|Recipe for Confronting Anxiety Soup
© 1997 Michele Toomey, PhD
Anxiety is, by its very nature, an intimidating state because our system is out of control when anxiety strikes, ambushing us in much the same way as it does in an epileptic seizure. Seemingly unprovoked and without our knowledge or consent, our brain sends our body a message that it is in great danger. Our body automatically reacts to this hidden trigger with a rush of adrenalin so forceful that we experience any or all of the symptoms of being trapped and endangered: thundering heart palpitations, chest pains, shortness of breath and hyperventilation, flushed face, and sweaty palms. When we find no external signs of danger we frantically look at ourselves and at our bodies, fearing we are going to die, that we are having a heart attack and need a doctor. Nothing else makes any sense.
A "panic attack" is just that, panic that attacks, ambushing us without warning and sending false alarms throughout our system of some non-existent life-threatening danger. Terror is the natural and appropriate response to this alarming message. Flight is the desired solution, but what only increases the level of our anxiety is the terrible fact that the enemy is within and we cannot flee our own brain and our own body. We are trapped in our terrorized state. Is it any wonder that anxiety leads to claustrophobia and agoraphobia?
A damaging side effect of anxiety attacks is the public exposure it brings. No one else is experiencing fear or even aware of anything to fear. We are a public spectacle of imagined danger. There is no status in that, at worst only pity or ridicule and at best only concern for us or worry to the point of wanting to get us help. The embarrassment of being so exposed in our unexplainable terror is yet another source of intimidation by anxiety.
Panic attacks are not anxiety's only weapon, however, it can also hover around us, creating a free-floating anxious state of insecurity and anticipated fear of another attack. Being anxious in and of itself is disconcerting and most unpleasant. On edge and never knowing when a panic attack may ambush us again, free-floating anxiety can wreak havoc on our sense of security with ourselves. Unable to trust the integrity of our communication system, we never feel safe. In fact, we have every reason to fear ourselves because without integrity, a false alarm is just a heartbeat away. A renegade force is lurking, waiting for a chance to pounce when we least expect it and sabotage the integrity of our communication system.
Whether in the form of a panic attack or an anxious state, anxiety reigns by intimidation, terrorizing us with its ability to hijack our system and take us captive.To confront anxiety, therefore, is a very daring undertaking. Only the courageous and committed can make this "Confronting Anxiety Soup". It is not for victims of anxiety who are convinced that they are powerless in the face of anxiety's force. They are destined to remain just that, victims. But for those of you who can no longer tolerate being victimized by anxiety's panic attacks and generalized state of insecure anxiousness, this recipe is for you. If you can dare to trust the integrity of this recipe and courageously commit yourself to follow the directions as you confront your anxiety, you can regain the integrity of your own system. Every recipe is liberating, but "Confronting Anxiety Soup" is essential for any liberation to occur. Fear of ourselves and of our fear of fear is so paralyzing nothing can move until we are free of the grip fear has on us.
Before you begin the recipe, there is one more discussion on anxiety we need to have, in the hope that greater understanding of the phenomenon will make you a better psychological cook and a less fearful one. We need to look at what triggers anxiety attacks and why the brain sends a false alarm throughout our system, alerting all our spontaneous physiological reactions to a life-threatening danger that doesn't exist. When these bursts of adrenalin rush through our body for no apparent reason, our sense of sanity is also threatened.
The key to confronting anxiety is the phrase "for no apparent reason". Even though there is "no apparent reason", there is a reason for panic attacks. The brain has been triggered into action. Something has alerted it to danger and it automatically sends the message to release the surge of adrenalin to signal the presence of danger. That "something" often has little or nothing to do with what is currently happening. Other than an association that may be unconsciously made, or a confined space triggering the feelings of claustrophobia, the reason is not "apparent". This capacity of our complex communication system to alert us of danger is meant to protect us, not deceive us. A false alarm indicates that the integrity of the system has somehow been violated and now our sanity as well as our security is in jeopardy because of it. Our connection to reality is lost if our system sends messages that are false. What is insanity if not a disconnection from reality? Panic attacks, by threatening our hold on reality, therefore, threaten our very sense of sanity, certainly terrifying in itself.
Even as our brain is sending out false alarms, however, the alarms themselves are real, so we are appropriately alarmed even as we are deceived. It is a crazy making state of affairs. To move forward, then, craziness and fear of craziness must be confronted as we confront anxiety.
Now back to the false alarms for "no apparent reason". There are several possible sources of the false alarms: an injury to the brain creating a neurological problem, a chemical imbalance that sends adrenalin inappropriately, or a psychological problem with the way information has been processed and stored. This recipe deals with the latter which is actually the most prevalent source of false alarms, our own unwitting mistakes in the processing and storage of upsetting information. Fortunately, this is a solvable problem if we are willing to do the necessary work.
We need to learn how to reprogram our brain to process and store "hot" information without violating the integrity of our communication system. We are not taught as children how to process how we think and feel about upsetting experiences that make a lasting impression on us. Whether they evoked terror, anxiety, fear, grief, disappointment, pain, anger or despair we were left to figure out for ourselves how to process and store these strong feelings. Most of the time we tried to forget them. In an attempt to protect ourselves from the pain and upset their memory brought forth, we buried the feelings and the memories. Little did we know that they had a life of their own and would not remain buried. We even continued to bury all of our upsetting feelings and memories throughout our life. It was all we knew and it was how we knew to protect ourselves and go on with life. Then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, anxiety struck.
"Seemingly" is the important word. In fact, the attacks come from hidden feelings that are unprocessed and unresolved. Without their rightful place they lurk about festering in their unattended state until they eventually erupt, seemingly for no reason. But the reason is their own. Their timing, their final endurance, their particular event or experience that has called them forth, for "no apparent reason". Bursting forth with the force of years of hidden imprisonment, seen as illegitimate in their expression, they are no longer willing or able to be silenced. They are out of control demanding to be heard and playing by no rules. They, like us, don't know the system's rules, and the rules they do know oppressed them so they defy the rule of silence.
Panic attacks, are therefore, defiant acts by repressed, suppressed and oppressed feelings. They are not conscious acts of cognition, but rather acts of the unconscious and subconscious surging forth to be heard and given their rightful place and attention. They are, indeed, out of control and have the force of years of suppression. They do not trust our cognitive self because that's who buried them. We do not trust them, because they are attacking us and forcing us out of control. Without an honest confrontation between suppressed feelings and the cognitive self with accountability and caring, we can never be safe and certainly, we can never be free, but there are many levels of confrontation that must occur.
The following recipe is meant to provide a way for the cognitive self to confront and be confronted with the layers of fear and years of suppressed feelings that underlie anxiety and panic attacks.
Confronting Anxiety Soup
- 1/2 mile walk with vigor and deliberate steps
- 1 tightly sealed pint bottle of air breathed in and capped as you are briskly walking
- 10 strong heartbeats
- 2 firm grips of determination
- 1 chestful of courage
- A long stare into the mirror
- 3 ounces of integrity
- 1 teaspoon of adrenalin
- 1-2 hour search for traumatic and upsetting childhood and past memories, digging them up from where they've been buried
- 1/2 mile walk with vigor and deliberate steps
- 1 chestful of courage
- 3 ounces of integrity
- 1 teaspoon of adrenalin
- 2-4 hours of putting each memory in a respectful place where each feeling is carefully given attention and comfort
- 3 cups of loud statements that claim each of the memories and the feelings accompanying them
- 15 loops around an infinity sign for each memory and its feelings as you reflect on your relationship to those memories and those feelings trying to understand what was going on for you at the time and how it affected you
- 5 cups of disciplined imagination
- 2 teaspoons of adrenalin
- 10 hard stamps of your feet
- 1 long, firm embrace of yourself
- 1 chestful of courage
- 5 loud confrontations of your anxiety, advising it that you have felt its force and heard its shouts and will address and claim any and every traumatic upsetting feeling from the past that you are aware of and that you do not need your anxiety's defiance any more because you are no longer hiding and burying, or denying anything
- 10 loud, long shouts to your anxious self, calling it forth to join you in forming a team to confront your fear and your past and to dare to express your feelings as they are felt
- 4 stinging claps of the hands
- 2 clenched fists
- 1 cup of outrage
- 1 teaspoon of adrenalin
- 2 cups of disciplined imagination
- 1 shared cup of courage a deep commitment to inner dialogue between feelings and thoughts followed by commitment to confront each other with accountability when they are at odds
- 1 quart of tears, 3/4 quart sadness, 1/4 quart relief
- 4 ounces of loving care
- 1 vow to break your silence and hiding forever
- 2 shared handfuls of pure truth about the past
- 5 intense and heartfelt looks of deep appreciation of your courage and effort to stop the destructive force of anxiety and for anxiety's courage to dare yield to and trust the truth as it dares relinquish its out of control power
- 1 long, long sigh of relief
- 1 bar of solid commitment to be a team with integrity
- 1 peaceful smile
- A deep commitment to repeat this recipe as often as is needed to come to some reconciliation with the fear of the traumatic upsets of the hidden and buried past. Commit yourself also to forever change the erroneous method of hiding from and burying your past that you unwittingly used as a survival tool to protect yourself. Dedicate yourself to being true to yourself and processing situations that affect you strongly, dealing with them and confronting yourself and others as necessary.
This recipe will take several days to make, and because it is such a difficult and fear producing recipe, some things need to be done prior to making it. Therefore, when you are ready to begin:
- Take a 1/2 mile walk with vigor and deliberate steps. Bring with you a clear pint bottle with a cap that fits tightly. As you walk briskly breathe deeply and then breathe into the bottle and cap it quickly. This bottle of colorless, odorless carbon dioxide is to be carried with you at all times while this recipe for confronting anxiety soup is being made. It is a reminder of the invisibility of anxious toxins that need to be recognized, contained, and then released.
- As you return from the walk and before you enter the house to begin preparing the soup, pick up your pace and place your hand over your heart, counting 10 strong heartbeats. Upon entering the house, place your hands on your wrists and firmly grip them while you strongly inhale. With your eyes closed, imagine your grit and determination to liberate yourself from the hold anxiety has on you and fill your chest with courage. Do not exhale until you have walked to a mirror and taken a long stare at yourself in the midst of a courageous stance.
- In a small bowl mix 3 ounces of integrity with 1 teaspoon of adrenalin, stirring it slowly but thoroughly. Pour the mixture into a cup and take it to a comfortable chair. Sip it at 15 minute intervals as you begin your search for traumatic and upsetting childhood and past memories, using the integrity and adrenalin mix to direct and safeguard you in your search for the hidden and buried experiences.
- When ready, go for another brisk walk, allowing the memories to come alive in the energy of walking. Feeling your own sense of physical movement will give you an added impetus to renew your determination to move psychologically as well. Focus your attention on your strong heartbeats and refill your chest with courage. Be quietly reflective and firmly attentive to your determination to reclaim your runaway energy throughout the rest of the day. Ponder the statement that your memories and your feelings associated with them are not your enemy. Consider the wisdom in the claim that the real enemy forces are fearful pretense and oppressive domination.
- Pretending that we are powerless in the face of our own fearful energy creates a climate of hostility within, and turns your inner world into enemy territory. Reclaiming your past and dealing with it honestly, fairly, and respectfully will bring you a sense of peace and well-being within yourself. Confronting anxiety soup is meant to provide the recipe for that process to begin to occur.
- Next day: Mix another 3 ounces of integrity with 1 teaspoon of adrenalin and take it to a comfortable chair where you can sit and sip it every 10 or 15 minutes while you begin the process of putting your strong memories, one at a time, in a respectful place. Give each feeling careful attention and comfort. When you have done all that you can at this time and your cup of integrity and adrenalin is empty, go to the window and make loud statements that lay claim to your memories and the feelings that accompany them. Fill the cup three times letting the vapor of the loud statements continually fill the air with strength that you then inhale.
- Later in the day, when you are feeling renewed, go out into the yard with your cup and walk 15 loops around an imagined infinity sign, tracing the memories and feelings that have been triggered. Fill your cup 5 times with disciplined imagination. Reflect on how they have affected you and try to understand what was going on for you at the time that left you so disturbed and unsettled. When you have discovered as much as your stamina will allow, lie down on the ground on the infinity sign and absorb all you can of what you've just been through. Consider what you've learned and where it has taken you. Ponder the clarity and insight you've gained from what you've discovered and ask yourself how you need to deal with what you've learned if you are to be intimate with your past, not alienated from or haunted by it.
- Being intimate with your past means seeing it in its complexity, the nature of the situation and the people involved, the place you were in at the time and how what happened affected you and why. This understanding allows you to be "at one" with the experience and with yourself, and therefore preventing you from becoming the victim of the memory who is then alienated from the memory and from yourself. The integrity of intimacy is your protection from anxiety.
- All of this has been preparation for the soup. Now we are actually ready to cook. Find a set of bowls of different sizes and a large pot. In the largest bowl, combine 2 teaspoons of adrenalin, 10 hard stamps of the feet, 1 firm embrace of yourself and 1 chestful of courage. Whip them together until they are smooth and thick. Stir in 5 loud confrontations of your anxiety, advising it that you have felt its force and heard its shouts and will address and claim any and every traumatic upsetting feeling from the past that you are aware of and that you do not need your anxiety's defiance any more because you are no longer hiding and burying or denying anything. When everything is thoroughly mixed, pour it into the large pot and turn the burner up high until the ingredients come to a full boil.
- Turn down the heat after the loud confrontations have been bubbling briskly for 10 minutes. Continue to stir steadily as you add the 10 long shouts to your anxious self, calling it forth to join you in forming a team to confront your fear and your past and to join in daring to express your feelings as they are felt.
- As the stock of the soup simmers, take a bowl and mix 4 stinging claps of your hands, being sure they are stinging claps, with 2 clenched fists, 1 cup of outrage, 1 teaspoon of adrenalin, 2 cups of disciplined imagination and 1 shared cup of courage. Pour this concentrated and extremely volatile liquid immediately into the simmering pot, being careful not to let it splatter on you since it is very hot and could seriously burn you. Stir briskly and cautiously until there is no separation of any ingredients in the soup.
- The soup will bubble strongly, so you must stir constantly. This is now the critical point in the recipe. If the soup is going to work, adding the deep commitment to inner dialogue between your feelings and your thoughts must be done with strong conviction followed by deep commitment to thoughts and feelings confronting each other with accountability whenever they are at odds. This is, after all, confronting anxiety soup. Confrontation with accountability is the absolutely essential step in freeing you from anxiety. Reach into your inner self and take 1 quart of tears, 3/4 quart of sadness and 1/4 cup of relief, slowly pour it into the pot along with 4 ounces of loving care. Allow the soup to simmer quietly without stirring. Step back and make a vow to break your silence and hiding forever. Observe several minutes of respectful silence to mark the difference between it and hiding behind silence. Dare to reclaim the integrity of silence.
- Add to the simmering pot 2 shared handfuls of pure truth about the past, stirring it in deliberately and meditatively. Stir in 5 intense and heartfelt looks of deep appreciation of your courage and the effort it takes to stop the destructive force of anxiety in your system.
- Combine 1 long, long sigh of relief with 1 bar of solid commitment to be a team with integrity. As the bar of commitment to team melts, stir slowly so that this commitment can permeate the soup and clarify the broth. Allow to simmer for 1/2 hour, stirring frequently.
- Pour a cup of soup when you and it are ready, and take it to your favorite chair. Eat the soup slowly and reflectively. Let its hot complexity and strong flavor warm and strengthen your resolve to be a team within yourself. Let its flavor and ingredients travel throughout your body and your spirit, allowing you to feel a sense of well being based on trust in the power of your own integrity to safeguard you and your system.
- Continue to include this soup daily for lunch and, if desired, for dinner until it is all gone. Repeat this process of preparing, making and eating "Confronting Anxiety Soup" on a regular basis, never going without it until you feel comfortable that you have been able to reconcile the forces of anxiety with your other forces , and they have become a team.