Turning off the Anxiety Tap 

My family had rented a small cottage in Brittany and we were heading off on a coach trip for the day. I don’t know if it was me or my older sister, but one of us turned on the hot tap to wash our hands just before we left. The problem was, that the tap refused to turn off. A jet of boiling hot water was pouring into the sink and the bathroom was filling up with steam. My dad assumed we were just messing about, but as hard as he tried, he couldn’t close it off either.

In broken French/English he called the rental company to tell them what was happening, and that we needed to leave to catch our bus. I think his exact phrase was, “L’eau coura” which literally means, “Water ran.” I am sure it was the anxiety in his voice, rather than the express message, which led to the plumber’s visit!

The Anxiety Tap

There is so much about that scene which relates to the challenge of dealing with anxiety. For me personally, despite publicly appearing to have ‘overcome’ GAD, I still have to deal with anxiety on a daily basis. This has led to me describing the flow of adrenaline in my body in terms of a tap. Most days the tap is closed and I don’t consciously think about it. Then there are periods of infrequent flow that interject into my day, like a flash, jolt or a falling feeling. Finally there is my “L’eau coura” experience where the adrenaline tap seems to be stuck in a open position. This can leave me feeling wired, shaky, sleepless and jumpy for a few days at a time.

If I am honest there is linked progression between these three states and when I am paying attention at stage two I can get things back before the tap gets stuck. Sometimes though, I just push on and hope for the best, which rarely works as a strategy! Anxiety tends to steam up the room and makes calm and strategic decisions harder to choose. When it comes on, I also want to catch a bus somewhere else, which lends intolerance and unhelpful urgency into the mix.

10 things I have learnt about turning off the adrenaline tap:-

  1. Attempts to escape your anxiety are futile and only propagate it. Accepting that the tap is running is the first step to changing the flow.
  2. Anxiety always forces you to see a catastrophic future: ‘You will never sleep again, never feel peace again, never have an appetite.’ All of these things are untrue and will lock the tap open. Stay in the present moment and coach yourself positively and calmly.
  3. Look back at the journey into anxiety for clues about how to walk out of it. Have you been over-working, under extreme stress, had a big family event, been sleeping poorly? If you can see the pathway in you can often see what you need for your recovery out.
  4. Talk to people who are kind. Knowing that other people understand how you are feeling breaks the isolation and fear that anxiety can propagate.
  5. Look out for stimulants. Some people find that too much coffee, fizzy drinks, chocolates or new medications all impact their adrenaline flow. As soon as the tap gets stuck reduce all your caffeine intake and review any medications with your healthcare provider. I usually avoid all caffeine from 3pm in the afternoon or switch to herbal completely.
  6. Practice physical stress relief exercises. I do Pilates on a mat in my sitting room. It helps me to stretch out my body and improve my breathing all at the same time. I often find that relaxing my body has a dynamic impact on reducing the anxiety in my mind.
  7. Visualise calm. It has taken me years to get this bit working for me, but having a visual image of calm in my mind helps me to slow everything down and reduce anxiety, especially before sleep. For me it is an image of casting a fishing line into a slow-moving river.
  8. Be patient. Rushing recovery only extends it. It may have taken 3 weeks to get the tap stuck open and you should expect it to take the same amount of time to close it.
  9. Pray (but not for escape) thanking Jesus for his presence with you in this period of anxiety it deeply powerful and healing. Knowing you are not alone and welcoming him in to these feelings will make a massive difference. (Just try to avoid using prayer as a quick fix. You may be healed but leave that bit to God rather than driving for it yourself.)
  10. Laugh. I hate having an anxiety problem but being negative about it only makes it worse. Keeping a sense of humour and practicing gratitude for all of the blessings in my life keeps anxiety in proportion and stops it stealing more of my joy. 
Will Van Der Hart, 21/02/2019
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