Anxiety is a very uncomfortable experience and can be debilitating at times. However, understanding what is happening to you is of great importance when it comes to relieving it.
Prior to experiencing an anxiety producing thought, you are in a state of inertia. This is Newton’s first law that states, “if a body is at rest and moving in a straight line, it will remain at rest or keep moving in a straight line unless it is acted upon by force.” As it relates to anxiety, this means that if you are in a calm state, you will remain in a calm state unless you experience an unpleasant thought that serves to act against you, then your state of mind will change.
Once your state of mind changes, and you start to experience anxious thoughts, the amount of attention you give to these thoughts will determine its momentum. Like a wagon gains momentum when it is rolled down a hill, so too, will your anxiety if it is not stopped. Further, the longer you persist in an anxiety producing thought, the more momentum it gains.
Once the anxiety producing thought has gained enough momentum, it will become so real in your mind, that you will tell your brain that (1) you are experiencing a real threat; and (2) the real threat is a fact!
In trying to protect you, your brain will activate the Amygdala, which will release cortisol and adrenaline into your system, getting you prepared to fight or flight.
Now understand, this is equivalent to calling 911 and telling the police that a burglar has broken into your home and is trying to kill you. This will set off a sequence of events including officers arriving at your home immediately to try to save your life. The problem is, once they arrive, and find that there is no real threat, and the burglar was your pet dog moving about, they will not be happy about the false alarm.
This is what happens every time the brain perceives something as a threat. It will call the police, which in this case is the amygdala, and do everything in its power to protect you.
What to Do
In order to prevent this cycle from occurring, you must learn how to communicate more effectively with your brain. When faced with a potentially anxiety producing situation, you must first STOP, take a few deep breaths, which will activate your parasympathetic nervous system so you can relax, and ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this a life-threatening situation?
- If I don’t act now, will something bad happen to me or someone else?
- Should I take flight or fight?
If the answer is no to these questions, then you should immediately redirect your thoughts for a moment, so that you can gain control over your mind. This doesn’t mean you plan to ignore the situation; you are simply intervening in the moment to prevent your brain from thinking you are experiencing a life threating situation and prevent it from dispatching the amygdala.
You can now later address the situation in a more clearer and calmer fashion. Stating the following affirmations will also help to keep your mind from gaining momentum into an anxiety producing state:
- I am safe, there are no immediate threats to my safety
- I choose peace and calm
- I am activating inner calm
- God is with me and does not want me to worry
- God is my strength, my rock and my life
- God will never leave me nor forsake me
- I am safe in the present moment
- I contribute to my healing
- I decide what I will give my attention to
- I have control over this situation, this situation does not have control over me
Once you complete these first steps, it is good to connect with another person (social engagement) who can calm and soothe you and help you talk you through what you are experiencing.
As you consciously repeat these steps, you will begin to create a new neuropathway for how you respond to stressful situations in your environment. After approximately 30-days, this process will become automatic for you.
“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” — Alexander Graham Bell
The Brain that Changes Itself Norman Doidge MD