Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Perhaps your anxiety is telling you something

A blog from our member, Lucy Clyde.

Early on in my training I was told the following apocryphal story …….

A man walks into a doctor’s office with his right arm awkwardly locked, his elbow at a right angle to his body and his hand held up against his neck. After a thorough physical assessment, the doctor prescribes muscle relaxants and suggests hypnosis.

The man duly undergoes hypnosis which successfully frees up the spasmed arm. He then kills himself by cutting his own throat with his now mobile right hand.

It’s a grisly probable myth with multiple versions, but, the point of it (and the reason it was told to me) is to illustrate that sometimes symptoms have a meaning or a purpose of their own. In this case, the man’s rigid arm was his unconscious protection against acting on his desire to end his life.

I was reminded of this story when a friend drew my attention to this article. Is mindfulness making us ill?

Mindfulness is a meditative practice often aimed at lowering anxiety and stress levels. It can be very effective in helping people find ways of stopping their mind racing, repeatedly imagining the worst, and feeling out of control. If you were to go to your GP today reporting high anxiety you might well be handed a leaflet on local mindfulness courses. And you might find such a course very useful indeed.

However, rather like the doomed man with the rigid arm, it might be that your anxiety is telling you something worth listening to.

People who have a history of trauma often exist in a state of hyper-vigilance, which means that they are semi-permanently poised to respond to threat, whether real or perceived. The threat may be long-gone but their bodies have remained in fight-or-flight mode as a means of physical and psychological survival. They are therefore likely to experience high levels of anxiety.

Many people who have a history of trauma fear a more relaxed state as, in removing or reducing their anxiety, they can feel life-threateningly vulnerable. Sometimes anxiety, like the mythical man’s arm, is an unconscious protection against traumatic memories. Asking a traumatised individual to let go of their anxiety has the potential to be re-traumatising as you are asking them to remove the mechanism that they feel is keeping them safe.

I suppose the moral of these stories, apocryphal or not, is that careful, thorough assessment is absolutely essential before any psychological intervention is attempted.