Anxiety and stress are designed to keep us safe. But despite our best efforts, anxiety and stress can drive unhelpful behaviour patterns leading to unintended consequences.
The tale of the Anxious Wren.
Somewhere in our garden, a bird was shouting its distress. A loud tic…tic…tic. Over and over. It wasn’t until later in the day that we realised the bird was still calling. Over and over. It just didn’t stop shrilling its unhappiness.
It wasn’t just our garden that displeased it. It shouted from the gardens around us as well. It was beginning to get on my nerves, to be honest. It just went on and on. All day. It was one of those repetitive noises that once you notice it, keeps drilling into your brain….tic…tic…tic.
Thankfully it stopped at night. We still hadn’t seen which bird was shouting – it was keeping itself hidden, despite us having a good look around.
It came back the next day.
Frankly, I was surprised when I saw it. It was tiny. A wren. Probably the smallest bird we ever see. And it was not happy. It sang that distress call all day. Again. This time it was much more visible. It sat on top of fences and at the end of branches shouting loudly for the whole world to hear how agitated it was. On and on.
It’s been quiet today. I can’t help but wonder if something took advantage of the opportunity for a feathery snack.
I’ve been thinking about why a normally shy and reclusive bird felt the need to change its behaviour and throw its usually cautious nature to the wind, quite possibly singing itself to its death.
It’s just speculation but our neighbours across the road have just begun building a large extension and perhaps this has proved too disruptive, throwing confusion into a normally quiet spot.
Whatever the reason this habitually shy and quiet bird felt compelled to shout and shout and shout in full view of anything and everything.
As is my way in these posts, there’s an analogy to be drawn. Behaviour is there for a purpose and in normal circumstances, that behaviour serves a positive purpose. It’s designed to take us towards good things and away from bad ones.
Sometimes the situation that turns up is so unlike anything that’s happened before that the most appropriate behaviour misfires. Like the unfortunate wren, a response which signals alarm in normal circumstances just doesn’t do the job and is repeated again and again. If at first you don’t succeed, do it louder and longer.
A moment of panic hits you with adrenaline and puts you on alert to deal with an unusual situation. But if that alert was triggered by something innocuous, then there’s nothing to deal with. Occasionally the mind misinterprets this as meaning that the danger hasn’t yet gone, so instead of allowing the alert to pass it turns it up even higher. If this state of alarm isn’t enough to resolve the unknown threat then a louder alarm is the solution. The adrenaline hit becomes a panic attack. Your unconscious mind registers where it was for this state of alarm and looks for the danger again. And again.
This is where unwanted behaviours can emerge. Despite our best conscious efforts, we say and do things we regret later. We get angry and shout; we freeze and say nothing; we panic, we stutter, we talk ourselves out of the gym and into coffee and cake. We even do this whilst consciously trying to force ourselves to do the opposite. In a fight between conscious and unconscious, the unconscious wins almost every time.
Like that wren, the behaviour takes over and we can’t do much about it until the unconsciously perceived threat has passed.
But there is a way…
By working with your unconscious mind, you can uncover what it perceives as a threat, matching a current issue against an earlier event, (usually from childhood). Cognitive Hypnotherapy is adept at uncovering these apparent pattern matches and allowing you to reframe the meaning. The threat either dissolves into nothing or begins to work in your favour.
Your unconscious mind has the chance to de-link sweet foods with parental rewards for being a good boy or girl. Your manager no longer raises echoes of a telling off from your Dad or your teacher for not trying hard enough.
Once the pattern-match has gone you react to things as they are, not for what they used to mean in your past.
With Cognitive Hypnotherapy you can have your cake.
What happens from there is up to you.
If unhelpful behaviour patterns are repeating themselves in your life and you’d like some help, feel free to get in touch.