Martha Beck in red jacket speaking and pointing her finger

I used to be stuck in a life-coaching paradox: Many of my most articulate clients seemed unable to understand anything I said to them.

These people were usually anxious, so I was anxious to help them. We’d have regular anxiety festivals as I tried to analyze the source of their anxiety and find a way out.

No matter how urgently I tried, this never seemed to work.

It took me a long time to figure out what was happening. A person in anxiety isn’t using the part of the brain that can analyze, reason, and apply cognitive solutions.

In fact, when you talk to an anxious person, you’re not talking to a professor, a nurse, a lawyer, a street-smart drug dealer, or even the famous “inner lizard.” 

You are talking to an almond. 

A terrified almond with the power to rule the human brain. 

Let me explain.

Your Inner Almond

At the center of your brain lies a little structure the size and shape of an almond. It’s called your “amygdala,” which is Greek for “almond.” It’s one of the most ancient, primitive, and powerful things in your head. 

I sometimes call this your “creature,” because it’s not really human, not even really animal. It’s so primitive that almost everything that walks, flies, creeps or swims has one. It has made its way down through eons of evolution because it’s a primary survival tool. 

When you notice something alarming, your amygdala is the part of you that switches on your “fight-or-flight” response. Instantly, you become hyper-alert, your senses sharp, your muscles primed for action. 

You also stop thinking logically. At that point, you become your creature. This creature self is incredibly intelligent—it picks up even the tiniest hint of threat and goes into action like a superhero. But here’s what the creature can’t do:

  • Talk
  • Calculate
  • Analyze
  • Ponder all possible interpretations of events
  • Care what your life coach (or anyone else) thinks it should do

The harder you try to push logic and reason on a scared amygdala, the more anxious it becomes—and the less it understands.

This is true when you’re dealing with your own anxiety, a tantruming toddler, an angry teen, a miffed coworker, a worried spouse, a grumpy senior, or anyone else in a state of anger or fear (fight or flight). Trying to reason with someone else’s creature-self is futile. I recommend you don’t even go there.

So, where should you go?

I thought you’d never ask.

How to Commune With the Ancient Almond

In any situation when anxiety is present—whether it’s you feeling anxious or someone else—you’d benefit from using the communication tactics our creature-selves do understand. Here’s a partial list:

  • Slow, relaxed breathing
  • Physical stillness or slow, fluid, gentle movements
  • A soft voice, pitched low
  • Simple, reassuring words (more the sound than the meaning)
  • The energy of kindness

It can be challenging to take a deep breath and speak slowly when you’re dealing with an anxious or angry creature—including your own creature-self. But if you can find the grit to slow down and be gentle, the rewards are incredible.

I was amazed by how much better my coaching sessions went when I spoke to anxious clients in short, soft, low-pitched, gentle words. As my creature-self relaxed, so did theirs. Everything seemed to get traction and gain positive momentum.

You can use this strategy whenever you or the people around you seem anxious. 

From your children to your friends to the lady at the DMV, every human who can’t seem to hear you is basically an anxious almond, a creature in fight-or-flight. 

When we change our energy, breathing, and tone, that fight-or-flight state gives way to rest-and-relax, or tend-and-befriend. Everything simply goes better.

A World Full of Creatures

With anxiety higher than it’s ever been, we humans are filling the world with triggered amygdalae. But if you use the counterintuitive skills of softness and slowness in a hard, fast-paced world, your whole life can change.

So the next time you’re feeling afraid or misunderstood, calm your own almond with a few long, slow breaths. Speak in a soft voice and use simple terms. 

Almost immediately, you’ll feel the creature inside you relax into peace. From there, you can create better moods, relationships, and ideas. A happy creature makes for a happy life, a happy world.

Discover additional articles, videos, podcast episodes, and mini-books in Martha’s series on anxiety on The Beyond Anxiety Hub.

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