Is Your Anxiety Making You Anxious?
I have chosen this subject as the focus of this week’s quote and comment for two reasons. The first is the fact that anxiety is so pervasive in many people’s lives, and seems to be a major impediment to their creating a happy, meaningful life. The second is the fact that the experience of anxiety can become an exacerbating and sustaining factor in the stress and frustration so many people seem to be feeling. Therefore, if we can learn more about what this anxious feeling really is, and how to become more influential in how it affects our lives, we can take yet another step toward being able to create the life we want.
In order to accomplish this, we must first understand that anxiety is actually a series of chemical changes in our brain and body that are triggered by the lower 20% of the brain. For those of you familiar with my “Life From the Top of the Mind” philosophy, you know that this is the result of our limbic system (the middle brain, just behind the eyes and between the ears) perceiving some internal (a thought) or external stimuli as problematic or threatening. When this happens, this “gatekeeper” part of the brain sends the data immediately down to the brainstem, bypassing the neocortex or the upper 80% of the brain, and triggering the production of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and the big one, cortisol.
While this is no picnic, I believe that due to the automatic nature of this process (known as “downshifting” in the latest brain research), it will not serve us to focus all of our attention on stopping this from happening. In fact, the need to stop the downshifting process before it starts can often trigger more anxiety because this need flows from the belief that if we don’t stop it, more bad things will happen (a fear-based perspective).
Instead, I suggest we look at what we can do when we first feel anxious, because I believe that this is the time in the process where we have the most influence. You see, what most people do when they feel anxious is follow and even feed that feeling. They begin to think about what they believe is “making them” anxious, and worry about the problem.
What they don’t recognize is that their anxiety is blocking their ability to access the clear, confident, creative part of their brain, and the feeling of being anxious is the result of a chemical change in their brain and body.
In other words, their anxiety is making them anxious!
No longer is it just the thought or situation that is the problem. Now the chemicals of anxiety are also driving the experience. This is how panic attacks become so debilitating. First it’s crowds, or flying, or “whatever” that triggers the reaction, but soon the reaction itself is so frightening that it becomes the problem.
The solution, therefore, is to first change the chemicals being produced by the brain and shift to the Top of the Mind, or the neocortex, so that you can bring your best interpersonal and/or problem-solving skills to bear on whatever issue triggered the anxious reaction in the first place.
If you want to learn more about how to do this, feel free to pick up my book, “Life from the Top of the Mind,” and/or contact me about coming and presenting this information to you and your organization. Until then, here’s to you seeing anxiety for what it is… good information about a situation (or a perception, interpretation, or expectation) that needs to change!
~ All the best, Dr. Bill