As you may or may not already know, anxiety is a normal and expected part of life. This is a biological response that we have built in, as part of being human. Anxiety is not only normal and a part of being human, but it can actually be helpful in many situations. Anxiety needs rebranding. If we learn to view anxiety as helpful, and as a guidepost to what is important to us and our values, then it can lead to beneficial action. Anxiety can be a motivator and a driver for us to tackle new challenges.
Anxiety occurs when specific areas of the brain function inappropriately or function at the wrong time. In our work together, I like to incorporate basic neuroscience to assist you in learning more about how your brain operates when dealing with anxiety. I have found that the more knowledge a client has regarding the processes in the brain that feed anxiety, the more motivated they are to practice “rewiring the brain.”
There are two areas of the brain that are important to understand when learning about anxiety: the amygdala and the cortex. The amygdala is a small, almond-shaped part of the limbic system, the system that deals with emotions and moods. When the amygdala perceives potential danger, it sends signals to your nervous system by releasing excessive stress hormones, which triggers a fight, flight or freeze response. In an anxious brain, the amygdala can send a lot of false alarms, which leads to anxiety. Think about it as an alarm clock going off at the wrong time. With a false alarm you may feel like you are in significant danger even though you are safe.
The cortex is the curved, gray part of your brain. It is the “perceiving” and “thinking” part of your brain. The cortex allows you to use logic and reasoning, to understand language, and to plan ways in which to respond to events. The cortex creates our perceptions and our perception of a particular event or situation can ignite and significantly increase our anxiety level. In non-anxious brains, the prefrontal cortex can rationalize the false alarms of the amygdala and understand that there is no danger. When dealing with an anxious brain, the thinking part of your brain might make statements that are overestimating risk and are simply untrue. We must challenge these unhelpful and irrational thoughts. Therapy can help you learn to discover these thinking traps and learn to challenge them.
More than 100 million Americans will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. When anxiety occurs in high and frequent doses it can become problematic and affect our daily functioning. If anxiety is keeping you from moving forward, rather than motivating you, it is time to explore further. When it comes to treating anxiety, research shows that therapy is the most effective option. That’s because therapy directed towards addressing anxiety – as opposed to medication alone – treats more than just symptoms of the problem.
It is important to stop focusing on reducing or avoiding anxiety and shift focus to changing the way in which your brain responds. The goal is to identify the situations in which anxiety interferes with your ability to live your life the way that you want to. The brain is alive and active. The good news is we can “rewire our brains” and create new pathways and responses! Brain change is a result of learning, our experiences and memory. Basically, by learning new ways to think and deal with anxious or overwhelming feelings, we can develop different connections in our brain. This is part of neuroplasticity, and it offers hope for all of us to experience real change.
As a Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional, my evidenced-based strategies offer the most effective forms of treatment, to get the relief from anxiety that you deserve. If you are interested in learning more, please reach out.