Sometimes the only way to move forward is by stepping back. Anxiety and depression are, as we have already discussed, very frequently linked to the flight-fight-freeze response.
Often they are the subconscious way of dealing with perceived danger.
We’ve all done it. Altered a walking or jogging route because we were confronted by an angry dog along that path one evening.
Stopped crossing a road at a certain point because a lorry nearly ran us over when we were halfway across once. Avoided a particular roundabout because of a very close scrape on one occasion.
It doesn’t matter that we perhaps previously walked or ran along that route, crossed the road at that particular point or used that roundabout 100, maybe 1000 times, before and nothing untoward happened.
Our behaviour adjusts because of that negative experience. Quite often we don’t even notice we have made that change. Our subconscious alters what we do without even thinking. We don’t stop to question the logic. We just do it.
So why, when we go through a particularly traumatic period in our lives, do we question our changed behaviour to situations which make us feel like we’re in danger of experiencing that trauma again? It’s our brain’s way of keeping us safe, pre-empting danger.
That can be seriously life altering though when putting ourselves in those kinds of situations again is unavoidable. For example, a traumatic divorce is undeniably painful. That trauma can be enough to put us off relationships for a very long time.
Even when that could mean we never get to enjoy life with a better match. Relationship anxiety is very real and very painful for a great many people. So are the symptoms of depression and anxiety which can be caused by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It isn’t only soldiers returning from a war zone or emergency service staff who have witnessed the aftermath of a particularly bad and harrowing car accident or house fire who suffer with PTSD.
Losing a relationship, a job, a loved one dying in pain and a myriad of other situations can cause real lasting and debilitating effects from the trauma endured.
Sometimes all the guided breathing activities, meditations and similar exercises in the world will only give temporary relief of symptoms.
What you might need is to go back, in your subconscious mind, to the moment when that trauma occurred, to talk to yourself at that moment and reassure yourself that everything will be ok.
To give your former self the gift of the coping skills to get through that moment so that you can relieve your subconscious of the burden of the trauma. This is called regression therapy and it allows you to move on from what happened.
Not to forget, but to reframe those events and recognise that you are stronger as a result of them. This is healing the past with your present and we will look at how and why it works in more detail next week.