3 Practical STEPS to Rewire the Anxious Brain

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So here is the Amazing thing about your brain. It's made to rewire itself all the time. This is called neuroplasticity. 

Scientists used to think that after childhood, our brain was pretty much locked in place, but now that we have better imaging technology, we can literally see how the brain changes depending on how we use it.

So in this video, I'm going to talk about one very simple thing you can do to rewire your brain to be less anxious.

And it is simple, but it's not easy. So I'm also going to share three steps you can take to make it happen. 

And share ten extra skills you can develop on your own or with the therapist to build up your ability to take control of your anxiety.

And if you'd like to learn more in-depth information about how to treat your anxiety, I've got a course on Udemy that I'm working on, it's called rewiring the anxious brain. 

So you can also check out that link in the Description. 

So let's start off with one example of neuroplasticity in London, the taxi drivers have this super difficult exam where they have to prepare by memorizing all the streets and events and locations in this huge City. 

Researchers took images of their brains before they started studying and after this two-year process. And they would literally be able to see the new neural connections, the wiring that changed in the brain.

There’s good evidence that changing how you think, like, going to therapy can actually change the structure of your brain and the types of chemicals that it's pumping out.

 Our brain has an amazing ability to rewire itself, to learn grow and heal. 

So, let's talk about how to do that with anxiety. If we want to change how our brain processes anxiety, we need to understand three principles of anxiety.

 01- Understand what anxiety is?

Now, this may sound dumb because you already know what anxiety feels like, but what you need to do is understand your perspective on anxiety. You need to let go of the idea that anxiety is bad. Anxiety is not inherently bad. 

Anxiety is uncomfortable, sometimes, anxiety is disordered sometimes. Anxiety gets in the way, but we all experience anxiety because it's supposed to serve a really important function, to motivate us to avoid real danger. 

We are supposed to feel anxious when standing on a cliff edge, it helps us be safe. We're supposed to feel anxious when we know we have an important test coming up because that should motivate us to study. 

Anxiety tells us that something is important to us.  Anxiety and excitement are basically the same chemical reaction in your body with adrenaline triggering that sympathetic activation and prepping you for action. 

When we look at anxiety as being uncomfortable, but acceptable and a normal part of life, suddenly we develop new tools to work with it and that includes working with the other type of anxiety. 

02-Understand disordered anxiety. 

And this is when anxiety seems to take over your life. This is anxiety that makes it hard to go to work to school or to enjoy life at all. And the harder you try to make it go away stronger and stronger, it gets.

Now contrary to popular belief that anxiety is disordered when it's more severe, anxiety is actually disordered, when one of two things happen;

01-When You Feel In Danger When you're actually safe

 For example, I worked with a client who was afraid of Radiators, she would feel anxious and sweaty around them and she couldn't make herself and go into a room with a radiator in it.

Now radiators are not actually dangerous but she was having a real physiological response to something that was actually safe. So, anxiety can be disordered when you have a danger response in your body, but you are actually safe. 

02-When Anxiety Interferes with Your Ability To Function

The second way anxiety can be disordered is when your anxiety interferes with your ability to function. This is essentially what determines if you meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder diagnosis. When your anxiety or you're attempting to avoid anxiety, stop you from effectively facing life. 

When this happens, you start avoiding school or calling in sick to work, you stop leaving the house or spending time with friends. 

Pretty soon your anxiety is taking over your life and stopping you from doing the things you love.

So let's talk about what causes anxiety to spiral out of control. This is called the anxiety cycle every day. Throughout our day, we have experiences and we interpret these experiences as either being safe or dangerous.

So, let's say, for example, you see a dog, now, each person interprets an experience differently for some people, this would be exciting and fun, but for some reason, you think that dog is gonna bite me.

This leads to feelings of fear anxiety, maybe even panic. These are uncomfortable feelings, and you may even take them as a sign that your thoughts are true. So you escape, you run away, you get out of there, nothing bad happens. 

So, your brain releases this surge of relief “whew! that was close. “The only way I survived was because I ran away, I could have died and your brain thinks I better do that again. I'm gonna motivate my human to avoid that situation by increasing their anxiety about it. And voila your anxiety goes up. 

Every single time that we avoid a threat and survive our brain thinks, let's do that again. So it lays down neural Pathways. This wiring reinforces that behavior. And the Whole function of emotions is to motivate us to action, but that's another video. 

So our brain because we've convinced it that the dog was a threat, It takes action into its own hands and it increases your anxiety level around dogs. Every time we feel anxiety and then avoid the situation our anxiety level will go up a notch. 

So this is principle number three, avoidance feeds disordered anxiety. It literally creates overwhelming anxiety. Now, there are lots of ways to avoid it. There's running away and physically avoiding, but there's also emotional avoidance. 

So, if you have social anxiety, you might still go to the party, but only if you get drunk ahead of time. Or you might be in a relationship but scared of getting hurt. So you don't allow yourself to let the other person into your heart.

You stay emotionally distant or you protect yourself by not committing. Social media, anger, blame distraction, and even coping skills can be avoidant.

Regardless of the type of avoidance, it increases your anxiety, and even worse it shrinks down your world. So with the dog example, you might start avoiding situations where a dog might be present.

By not going to friends’ homes or skipping the park and your world shrinks. You miss out on good relationships or you stop going to parties and your world gets more and more constraint. 

Avoidance can make your world small and scary and unhappy. But every time you get anxious and avoid something and survive, your brain increases your anxiety in that area. 

Now, looking at this cycle, we have two places where we can intervene or we can stop that anxiety from spiraling out of control. 

The first place is with our actions when we feel anxiety, but we're actually safe. If we stick with it, if we stay there, we experience our emotions and sensations without running away. And again, if you do this and you don't die, then your brain learns “Whew! What a relief. 

I guess that. Not all dogs are dangerous. Let's do that again. And it sends out a surge of relief. This leads to a gradual decrease in anxiety over time and a gradual increase in your emotional muscles, your ability to feel emotions, and Sensations that are uncomfortable without needing to escape them all the time. 

So you get better at the feeling. As you do this, your brain literally lays down new neural Pathways saying not all dogs are dangerous. 

I don't need to be anxious around dogs. And it literally changes your brain chemistry, releasing less cortisol and adrenaline and other stress hormones. 

This is the most straightforward way to rewire your brain to have less anxiety, but I get it this is super hard.

If it were easy, you would have already done it. So I'm gonna break it down into three, big steps for you. 

Now, on a side note, the second place in this cycle to intervene is with your thoughts. Changing, how you think about the dog. And this will be a powerful and effective treatment too. But it can also get really complicated and it works best before you are anxious rather than during.

Now I talk about some of the ways you can change your thinking in other videos, but in this video, we're going to talk about the most straightforward way to rewire the anxious brain and that's through action.

 How to do it? There are three steps. So step one, 

(01)-Make an exposure hierarchy. I've made an entire video about this, but basically, you take one thing that scares you and you break it down into teeny tiny steps and you start by courageously facing the easiest one first. 

Now, this is the part that most people Miss, they jump into fast and then they Panic or they escape and they never do it again and then, that fear is reinforced so make an exposure hierarchy and write down as many teeny little steps as you can think of.

Step 02-Change your rules. Now, courage doesn't mean the absence of fear but choosing that something is more important than avoiding fear.

In acceptance and commitment therapy this is called willingness; allowing yourself to do something, even though it makes you uncomfortable. If you make a rule for yourself, like I'm gonna do this until I get too anxious, then your brain will be like cool, let's do that then I can escape. 

So it will make you really anxious. And when we say I'm gonna do this thing unless it makes me too anxious, then we're just inviting anxiety to make all our decisions for us.

 So when it comes to exposure, you choose an easier activity to start with and then you stay with it and you watch yourself for a certain amount of time or until your anxiety decreases by half during the exposure.

Now while you're facing your anxiety and practicing willingness, grounding activities, and self-regulation activities, this body up approach to decreasing anxiety, can be helpful. 

But the most important part is that you sit with your anxiety for a little while until it decreases or at least for a certain set amount of time.

03. Face it -Go Get Anxious And see if you survive. Little spoiler alert here, you will. 

So, with the dog example, start by repeatedly, imagining yourself interacting with a dog and you practice this every day for 10 minutes until that activity, no longer makes you very anxious. 

And then you might work with a friend who has a dog to set up the next steps. 

So you might see a dog through a window and you just stay there and you sit with it and you breathe and you allow yourself to relax and you do this every day for 10 minutes until your anxiety decreases.

And then you practice being in the same room as a tiny dog on a leash. And then, perhaps touching a tiny dog on a leash. And then petting, a tiny dog on a leash, and eventually, you're moving up to a beer dog

And then awful leash, then eventually you gets yourself to the point where you can go to a dog park, sit down and stay there for 30 minutes. 

It’s okay, If you feel anxious, it's okay. If you feel uncomfortable or you sweat, or you shake or whatever but you just stick with it, and pretty soon your brain learns, it’s cool, most dogs are safe, you're okay. 

And your anxiety will decrease. Now again, you can do some physiological grounding activities while in the midst of your anxiety, but don't use those as another way to just avoid anxiety.

Use those as a way to practice willingness. This willingness to feel what you're feeling and accept it as being normal natural and Okay,

So there's a simple solution to anxiety. Face your fears and they will decrease.

This may seem too simple, or too impossible, or too big of a leap. So therapists have devised a bunch of ways to break that leap into a bunch of tiny steps, a bunch of skills that you can use to make it easier.

So make sure to check out my part two, with those 10 skills to help you face your fears. 

 Now, please share this video. You never know who might benefit from it. Thanks for watching and take care.


1 comment:

  1. Now, please share this video. You never know who might benefit from it. Thanks for watching and take care.

    ReplyDelete