Endlessly chewing over problems, imagining the worst? Replaying old hurts or grievances? Pounding heart, sweating, dry mouth, muscle tension or needing to rush to the loo? Anxiety covers all these and more.
We’ve had plenty to be anxious about: going into and coming out of lockdown, real vs fake news, isolation and all the unknowns of Coronavirus. Understanding what causes anxiety helps you to manage it.
1 brain - 2 minds
Surprisingly, anxiety is more a result of the way your brain has evolved and the way you are thinking, rather than what’s happening in your life. Awesome as the human brain is (still outsmarting any computer!), it’s still running an operating system designed millions of years ago. In effect, we have one brain, but two minds! Let’s compare them:
Basic survival alarm system
Repeats past reactions
Modern intellectual mind
Sophisticated reality checker
Creates new solutions to problems
The primitive mind, an alarm system also known as the flight, fight or freeze response, protected our ancestors from dangers like sabre toothed tigers, invaders and Ice Ages. The fact that we’re still here is testimony that it worked.
Mind version 1.0
Unfortunately, with no update available for this ancient alarm system, it simply runs alongside our modern intellectual brain. Problems arise when the primitive survival mind takes over inappropriately from the modern, intellectual mind. When you really need the thinking bit to accurately assess reality and come up with brilliant ideas, the primitive mind only has running away, fighting and hiding – not much help in modern life – when there’s a pandemic, or you get furloughed, or have to juggle home working and home schooling. You may still feel like running away, fighting or hiding, and your body will still prepare itself for these – that’s what all the sweating and heart pounding is about, it’s your primitive alarm system preparing your body to flee.
The anxiety reaction doesn’t need a real crisis, it can be triggered by negative thinking, such as worrying about the future, agonising over the past or focusing on what’s wrong right now – all these add up and tip the balance into anxiety. The alarm system that’s meant to protect you makes your life a misery, like living with hypersensitive guard dog that won’t stop barking when there’s nothing there.
Imagination vs reality
Another curious feature of your brain is that it reacts the same to imagination or reality. It explains why you can experience all the physical and emotional signs of fear watching a horror film that you know isn’t real. Or feel so wound up about an interview that you feel sick, even though you know rationally that the interview isn’t till next week. So, what you think about makes a huge difference to your anxiety levels.
This works both ways: thinking positively, whether it’s about real or imaginary things, brings your intellectual mind into play, telling your brain to release mood-boosting chemicals like serotonin. Change your thinking, change your anxiety level.
Changing how you think in order to change how you feel is entirely possible. It’s a matter of learning new habits, literally creating new pathways and connections in your brain. I know from experience, both professionally and personally, that this is doable.
Self-help for anxiety
- Positive thinking. Focus on happy memories, imagine happy outcomes, be grateful for what’s been good. Mindfulness techniques or meditation are very helpful.
- Healthy sleep enables your brain to process troubling emotional memories so you can wake with a calm mind.
- Positive interactions, face to face or online – a cheerful chat stimulates the production of happy brain chemicals like serotonin.
- Positive physical activity: dance, walk, stretch, run – all help to reduce anxiety and depression.
All the above reduce feelings of anxiety and help you to relax, telling your brain to switch off the alarm system and switch on your intellectual mind, to help you feel calm, confident and motivated.
I hope that this information and these tips help you.
Lydia Rain – www.lydiarainhypnotherapy.com