Your brain comes hard-wired with an “emergency response system.” When your brain perceives a threat, it triggers your body’s “fight-or-flight” response so you can take immediate action. This automatic response to a real threat ensured our survival as a species. Once the threat is gone, your body is meant to return to a normal, relaxed state.
Anxiety is fear or dread of what we think might happen, rather than an appropriate response to a real danger. It is like a false alarm, firing up your fight-or-flight response even when there is no immediate threat. In an anxiety state, your brain thinks you are in danger when you are not.
In this state everything can feel like it is a life or death situation, even though some part of your brain may know you are over-reacting. It can create feelings of panic or keep the brain spinning in “what if” scenarios. Self-judgment and self-criticism can become more acute. And the physical sensations of anxiety can be frightening.
This nervous system response can be overwhelming if you don’t feel like you can control it. Over time, these responses become wired into our nervous system, making it easier for us to react this way in the future.
You can’t think your way out of anxiety
Many people with anxiety think that if they just understand what is causing their anxiety, it will go away. But that rarely works. Why? Because in an anxiety state, the part of your brain responsible for rational, objective thought can’t communicate with the rest of your brain. It literally goes offline.
A nervous system that habitually goes into or stays in “fight or flight” mode doesn’t need a “thinking about” solution, it needs a nervous system solution.
From this perspective, there are four things you need:
- gain a practical understanding of your brain and your nervous system, especially the neurobiology of anxiety,
- reliable techniques to quickly interrupt the anxiety response,
- awareness of your emotional states and triggers, and
- skills and tools to rewire your habitual ways of thinking, doing, and reacting.
Using the practical, science-based tools and biofeedback technology from the HeartMath system, conscious breath work, and techniques to develop self-awareness and self-compassion, you can learn to “get your hands on the controls” of your nervous system. This process can help you be less emotionally reactive. It can also help you think more clearly, make better decisions, and increase your sense of self-worth. And these techniques can work even if you have no idea what is causing the anxiety.
I work with clients with and without mental health diagnoses. For some, these skills are all they need. For others, these skills are a helpful adjunct to therapy or medication. These skills are not to be used as a substitute for appropriate physical or behavioral health care when it is indicated.
If you are looking for concrete skills to manage stress and anxiety, five sessions is generally enough to learn the basics. After implementing the skills, if you notice areas of your life that contribute to anxiety, coaching might be the best next step.
Questions? Feel free to contact me for a free 20-minute phone consultation.