What is Anxiety? How to Deal with Anxiety

What is Anxiety? How to Deal with Anxiety


What is anxiety? To put it simply, anxiety is not feeling safe. So, if you’re hiking
in the woods and suddenly spot an angry mama bear, the threat detector in your brain throws
your mind and body into a hypervigilent overdrive as nerves fire, hormones flow, and your heart
pounds to prepare for fight or flight. This anxiety reaction is meant to be a friend by
warning of impending danger so you can protect yourself. Unfortunately for some people, their
threat detectors trigger frequent false alarms, which, if severe enough, can become anxiety
disorders that make them feel chronically unsafe even when they are safe.
So, what causes these false alarms? Well, to begin with, the amygdala, the part of the
brain that triggers fight or flight, cannot tell the difference between a real threat
and an imagined one, so all of us might experience false alarms at times. However, some people
are chronically tormented by false alarms due to genetics, brain chemistry, medical
conditions, substance abuse, environmental factors, or some combination of the above.
From my experience as a mental health counselor since 1996, many clients with anxiety disorders
seem to have biochemical and environmental contributors to their anxiety problems. Medications
can help with the biochemical issues, and counseling can help by educating clients about
the dynamics of their anxiety and then coaching them in learning new coping skills to manage
false alarms. The fight-or-flight response is automatic
and comes from an ancient part of our lower brain, which even lizards have. Unlike a lizard,
however, which has no choice but to view stimuli that trigger fight-or-flight as real threats,
we humans have a higher brain that allows us to observe our own brain, which is called
mindfulness. Thus, the ability to be mindful allows those who suffer from anxiety disorders
to observe and get to know the workings of the their fight-or-flight reactions so they
can learn to distinguish false alarms from real threats.
This mindful approach to dealing with anxiety disorders is based on observation and acceptance
rather than avoidance, which is why it is so effective. How can you learn to manage
false alarms if you avoid every situation that triggers them? Well, you can’t. So, it
is more effective to mindfully observe your anxiety and, thus, come to understand it better,
so you can eventually see it for what it is – not a real threat but just an annoying false
alarm. But it gets even better because the regular
practice of mindfully observing your anxiety will calm your over-zealous threat detector
over time by no longer feeding its outdated programming. You see, the more you believe
these false alarms, the stronger their neural pathways become in the brain. Conversely,
the less you believe these false alarms, the weaker their pathways become, which then stimulates
the brain to build new pathways of safety to whatever stimulus is triggering the false
alarm. Let me give you a concrete example to illustrate how a brain becomes mired in
pathways that trigger false alarms: Let’s say you were bullied and teased horribly
in middle school, so your threat detector learned to associate people with danger. Logically,
you began avoiding people except for a few family members and friends within your comfort
zone, and so you now have an anxiety disorder – social phobia. Flash forward 20 years and
you still compulsively avoid social gatherings and crowded places even though you haven’t
experienced any bullying in 18 years. So, why do you continue to avoid? Because you
haven’t given your threat detector enough opportunities to learn that the vast majority
of people in the adult world are not bullies, and, thus, it’s safe for you to interact with
them without suffering the pain you experienced in middle school. The simple truth about irrational
fears is that avoidance maintains them, so if you want to extinguish irrational fears,
you have to face them. I hope this video helps you understand how
the practice of mindfulness allows you to see your anxiety disorder symptoms as false
alarms, which then gives you the confidence to “feel the fear and do it anyway” with respect
to whatever stimuli have been triggering them. In this way, little by little through practice,
your threat detector will learn that you are safe to face the old stimuli that helped create
your anxiety disorder, which will then significantly expand your comfort zone while decreasing
the frequency and intensity of false alarms over time.
If you found this video helpful, please click the Thumbs Up button. And if you want to hear
more from me, then subscribe to my channel, Counselor Carl. I will be publishing a new
video every other weekend. And if you’d like help in learning to manage your anxiety more
effectively, then visit my website, serenityonlinetherapy.com, to learn more about me and the services I
provide. Thank you for watching this video, and keep
paying attention to your life. Until next time.

Comments

(2 Comments)

  • Akanksha Sharma

    Thanks so much for sharing. This really helped !

  • Let the rain come

    Thank you. I have GAD and mindfullness meditation and raising self awareness in our bodies on how our feelings react to certain stimuli has helped me a lot. I am reading a lot at the moment about feelings and I know they are usually temporary. They come and go. Happy valentines day to all the lonely people like me who can't find a date. Lol. Thank you teacher.

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