I’m not sure how long anxiety has been a struggle in my life because so much of it required an awareness that I didn’t have prior to a couple years ago. But the more I was aware of the symptoms, the more I realized how crippling it was in my life.
So, I’ve been seeing a therapist for a year and half now — a great therapist with over 30 years of experience and extensive schooling in an evidence-based, science-minded and brain-physiology perspective.
For my own benefit (and perhaps the benefit of others struggling with similar problems), I’m writing some of my thoughts of information I’ve gleaned from him and from my own experience. Obviously I’m not a therapist, so take this all with a grain of salt. But also, listen, because I know that this information has been life changing for me and you may find it very helpful for you too.
Anxiety comes from fear. It is a biological adaptation in our brains as a means to avoid dangerous situations. A survival mechanism we evolved that proved very beneficial. Our ancestors that had it survived; those who didn’t were killed by the tigers (so to speak). We got chased by a tiger, we developed a keenly refined sense of detecting when a tiger is near, the anxiety ramped up, and we searched for safety. Salvation was in anxiety.
But this was back when eating, sleeping, sexing, and surviving were the four goals of humanity. We’ve grown so much since then, so now anxiety sits and festers and grows like an out-of-control weed.
When a stressor in our life feels dangerous, an alarm goes off in our brain. This alarm can imprint as trauma and/or anxiety (the two are related, both result from fear and survival). The alarm goes off, and we feel a very strong sense to respond. In fact, we can’t not respond. Everyone’s response is different, and can range from overeating to OCD to “being controlling” to dissociating to a thousand other things.
But here’s the thing — that response is almost always subconscious, which means we aren’t consciously aware of it. We just do it, without thinking, and usually without even having any idea it’s happening. In fact, much of our lives actually consists of us responding to various anxieties, and all under the radar of our awareness.
So, back to the anxiety alarm. It can be triggered by an infinite number of things depending on our life experience, but once the alarm is on, it can’t get shut off, it can only fade. There is no off-switch in our brains– instead we must just ride the wave and let the fear fade with time. So our goal then is to intervene in that process as early as possible to get to the fading phase as quickly as possible, eventually leading to literally reshaping the fear center in our brains that are primed with each anxiety pathway.
So, the only way to quiet the alarm is for our conscious mind to speak to our subconscious mind in the moment the alarm is going off. It’s imperative that each part of that first sentence sink in. Conscious mind, subconscious mind, and in the moment anxiety is highest.
Think of our brains like a computer. Anxiety runs in the background like an application we installed when something made us afraid often years or decades ago. But we can only shut that app down when it’s actually running. So, pay attention to yourself and your triggers, notice when the app starts to run, and then pull it up on the desktop as an open window. Once pulled up, then and only then can you shut the app down.
How do you pull it up? By noticing. Notice when you’re feeling anxious, the thoughts that come in your mind, your emotions, or if you’re not tuned in enough for that, maybe even just the physical sensations you feel. Bring the subconscious anxiety into your consciousness by becoming aware of when you feel it.
Then, how do you shut it down? By thinking. Engage your logical, conscious mind. A great tool is to ask yourself the following questions:
Is there anything to be afraid of? Is the threat real? Are you actually in danger?
If not, then you’re okay. The alarm fades.
If yes: Ask yourself, can you handle it? If yes, the alarm fades.
If you can’t handle it: Ask yourself, can you learn from it? If yes, the alarm fades.
If you can’t learn from it: Just say to yourself, shit happens. Life happens. Shrug your shoulders. We all go through it. The alarm fades.
This series of questions have been very helpful for me in dealing with anxiety. But, I also must create a more solid base from which I can build a stronger awareness where my logical, conscious mind is more active in my life. And this is where the brainwashing from my last post comes in.
I must unwash my brain from Christianity and rewash it, so to speak. I’ve learned how powerful those tools were in instilling falsities for me, so let’s use those same tools for healing truths. Instead of spending daily time with god, I need to reteach my brain with daily time for my emotional and mental restructuring. We do this through the same things I did as a Christian : meditating, reading, thinking, journalling, self-analyzing and applying. As often and repetitively as possible.
There is hope.
This is all very meaty, so more bites to chew on to come very soon as I continue to do my own self-brain-restructuring. 🙂