Brainwork–Understanding and Managing Anxiety and Fear

Ways to manage anxiety and fears?

You need tools or stimuli that do four things:

  1. It must be soothing-like deep breathing
  2. It must be interesting enough to your brain to prefer it to the anxiety provoking stimuli-like meditation
  3. It must hold your attention so as to quiet your mind-mental visualization
  4. The relaxation technique must have time to actually be integrated into the emotional memory response by building a habit or daily ritual-like daily exercise or mindfulness activities.

Understanding and Insights 

Although you may experience anxiety as a bodily sensation (hands shaking, hands sweating), anxiety actually comes from the part of your brain which is responsible for emotions.  You can think of your brain as being divided into four quadrants, ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ and ‘left’ and ‘right’ and this structure reflects how your brain functions.  Roughly speaking, the bottom half deals with sensation and emotion while the upper half deals with thoughts, although feelings really straddle the two. Anxiety and fear are mediated by the amygdala, which is located in the center-front of your brain, about two-thirds of the way down (near where your brain narrows into the brain stem).  The amygdala is where sensory inputs from the environment are initially processed. It also has connections to long-term memory which helps with threat detection. Your brain is a ‘bottom-up’ system which means that feelings tend to drive thinking and ideas rather than the other way around. It is possible to control feelings with thoughts, but usually only temporarily.  The left side and right side deal with many different functions, but for the purposes of this app you only need to know that the left hemisphere is responsible for narrow focused attention, which anxious people are more prone to.

Although anxiety seems to start with something “out-there”, as we can see, anxiety is very much “in-here” … in your brain. So this is a good place to start if you want to learn how to tame anxiety.  Just as your brain can be trained to produce anxiety, through too much stress, it can also be trained to not feel anxiety. Your brain’s capacity to for re-wiring is known as neuro-plasticity. For a long time it was thought that your brain couldn’t change, but this has now been found to be incorrect, which is great news.  Changing the anxiety response means working WITH your brain in terms of how it processes information.  Since your brain is a bottom-up system,  the most effective way to neutralize anxiety is to stimulate the lower, sensing part.  This is why many people find sounds such as waves on a beach or rain on a roof soothing – they are appealing directly to this lower region of the brain. Unfortunately, such stimuli are only temporarily effective  because they are not sufficiently interesting to permanently alter the brain activity associated with anxiety.

Challenge- Next time you feel anxious what are you going to do to decrease and manage your fears and anxiety? 

 

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