Anxiety! Even the word is enough to stress us out! This article, and accompanying video will explain how anxiety happens in the brain, and how you can begin to re-wire your brain to cope better with anxiety or even eliminate unhelpful anxiety.
In fact, anxiety and worry are so wide-spread, that they are considered to be practically universal. In other words, it’s not whether or not you suffer from anxiety, but how much and when, that’s the real issue.
So what exactly is anxiety, and how can we not just cope with anxiety, but eliminate anxiety?
Anxiety Type #1: Worry and Rumination
In this article, I’d like to discuss two types of anxiety; a broad term I’ll use to describe worry and unnecessary fear. And by the way...some anxiety is normal. At least to a degree.
The first type is the one that many, many people suffer from, and it’s plain old worry. Worry is characterized by What if...kind of thinking that can run from simple concern to catastrophizing.
Naturally, when life throws us an unexpected curve that affects our finances or health, worry is a pretty normal place to go. It’s quite natural to have feelings of concern if we are unable to pay our bills, put food on the table, or hang onto our jobs. In these examples, worry and anxiety can actually be a powerful motivator.
But it’s the unnecessary worry that needs to be dealt with. When worry is unable to provide a solution, it serves no purpose at all, and can ruin our sleep and ravage our health. This is the kind of anxiety that keeps our minds spinning round and round with no solution in sight.
The term for this is rumination, or overthinking. It’s a seemingly endless hashing and rehashing the same stuff, as though over-analysis can somehow create something new. It causes changes in our brain and blood chemistry, as stress chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol are released, causing us to feel even worse.
Neuroscience to the rescue for anxiety and worry
The good news is, much worry is actually treatable, and in order to understand the solution, you first need to understand what’s happening in your brain when you worry without end.
Fortunately, neuroscience provides us with a good explanation, and it’s something called neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to literally rewire itself.
When we habitually run a pattern such as our own personal anxiety program, we begin to form actual pathways in our brains. If you imagine a path through a forest, this will make sense. At first the path is faint and difficult to see and walk upon. However, over time and through repetition, the path becomes much more distinct, and very easy to travel on.
It’s the same with our brains. When we form neural pathways, they get stronger through usage. The more we use them, the easier it gets, and we begin to use them automatically. But like the path in the forest example, if we stop using this path, it will become overgrown and eventually fade away completely.
That’s because the path must be used in order to be maintained. If we take a different path, the old one cannot stay active for long.
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So here’s all you have to do for anxiety due to worry and rumination:
As soon as you detect that you’re running your usual worry pattern, you have to immediately shut it off and substitute a different idea. The best way to do this is to hold up your hand and literally say STOP! Push the idea away from you as though it was an actual physical thing. Then say something positive in its place. (Now obviously there are places this response wouldn’t be appropriate, like in a crowded shopping mall!)
Here’s an example: If a person is habitually worried and anxious when a family member is running late, an anxiety pattern starts to run. Perhaps a parent looks at the clock and begins to think the worst has happened...
She’s half an hour late...I’m sure she’s been in a car accident or I would have heard from her by now...Perhaps she’s sick or been abducted...
Here the pattern can be immediately interrupted by saying STOP! and pushing the imaginary picture away from him and shrinking it. The parent would then say something positive like:
This is ridiculous! She’s a big girl and knows how to stay safe! She’ll be home soon!
As simplistic as this sounds, simply interrupting the old pattern will start to break up the pathway in the brain. By adding some positive statements and even images, the old path will quickly fade away completely. Again, this is neuroscience. It’s how your brain works.
Anxiety Type #2: Unconscious, Amygdala-Based Anxiety
This is all very well and good, but there’s a second kind of anxiety too. While the first type occurs in a thinking part of the brain called the cerebral cortex, the second type feels worse, and resides in the amygdala.
This amygdala governs something you might have heard of: The fight, flight or freeze response. When danger becomes sudden or severe, like being in an earthquake or attacked by a wild animal, we either run, fight to the death, or simply become paralyzed with fear and hope it will go away.
The amygdala response is great in life or death situations, but not so useful for the normal stresses of life. And you can tell when it’s the amygdala that’s involved, because it will cause a powerful fear that you can feel in your body. The amygdala response goes way beyond rumination, and can lead to the worst fear of all: The panic attack.
When this type of body fear occurs and there’s no actual danger, the best thing you can do is shut if off as soon as possible, allowing the response to dissipate. Amazingly, if you act right away, this isn’t too difficult to accomplish. The secret is to change your breathing, something known to martial artists and yoga practitioners for thousands of years. When we change our breathing, everything in our physical response changes too.
Here’s how you do it: Simply breathe in for a seven count and out for a count of eleven. Focus on your breathing, stay relaxed and continue until you calm down. This kind of breathing will send a signal to your brain, telling it that everything’s okay, and you’ll soon be feeling better!
So first determine which kind of worry or fear you’re experiencing. Then apply the appropriate remedy, and remember to do it right away.
Acting immediately has the most powerful effect. It helps you take control before the worry or fear gets too big and hard to handle. It’s much easier to destroy a nasty monster before it grows too big!
When you begin to apply these methods, the results will probably surprise you, as you quickly take control of your own thoughts and anxious fears.
NEXT STEP: Check out our full video course "The Anxiety Solution" which you can even access for free.