Anxiety, stress and panic attacks are at an all-time high, both in children AND in adults. But what causes anxiety? And what is it, really? In this episode, Steve Norton debunks the myths and reveals simple strategies to begin understanding and dealing with anxiety.
Steve, tell us about your life…
- Like a lot of people in the world of hypnotherapy, I started out with anxiety and a lot of problems.
- I had a good childhood, but a difficult childhood, in myself.
- From an early age I had anxiety, speech problems, was very nervous and couldn't concentrate at school.
- I didn't know what was wrong with me and my mother didn't know what to do with me.
- Later on in life, I found out that I had a form of Tourette's syndrome, where I'd be shaking, making noises.
- Doctors didn't know what to do – just hoping that I would grow out of it, but I didn't.
- I had these problems from being 4-5 years old, until I was about 19.
- It was at about that time, that I began to wonder how I could change this stuff.
- In my own life, I knew where I wanted to go, but this thing was really limiting me.
- I started to notice Paul McKenna appearing on the TV and was fascinated by his hypnosis show.
- He had a book, called ‘The Hypnotic World of Paul McKenna'.
- I remember reading the book and it changed my life, by teaching me things that I didn't know were possible.
- It taught me that the people that we ARE, isn't necessarily what we HAVE to be.
- I didn't know that with the right tools and guidance, that you can change all of the things that you think you're stuck with.
- Using the techniques that he taught, I started to get a hold of my own thinking.
- In a process of about 6 months, I managed to eradicate my tourettes.
- I was so blown away, that I was reading every book that I could about NLP, psychology.
- The more I learned about it, the more amazing it became. I was listening to hypnotherapy CD's every single day.
- I made a decision that I wanted to learn how to do the things that Paul McKenna could do.
- I found a local hypnotherapy course and enrolled on it, for 2 years.
- I qualified as a hypnotherapist and the rest is history, really.
If you had to identify the worst moment in your life, what would that be? And what did you do to overcome it? What was the lesson from that?
- I'd love to say that making the decision to get rid of Tourette's was the moment that it went, but it didn't.
- Instead, I had to suppress it in my mind. The urge to do it, was incredible. The conditioned response of Tourette's was ready to come out.
- Every day I had to hold it back with good old positive thinking.
- That was one of the most difficult things that I've ever done.
- But it taught me that nothing is impossible to change.
- I remember going to the Doctor and he said “He's not going to change. This is what he's got”.
- I proved him wrong.
- If you've got enough willpower, motivation and drive, nothing is set in stone.
- Sometimes you just need the right guidance and the right information to change it.
- That's why I've dedicated my life to helping people like myself, because I now know the mechanics of anxiety and how to change it.
- I look at people with anxiety like kindred spirits… like we're part of the same family.
- With anxiety, you can't just read it from a book and understand it. You need to experience it and know what it feels like.
It feels like more people are suffering from anxiety. Is anxiety on the rise and (if so) why?
- People always had anxiety before, but they didn't know what it was.
- Everything has a special term now, like clinical depression, chronic depression, panic attack.
- Those words weren't around, years ago. They weren't as prevalent as they are now.
- If someone had a panic attack, people would say ‘Ooh, you're Uncle Tony's having one of his funny turns'.
- People didn't know what it was.
- Everyone has to have a clinical label these days, but those words are locking people into the symptom.
- When you start to believe the labels that you're given, you'll start to mould a life around those labels.
- Why are more people getting anxious? I believe that social media (and the various things that we're reading and watching) is constantly firing our brains up.
- We are taking in so much inane, useless information on a daily basis.
- 95% of stuff you see on social media or online is absolute drivel.
- But people are going to bed, and the last thing they do is look at the iPad, giving themselves sore eyes.
- The neurones in the brain are constantly firing.
- The other day, I forgot to bring my phone out and I couldn't believe, by the end of the day, how much more relaxed I felt.
- At first I didn't, but after a few hours I felt completely relaxed.
- I think it's the constant checking of things, too. Constantly checking statuses on Facebook or Instagram.
- Notifications, etc are all a contributing factor.
You have social media. Do you have rules about how often you're willing to look at it, etc?
- It's difficult, because I'm part of the problem.
- As much as I'm telling people to go off social media, I'm telling them on my own Facebook page.
- I try to make sure that I don't put too much stuff on my social media.
- I also have a thing where I don't take messages after 7.30pm at night.
- One of the things that I do is to preach a work/life balance
- If I'm spending all of my time checking social media, I'm not being true to my clients.
- You have to practise what you preach.
Aside from social media, what are the main causes of anxiety?
- I'll give you the bare bones of it, as someone who has had anxiety.
- Anxiety is caused by thinking. The way that we think about things, is what causes us to be anxious (or not).
- If you look at anxiety, it's about thinking about the future you don't want to happen.
- That's what people are doing these days, thinking about the “What If's”.
- Thinking about “What if this happens? What if that went wrong?”
When someone has a panic attack, what can they try to do to combat it, in the moment that it's happening?
- The first thing to understand is that no one can die from a panic attack.
- Even if you feel absolutely ill, or like you could be dying, no one has ever died from a panic attack.
- When people have panic attacks, it's usually down to their lifestyle.
- If you look at what happened the day before someone has a panic attack, they've usually had no sleep, or they've been pushing themselves too far or they've had alcohol.
- What happens the next day, is that the body is chemically out of sorts.
- You've ‘caned it' the day before, you've woken up (not feeling quite yourself) and now you're doing more stuff (rather than relaxing).
- Quite often, the people are suffering from dehydration or your sugar levels have dropped.
- What you should do, if you're feeling as if you could be starting a panic attack, go and buy some skittles.
- Pop them in your mouth, wait about a minute and I'll almost guarantee that you'll feel better.
- Because the sugar gets back in your system, the chemicals start to balance themselves out.
- Whenever you have had a panic attack, look at your lifestyle. What were you doing the day before?
- I think a good 80% of panic attacks that I hear about, it was because they've had late nights or too much to drink.
In the longer term, what coping strategies should someone put in place to keep anxiety levels down?
- The main reason that people keep having panic attacks is the thought “I didn't like that, I hope that doesn't happen again”.
- They start to think “I hope it doesn't happen in the bank, or the car or in the pub”.
- What people don't realise that they're doing is actually PLANNING to have future panic attacks.
- The very thought “I don't want this to happen” can trigger this.
- The human mind doesn't know the difference between when you do want and don't want.
- When you think about something happening in the future, your mind thinks that is what you want to happen.
- You're always either planning to have a panic attack or you're planning to be fine.
What thought processes can someone run through to prevent this?
- I do something called ‘thought re-training' with my clients, to help them stop and block the thoughts that cause panic attacks.
- It's all about understanding that you need to think about what you want, not what you don't want.
- When you look at happy people without anxiety, do you think they are walking around all day thinking “I hope I don't have a panic attack?”. No!
- It's all about learning to think about how you WANT to be and using that thought process.
- If you do that over and over again, in the end… you'll program that way of thinking.
- Why do people think about things they don't want to happen?
- They believe that by thinking about what could go wrong, they'll help to prepare for it (and cope with it).
- This learning to prepare for it, is actually setting it up.
- Their mind thinks that they want it, so they get it.
What can someone do if they have a partner, friend or family member who has panic attacks, to better engage with it?
- The worst thing you could do is to say “Come on, snap out of it”, because they would if they could.
- The best thing you can do is to give them some reassurance and support.
- I must find that 50% of the enquiries that I get are from relatives or friends of someone who suffers from anxiety.
- Only about 25% of those people actually do end up coming to see me.
- It's not an easy thing to tell someone that they need help, but sometimes it does work.
- Often, people who suffer from anxiety get quite defensive about it… which makes sense if they have quite a negative mindset.
- I'd suggest that you say “Look, I know a guy. And he can help you. Here's the website… and it's up to you!”
- Be there for them, but don't push or pressure them.
Is anxiety more prevalent in kids or adults? What can we do as a nation to help our kids to overcome it?
- Kids have a lot more support these days than when I was a kid. They have things in schools these days.
- Some of the stuff they have in place (Government stuff) is okay, but I've seen some kids who are better off from it and others who are worse off.
- Most of the things that are available are based on talk therapy, which sounds all good and well but it's actually a thought pattern thing. You need to change the thought patterns.
- I'm seeing more kids today than ever before, which is great because they are so readily on-board with it and good at visualisation.
- It's great to see someone starting out on changing things when they are so young.
- I wish I knew what I know now, when I was 15 years old… because there's no lesson at school called ‘how to run your brain'.
Can anxiety be cured completely? Or can it just be managed, at an acceptable level?
- Anxiety can absolutely be cured (although therapists aren't allowed to use the word ‘cured').
- Therapy is one of those things where you help people, they move on and don't have the thing that they came for any more… but of course that doesn't mean they won't have anything anxious happening in their life.
- Life is always going to throw bananas at us. Life is always going to test us.
- It's about having the right tools to get through things and constantly improve.
- My therapy isn't just about sitting someone down and hypnotising them (sometimes I don't even use hypnosis).
- I see my job more as a teacher than a therapist, teaching people how to use their mind.
- When I changed my life, I did it by learning something I didn't know before.
- I am such a passionate believer in educating people, so that they can create the change.
And into the quickfire round…
What is the best self-development advice you've ever received from someone else?
- “The past doesn't equal the future. The past is a reference for what has happened, not what will happen.” – Tony Robbins
Can you give us a personal ‘habit’ or personality trait that you think contributes to your success?
- I'm down to earth. I've got no ego, airs or graces. I'm not like a therapist and I've been there and done that.
What does success mean to you?
- For me, success isn't about what I've got, it's about how many days I'm happy. I used to have 90% bad days, now I have 90% good days. For me that's a success.
What are the top 3 things that you'd recommend our listeners do, in order to beat anxiety?
- Always think about what you want, because your mind is a goal-orientated machine.
- Set some goals. It's amazing how many people are just coasting through life, to see how it turns out.
- Have something (three things!) every week to look forward to. Procrastination and too much time sitting and thinking will allow you to ruminate on negative things.
Where can we find out more about you?