A very dear friend was recently struggling with anxiety so I suggested a simple technique to her that can be used straightaway called scaling. I then thought why not share it on here which also forced me to write it up properly. Two posts in one day. The bonus of extra time and for once a “Jim post” that might actually be useful. Here goes.
Scaling is something I use a lot in therapy sessions, often simply as a way of indicating where someone is in relation to things like depression or anxiety, as in Im a 7 out of ten today for my depression or my anxiety is around 4. Its a simple quick indicator that’s easily understood. When I worked in schools I used it a lot, “Ok Sam, how’s the anger today?” “oh it’s about 6 , my mum had a go at me this morning.” Quick, easily understood, a starting point.
Scaling, though, can do so much more than give a quick indicator of mood. With anxiety or panic attacks it can become a technique that not only describes but helps decrease anxiety. With the Coronavirus outbreak creating such changed conditions for all of us and the news full of grim statistics that naturally up our anxiety levels, I want to share this simple yet effective technique hoping that if helps just one person then it’s well worth sharing.
What To Do
If you experience heightened anxiety or feel panicky try rating the intensity of the feelings from 1 to 10. A full-blown panic attack would be 10 on the scale and feelings of deep relaxation would be a 1. Let’s suppose you are talking about the current situation or thinking about it and you start to feel uneasy, a bit frightened, you might say to yourself,”I am now at 5 on the anxiety scale.” If you began to feel worse you could say,”I am now at 6 on the scale.” Then try the age old but effective deep breathing but still thinking about the scale, not the original thoughts that created the anxiety. As you begin to feel better you can gradually count yourself back down the scale, getting yourself to a 2 or even 1 on the scale. That’s it. Simple.
Why Scaling Works
Scaling in this way is effective because you are doing the following:
- Switching to scaling means you are using the thinking part of the brain rather than the emotive part. In order to think and attribute a score, to consider where you are on the anxiety scale you have to use the neo-cortex. This is the part of our brain more concerned with rational thought than emotion. (With Corona virus our amygdala, or more primitive brain, often dominates, sending us messages of threat and creating the stress inducing fight or flight phenomenon and mass toilet paper buying behaviour).
- Scaling makes us “put a fence” around the experience so that we are clear about the limits. After all its impossible for panic to go up indefinitely, it has to level off and the scale reminds us of that.
- For the time that it takes to grade the anxiety or panic you are less “in”the panic and more outside it. Switching to using the Neo-cortex is helping us become observers of our own panic and this in itself can help to reduce it. It has the effect of reducing the emotional content .
- By doing the scaling you are giving yourself data on the length and intensity of the anxiety or panic attack. This in turn gives you more control. Panic attacks in particular can feel that they are going on forever when in fact most of them are short lived. That are short-term survival responses and they can be controlled.
The basic rule I am suggesting here is that by giving the thinking brain a task we diminish the experience of unpleasant emotion. You could even try using a pen and paper to scale the anxiety because that way you can physically see how things are improving and even keep these as a record to help in subsequent experiences.
That’s it; a simple technique which if combined with deep, regular breathing could help reduce anxiety to manageable levels. Hope it helps and feel free to pass this on to anyone you know who experiences heightened anxiety. Keep safe everyone and keep doing lots of the stuff that makes you happy and relaxed.