For those suffering from anxiety (or depression) it can feel like a life sentence, but the ironic truth is that the characteristic thought patterns associated with the condition are what manifests those no hope feelings and despair.
When anxiety levels rise the brain loses intellectual control and, to a greater or lesser extent, a primitive part of the brain, part of the limbic system responsible for flight or fight, steps andtakes over. We can recognise when this has happened by certain characteristics:
- Catastrophising – or coming up with the worst possible scenario. This would be normal if you were being chased by a dangerous polar bear it’s your best hope of survival, but your brain doesn’t know the difference between that and say, an argument, an unexpected bill, the threat of redundancy or maybe an illness so it will do the same thing.
- This primitive part of the brain is obsessional, the negative thoughts and worry, focusing on the problems or a specific obsession will go round and around in your mind, you wont be able to forget it.
- Vigilance – Your brain will keep reminding you of all the things you need to obsess and worry about. You might forget for a while if you’re focused on work, your children or a hobby or interest, but soon as you stop, it all comes back again.
- All or nothing – This primitive brain thinks ony in black and white, all or nothing. It comes from a time of eat or be eaten, kill or be killed, so it doesn’t see the options and shades of grey in the middle, just extremes.
- Self centered – It will make everything about you, it’s only concerned with your self preservation after all. Perhaps your talking to a friend on the phone and they seem distracted or a little offish with you; you’ll assume you’ve done something wrong or they’re annoyed with you for some reason, or maybe you receive an email at work and you jump to conclusions that it’s personally critical of you. The truth is, your friend is distracted by their own worries, or something on TV in the background or the author of the critical email has been annoyed by something else entirely and their own anger is being projected, or perhaps they’re not a good communicator – but you will make it all about you.
The important point to understand is that the brain doesn’t know the difference between imagination and reality, it only knows what you’re thinking and so, when you worry and what-if, negatively forecasting the future, it’s converted into anxiety . The more you do this, the greater anxiety you create which is turn activates the flight/fight primitive part of your brain – a vicious cycle,
So, anxiety will, can and does go away when you develop the skills and strategies to interrupt the negative thought patterns and reduce the feedback loop the HPA Axis (part of your primitive brain) has got stuck in.
In the next article I’m going to explain in greater scientific depth about the HPA axis and what keeps activating it, creating this vicious cycle, leading you to question if anxiety will ever go away.
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