After reflecting on last week's topic [INSERT LINK TO LAST BLOG], how many of you realized that there were two ways that we create anxiety? One in the prefrontal cortex and the other from the amygdala? Has the realization helped explain why you sometimes experience different types of anxiety? Well logically if anxiety has two pathways in our brains, there must be two different ways to stop anxiety, right? According to the authors Catherine M Pittman, Ph.D. and Elizabeth Karle, MLIS, in their book Rewire the Anxious Brain, we need to treat anxiety differently to get the results that we are looking for.
Starting with the amygdala first, remember the amygdala picks up on associations. Even if we don't remember what the association is, the amygdala certainly does. This then causes the amygdala to go into fight, flight or freeze and many of us experience many uncomfortable feelings. These include difficulty breathing, shaking, increased heart rate, feeling we can't think clearly, difficulty concentrating, or sweating hands.
One way to help stop this type of anxiety from escalating is to understand what's triggering you to begin with. A trigger is an event, action, or situation that has been associated with a negative thought, feeling or emotion that programs the amygdala to produce anxiety. It is truly doing its job trying to keep us safe, so it is our job to figure out the negative events.
Think about this, originally the trigger (event, situation, or action) was neutral. I mean a crowd is just a crowd, a cockroach is just nasty, and a car horn is just an annoying noise, yet why can they cause an anxious reaction in people? Take for example the car horn. If you had been in an accident and a car horn went off, then what happens is the amygdala associates the trigger (a car horn) with a negative event (the car accident). Therefore, when the amygdala hears a car horn, it will produce anxiety because it has been associated with a dangerous situation.
The wonderful thing is that what is occurring in the amygdala is a learned response, which we can change. All you need to do is identify the triggers to start deactivating the amygdala and stop anxiety.
How do we reduce amygdala-based anxiety? After you've managed to identify your triggers, the next stage is to activate the amygdala to calm yourself down. You see the amygdala only learns by experience, which means that you have to be in a situation that produces anxiety so that you can actively calm yourself down. This in turn will help the amygdala learn that it is not a negative experience.
Let me explain. If you become anxious climbing up a ladder and can feel that familiar increased heartbeat, sweating, difficulty breathing, or dizziness then your anxiety is being activated through the amygdala because the amygdala has perceived a threat or negative situation. The only way the amygdala can learn climbing a ladder isn't dangerous, is to activate the anxiety by climbing it. Then while you are on the ladder you work on calming down so the amygdala learns you're not in danger. Yes, you have to stay in the situation and calm yourself down before you can leave. Sounds like fun….not really right?
So how do you calm yourself down? In Rewire the Anxious Brain they talk about when experiencing our fight, flight or freeze we have control of our breathing and muscles, so we need to use them to calm ourselves down. Deep breathing is one way to reduce anxiety, but, it's a skill we need to start before we experience anxiety. If deep breathing does not help, there are plenty more breathing exercises such as four-square breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, breath-focused meditation, the list goes on.
The second way is progressive muscle relaxation. What parts of your body become tense when you feel anxious? Do a muscle inventory. Is it your jaw, neck, stomach, or shoulders? Where do you hold your tension? Once you have identified the muscle group, for example, your shoulders, tense them for about 10 seconds, then release them. You want to stay in the relaxation phase of this for as long as possible. Keep repeating until you no longer feel tense.
Once you know how to do this, you have your roadmap to stop anxiety in your life. However, you don't have to go it alone. Even if you know know how to target the amygdala to manage anxiety, it's easier said than done. Not to mention slipping back into old habits can leave you feeling frustrated. Therapy at Clarity Health Solutions, can help you develop the tools to reach your mental wellness goals efficiently with fewer stumbles. If you're in Jupiter, book an appointment and come visit our experienced therapists. If you're anywhere else in Florida, we offer telehealth appointments so help and support are never too far.
No pain, no gain. You must expose yourself to anxiety in order to stop it from having power over you. Over time, this rewires the amygdala and reduces your overall anxiety. ] we'll cover how to stop anxiety in the prefrontal cortex. Until then, make sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Tiktok to get a deeper dive into the ways to stop anxiety by rewiring your brain over the next 4 weeks of February. @Clarityhealthfl