How to Rewire Your Anxious Brain

 

This blog on anxiety is called How to Rewire Your Anxious Brain, and it’s purpose of this video is to give you an overview of how to heal anxiety disorders. You can do this by looking at the two major brain circuits that are involved with anxiety. The first circuit is in the neocortex or the thinking brain. This part of the brain allows you to think and plan for the future, and to anticipate that future.

The second circuit involves the amygdala, and almond shaped structure in the midbrain. The amygdala is called “the sentinel of fear,” and its job is to warn you of any danger and is always on the lookout for some threat. It is wired to protect you from harm before the thinking brain even knows what he harm is.

Problems arise in the prefrontal cortex when we think about the future and exaggerate the negative outcomes and. This causes us to worry and to to “catastrophize.” The way to treat this type of anxiety is to use cognitive behavioral therapy  to replace fearful, unrealistic thoughts with rational and realistic thoughts. Thus, if you are preparing for a job interview and thinking to yourself, “I’ll never get this job. And when I don’t get it I won’t be able to pay my rent and I’ll become homeless,” This is going to cause you to feel a great deal of anxiety. Using cognitive therapy, you can tell yourself “I’m well prepared for this interview,” or “I am as qualified as any of the other candidates.” This will calm your mind down and will decrease the physical symptoms of anxiety.

The second pathway in the brain that creates anxiety involves the amygdala, an almond shaped structure located in the emotional brain. The amygdala creates the physical sensations of anxiety which are more difficult to treat than the cortex induced anxiety.

The amygdala is called the sentinel of fear and is always on the lookout for some threat. The amygdala is wired to respond quickly enough to save your life and it seizes control in times of danger. And because of this wiring, it is difficult, if not impossible, to use reason-based thought processes that arise in the cortex to control amygdala-based anxiety. This is why it is hard to talk yourself out of an anxiety attack. The amygdala induces the fear response, even where is nothing out there to be afraid of. This is what happens in PTSD.

The key to healing amygdala-based anxiety is to use strategies that directly impact the brain and nervous system and bypass the thinking mind. Three examples are exercise, deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Another one, taught in the DBT training, is to put your face in sink or bucket of cold water and hold your breath for as you long as you can. Doing this activates what is  called “the dive response” which in turn activates the relaxation response. This may sound a bit unusual, but I have been told that it does work.

In conclusion, the key to rewiring your anxious brain is to first decide which brain pathway is determining your anxiety. If it is the cortex and you have issues with worrying about the future or anticipating the worst, than you should seek out cognitive based tools to correct your thinking errors. 

On the other hand if you suffer from amygdala-based anxiety, which means that you feel anxious but there is no obvious cause—you just are fearful without knowing why, then you need to seek out strategies that will calm the amygdala and reduce the activation that has been created in your body. And in either case, you will want to be sure that you are seeing a counselor or therapist who specializes in the treatment of anxiety.

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