Why telling yourself to calm down doesn’t work…

Could it be possible that almost everything you are doing to decrease your anxiety is a waste of time?

I’m a fan of various approaches to anxiety as there’s no proven method that works instantly for all aspects of anxiety.

However, it’s important to know there are two systems in the brain. Our cognitive reasoning occurs in our cortex. That’s the outer part of the brain that you see in pictures.  

On the other hand, our emotions and memories are stored in the limbic system. This system in the brain operates at a primitive level & is responsible for basic survival. This system in the brain is responsible for our flight or fight response.

That system functions to keep us alive and works by shutting off the reasoning and logic when there’s a threat because a life-threatening situation requires a reflex, not a well thought out thesis.  

When our brain experiences a life-threatening situation or one that’s perceived as a threat, it gets stored in our limbic system so when that situation comes up again – it’s prepared.

Why does this cause problems? Sometimes parts of memories get filed in our brain as a threat. These can include sites, places, sounds, smells, etc. Then, we begin to avoid these triggers, which strengthens the fear / anxiety circuit in the brain because avoidance tells our brain that it’s a real threat.

Now, some of these memories and triggers aren’t life threatening. However, most of the time there are threats to our basic needs. Sometimes anxiety is triggered by circumstances at work when we fear losing our ability to provide for ourselves. Other times, threats to our need for belonging and love become triggers for anxiety.

Cognitive therapy is effective, but the issue is that system in the brain cannot turn off anxiety and panic. It takes implementing strategies that will turn off that emotional, survival response in the brain.

Some of these strategies include unconventional approaches to work towards accepting the anxiety. One approach even encourages the anxiety to come on & intensify. There are strategies to reduce anxiety such as behavioral changes and relaxation. There’s no one approach that helps, but a combination of implementing changes to manage anxiety.

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