06 Dec Escaping The Anxiety Trap
There are so many people that suffer from anxiety. Is it always debilitating? No. Is there an easier and less taxing way to live life? YES. I have put this article together to ensure that you have a chance to understand anxiety better. I will follow up with some tips at a future point, but please feel free to reach out if you want to learn how to get off the anxiety hamster wheel. You deserve freedome and peace of mind!
The brain and anxiety
Emotional memories are stored in the amygdala. The hippocampus translates challenging events into memories. Both of these areas of the brain are responsible for activating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis, the system that regulates our stress response. In other words, your thoughts can activate the cycle of anxiety by triggering your brain to falsely assume that you are in danger.
The chemistry of anxiety
Five neurotransmitters–serotonin, norepinephrine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and cholecystokinin–are involved in anxiety. Serotonin and GABA are inhibitory as they quiet the stress response, while the others play a part in triggering it.
What happens when you have anxious thoughts?
We can all relate to having anxious thoughts. For some, these are constant and debilitating while, for others, they are unwelcome noise. When we have these negative thoughts, it triggers the brain to release chemicals (i.e. norepinephrine) to the rest of the body. This tells the body to start to shut down the digestive process and focus on getting more blood flow to our extremities (i.e. arms and legs). Our heart rate increases, our pupils widen and our lungs work hard to take in more oxygen to feed the muscles that are on high alert, ready to jump into action. This system is designed to help us escape/survive danger. We need to me more alert and ready to act in case of a threat.
The Anxiety Trap
All danger prompts anxiety, but not all anxiety indicates the presence of danger. Think of being anxious about having to walk into a room of people and speak. There is clearly no danger involved, but we can feel anxious nonetheless. We feel overwhelmed at the prospects of certain tasks and become anxious about our pending performance despite the absence of danger. All of a sudden, the voice kicks in and seemingly does not want to shut up. The trap is that we feel anxious in the absence of danger, most often prompted by memories of challenges rather than the presence of confirmed unsurmountable challenges. Clearly stated: we worry without confirmation that there is truly something to worry about. We avoid and withdraw, because we do not believe that we can handle it. Meanwhile, the absence of trying also guarantees the absence of evidence to the contrary. Anxiety wins when we stop, because it can now PRETEND that is protected you from anticipated and fictional hurdles. It will NOT tell you that you could have been successful. It will not give you an opportunity to have a positive experience, because it cannot afford for you to feel positive and happy about yourself and/or life. The more you listen to that voice, the deeper the trap, the less you live, the more you suffer. The more you believe the lies that anxiety feeds you, the more you are starving yourself of living.
The Anxiety Cycle
Keep in mind that our body simply does the best it can to take care of us. We enter the cycle at any given point and, as you can see, it can be very difficult to get off the proverbial hamster wheel. Once the thoughts appear or the body feels tense, we are off to the races. The more the brain releases chemicals, the more anxious we feel. The more anxious we feel, the more the brain releases chemicals. The more anxious thoughts we have, the more anxious we feel and the more the body and/or brain respond to anxiety.
Anxiety & Medication
Perhaps we can agree that we live in a highly over-medicated society. While anti-anxiety medication is very useful in disrupting the cycle, it does NOT present the answer to the problem. Imagine you complain about headaches. It may make sense to simply take headache medication to stop the pain. The question is, however: what caused the headache in the first place. Sure, the medication will take the pain away, but what if the cause of the headache was someone constantly hitting you over the head??? The medication does not and cannot address that. This is why I so firmly believe in dealing with the fire started as well as the fire. You deserve to get better instead of having to use life-long and ineffective band aids.
Anxiety can be so severe sometimes, however, that medication is required to lessen the severity in order for the person to be able to learn skills and apply tools. Medication definitely has its place. As always, the old saying of “consumer beware” holds true. If you temporary change, then resort to band aids. If you want lasting solutions, then deal with the fire starter.
Anxiety is no joke. So many people suffer from it in silence and agony. Know that you are NOT alone. There are many who are going through what you are facing. More importantly, there is a way through this. There are lasting solutions. All it takes is for you to find the courage to want more for yourself and reach out. Life was not meant to be about suffering. Believe that to be true and watch yourself find freedom and peace of mind.
I have more information for you, so feel free to send me an email.
As always, be good to yourself and others.
Geoff Ayi-Bonte MA RCC
Registered Clinical Counsellor
Social Anxiety Institute
National Institute of Health
US National Library of Medicine