusted friend or family member with the aim of getting an objective assessment of the level of safety in your day to day life.
8. Be brave and push through your boundaries. When you suffer from anxiety you tend to make your comfort zone quite small because ‘out there’ is scary. The only way to break through your anxiety is to break through your comfort zone. Do this in a measured but determined way. Take on small challenges first. Get support. Celebrate your successes however small you think they may be. Keep going. This is you stepping into being brave.
9. Change how you see yourself. When you describe yourself inwardly and outwardly as an anxious person you are holding onto a description that reinforces how you feel about yourself. When you carry an image of yourself as defective and broken you are recreating this feeling day by day. As you nurture your inner sense of safety, when you focus on how you carry within you a sure sense of calm stability, you will become secure and confident.
10. Enjoy your newfound freedom. Bit by bit as you practice feeling safe and the grip of anxiety starts to loosen, you will find new life starts to emerge. New interests, new people, new activities will have room in your life when you want to allow them in. At last you get to choose how you want to live your life.