Anxiety can pervade our lives to a degree in which it makes a permanent home in our mind and body that we barely recognize it is present nor that it drives our behavior. What makes it difficult to cope with anxiety is that merely repeating to yourself, “There’s nothing to worry about” is not helpful given that we all have warranted worries.
Rather, it is more beneficial to own your anxiety by observing its flavors and patterns, to observe what might be triggering it and find ways to function with it. Anxiety can be a useful teacher. It is often helpful in determining where you are concealing distress or containing unprocessed emotions. It may be indicating that there is unfinished business you need to address. It also signifies the necessity for growth or for some inner mental shift.
Quite often, when we are being challenged to transfer to a new level of skill or stage of life, we are likely to encounter anxiety. This is likely to happen when we are experiencing a new transition such as getting married or dealing with loss. The transformation required can be mental, emotional, physical or spiritual.
When we are willing to bring greater awareness, mindfulness and higher consciousness to our anxiety and the physiological sensation it creates, the thought patterns that it triggers and the situations that create anxiety; can we begin to learn from it.
In theory it may sound simple and applying it in action can be a bit challenging. Anxiety similar to stress is a component of fear. The root word of “anxious” is the same as the root word for “anger.” Both have their origins from the Indo-German word “to constrict.” When we feel disconnected from the universe, we begin to desire certain experiences while trying to retract from others. Craving and aversion leads to fear of either not receiving what we desire (the promotion) or attaining what we don’t desire (financial despair).
Simultaneously, fear has the capacity to protect us. Neuroscience informs us that the amygdala (small gland in the brain) generates primal emotions such as anger or fear. The amygdala is easily triggered for protection purposes. When a person is in danger, they have to respond quickly to adequately address a life or death situation. If you are in dangerous situation, the amygdala activates and connects with the brainstem to transmit the immediate physical reaction to react to a threatening situation. This response bypasses the rational, executive part of the forebrain.
The primal response occurs in milliseconds to save your life and is much faster than the rational response. The primal response triggers the flight or fight response of immediate reaction. It allows your body to react before you can truly identify or conclude that there is imminent danger. You will be in the fight or flight response when your primal response identifies a shadow of a dark figure. A few seconds later, you may realize that the dark figure was only a tree and not a person ready to attack. Those milliseconds are integral to one’s survival and consequently the fight or flight response must be immediate to increase one’s survival. Often the dark figure is solely a memory from the past that has been triggered by a stimulus in the present.
Similarily, you may associate a raised voice with your father’s angry temper, which when you were a child seemed to threaten your survival. Now, when someone raises their voice to emphasize a point, it may feel that it is a threat and you may notice physiological symptoms that follow: gut tightens, neck and shoulders become tense, you speak in a defensive fashion. The source of the anxiety is in the past; although your emotional reactivity occurs in the present.
In addition, our anxiety is anticipatory in that it is focused on the future of what might happen. Neuroscience conveys that neuronal wiring does not differentiate between actual events and imaginary ones. Meaning that one could fuel one’s own anxiety by continuously ruminating about what might happen. When this vicious cycle occurs and individuals get stuck in their head rather than being present, their anxiety becomes similar to a motor with no off button (Yoga Journal). The more often we experience any emotion, the more likely we are to experience it in the future. Neuroscience refers to this as the kindling effect. When we have an experience, the brain creates a pathway and once a pathway has been established; it is easy for the brain to reactivate that pathway without an external trigger. Hence, the more we experience anxiety, the easier it is to continue to experience anxiety.
Sometimes our brains trick us into believing that ruminating about what might happen is going to protect us and help us stay safe by preparing and planning for what might happen. This type of faulty thinking only reinforces our anxiety. Anxiety can become physiologically and psychologically addictive. People with anxiety often believe that their worries are real; that their mind and bodies react to the thoughts as if they are really occurring in the present. Anxiety is similar to living in a bad dream where one experiences all the sensations of the waking state.
When the anxiety becomes intense, people lose their ability to think clearly, rationally or creatively. Given that anxiety has its origins in childhood, individuals who experience anxiety often regress to a child-like state in which they feel dis-empowered to cope. Consequently, anxiety makes it harder for individuals to cope with life’s demands and impairs functioning.
Learning how to identify, understand, and release anxiety is one of the most powerful ways to lead a more creative and fulfilling life. One day you may notice that what you perceived as anxiety is at its core pure energy. All of our energies, even what we consider the negative ones that can be painful and limiting, have at their core the pure energy of life. That energy if you go deeply enough, will reveal itself as inherently blissful.
A.C.T. will provide free resource information for individuals and families to help promote education. For more information, please contact Dr. Drecun at Dr.Drecun@a4ct.com or (858) 792-3541. You may also visit us online at www.a4ct.com. ACT serves the Del Mar 92014 and Encinitas 92024 area.