At this time in 2018, 40 million Americans over the age of 18 are affected by anxiety – that’s roughly 19 percent of the nation’s population, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). And anxiety among adolescents is at an all time high: about 30% of girls and 20% of boys, totally 6.3 million teens, have a diagnosed anxiety disorder (per National Institute of Mental Health). There are numerous reasons for this astounding rate of anxiety in our country including: our less cohesive, disconnected communities, the constant self comparison brought on by social media, and getting caught up in the seemingly fast pace of life. In addition, anxiety seems to have a genetic feature to it. So if your parents were particularly anxious, you may have a predisposition to being anxious yourself; which means given the “right” environmental factors as mentioned previously, you may switch on this biological trait. An additional problem is that many people who struggle with anxiety lack knowledge about the best approaches for calming anxiety.
But you need to get educated about what the brain is doing in the first place then have some effective ways to work with your own brain to calm anxiety. What is going on with the brain when we feel anxiety in response to stress?Did you know that your brain is hard-wired to be on alert and scanning the environment for threats?
The brain is designed to detect and respond to threats for your own safety. Times have changed though since a saber tooth tiger was the environmental threat, now the “threat” is too much stress and unmanaged thoughts and worries of what “could happen.” Today’s perceived threats activate a string of physiological responses in your mind and body just as if the threat were a tiger. The brain (namely the Amygdala and the Hypothalamus) triggers this cascade of bodily events so that you can fight, flee, or even freeze to survive the threat. The brain tells the adrenal glands to pump the hormones called epinephrine (adrenal) and norepinephrine throughout your body, which makes the heart beat faster, forcing more blood to the muscles making them tense and ready for action; also vision may narrow (tunnel vision), sweating gets activated to keep the body from overheating, and even hearing becomes more sensitive.
This response is called the sympathetic response. The problem for many people today is that they are chronically staying in this sympathetic response state, which has major health implications (cardio-vascular disease, endocrine and autoimmune illness and much more). Other animals have natural ways of getting back out of the fight-flight-freeze response and returning to an alert but relaxed state . . . deer don’t stay frozen in fear indefinitely, unable to return to grazing or laying down to rest!
So, finding ways to work with this human brain then is key! A brilliant feature of the brain is that it will respond to your input. If you struggle to manage an anxious mind, it is essential to learn effective calming techniques and then be intentional about using them on a regular basis. We’ve all heard about the “Mind-Body” approach, but I recommend the opposite, a “Body-Mind” approach. Go in through the secret door of the Body in order to get to the Mind (the brain). We can actually send signals from the body to the brain to create a relaxation response (or parasympathetic response). When the brain gets a message to relax, it will then come out of threat response mode.
We’ve all heard about the “Mind-Body” approach, but I recommend the opposite, a “Body-Mind” approach.
Once the brain gets the message to relax, you will find it much easier then to work with distressing thoughts which enter your mind. I will be discussing such cognitive approaches in a future blog post.
You can start learning how to do these Body-based techniques for calming the mind by joining my closed Facebook group called Free Soul Academy