You probably are. Everyone feels anxiety at varying levels, at different times and in different situations; however, sometimes anxiety can get way out of control and take over your life. So scary…
Sound like you right now?
Well, you have come to the right place today. I want to make this post today very simple because having easy recall of strategies, in the moment, can help you ride the anxiety wave and bring you back to a state of balance. You are not broken, you are still learning about your brain and how to manage it.
Facts You Need to Know:
- Anxiety Has a Purpose: Anxiety has a function in our lives (motivation), we just need to learn how to get it to a manageable level so that helps us.
- Your Brain Can Change: You can learn how to tame it! Your brain does grow when you learn! (London Taxi Driver Research). With brain understanding, skills and strategies, anxiety can be managed to the point you hardly notice it’s there.
- Learning How to Change it: Psychotherapy, CBT combined with Motivational Interviewing, have proven repeatedly as the best approaches to learning to manage anxiety (research has found that psychotherapy, skill building, is the most effective way to alleviate out-of-control anxiety; and, even more effective than medication).
- Understanding Your Cool Brain: There are two parts of your brain involved in experiencing and managing anxiety; the Emotional Brain (Limbic System) and the Logical Brain (Neocortex).
There is this wee part of your brain, in the Limbic System, called the Amygdala that is the trouble maker when anxiety becomes overwhelming. To be fair, it is not always a trouble maker, it’s main function is to alert you to dangerous situations such as a bear, in front of you, licking it’s lips and imagining you as a wonderful snack, or toy to play with. The Amygdala then kicks you into a “Fight or Flight” state to help keep you safe. This is a good thing, except when it is not. Sometimes the bear is in your head, your thoughts, your memories and your Amygdala is doing it’s job by warning you of danger.
So, then what?
Well, the first step is understanding what is happening in your brain and then work with it. You have to calm your Emotional Brain, tell your Amygdala, “thanks so much for your warning, but I am actually ok and I got this”, so that you can move to building the skills you need to manage the situation (in your Logical Brain area). The goal is to override your Emotional Brain.
Step #1: Override Your Emotional Brain
How to calm your Amygdala:
*Click on the links for more information about the Amygdala calming strategies.
Step #2: Build Your Logical Brain
The logical brain is able to override the emotional brain….with practice.
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based approach to tackling mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression. CBT has been subject to countless clinical trials, and has even been shown to be more effective than medication in some long-term studies. CBT Changes Your Brain, by helping you to understand how your thoughts effect your feelings and then how your feelings effect your behaviour and so on through the cycle (see graphic).
Some CBT to Get You Started:
- Motivation Level: Are you motivated to change? Check out this resource to help you to understand where you are in the change process: Stages of Change. This is really important to acknowledge because learning new skills is a very hard process, especially when anxiety takes over. You need to be ready to change.
- Unhelpful Thought Patterns: Most of us have thought patterns that freak out our Amygdala. We can learn to recognize them, challenge them and then balance them into an accurate thought with perspective. Check this Thinking Patterns to see if you have unhelpful patterns.
- Track Those Thoughts: It is important to see what patterns you have, when you think them (themes/triggers) in order to be able to say, “Hey! That’s not completely true!” Here is a link to thought record, for your personal use, to get you started.
- Challenge, Balance & Replace Thoughts: this can be hard to do on your own and a counsellor in your community/school can really be valuable in this process. Also, a trusted friend can help you with seeing your world in a positive and accurate way.
Technology Tip: Anxiety Management with Tech
Here is a really cool APP that is available for iPhones and Android based smart phones:
I highly recommend this app for helping you to manage your anxiety.
Always remember that you can book an appointment with a counsellor at your school, or in your community. It is such a valuable process to have help challenging those problematic thoughts that are freaking out your Amygdala. Anxiety can become your friend and your motivator.
Dr. Heather Drummond, C.Psych.
Psychologist * Passionate Advocate for Flourishing * Human Muddling Through