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In the United States, of all people over age 18, approximately 40 million have some type of anxiety disorder. Millions more suffer from anxiety symptoms, but have not been diagnosed with an anxiety-related condition. One of the toughest parts of living with an anxiety disorder is living with the constant fear that things are worse than they truly are. This is because the brain can trick someone with anxiety into thinking that a small issue is a major event. This is not easy to deal with, but to start to develop a coping plan, it is important to understand how the brain essentially plays tricks on you.
What Happens in the Brain During an Anxiety Attack
When you start to get anxious, you have a feeling of uneasiness in the pit of your stomach, there is a sense of sudden dread and a heightened sense of awareness. When it comes to feeling anxiety, there are several areas of the brain going to work, specifically the hippocampus and the amygdala. With the amygdala, the sensory signals that it is receiving may not be properly interpreted, resulting in the brain producing a feeling og anxiety. The brain region of the amygdala does this by telling you that there is a viable threat present when that's actually inaccurate. Once the amygdala is activated, the body's fight or flight response is what causes that anxious feeling and this is due to the body being flooded with cortisol and norepinephrine. Both of these chemicals work to increase your reflexes, perception and speed when you are in what seems like a dangerous situation. When you are in real danger, these changes are necessary to increase your chances of survival. Meanwhile, the hippocampus is responsible for creating memories by encoding threatening events, and in people with a history of traumatic events, this area of the brain may be smaller. This results in fragmented memories and deficits in explicit memory, and it could lead to a bias in memory, where every event from the past may seem worse than it is in reality. This subsequently colors our experience of the present and the future.
Your Mind Playing Tricks
Anxiety is truly a trick of the mind, and as you can see, there is a clear biological origion. With anxiety, your fight or flight response kicks in when there is no actual threat present, but this still causes the same biological reaction as it would if you were truly in danger. The result of this is a brain that interprets everything as threatening and therefore a state of anxiety. The key to preventing anxiety and keeping your brain under control is developing coping techniques that prevent the fight or flight response from kicking in.
Track Your Mood for Patterns
Many people with anxiety have attacks triggered by the same things, so knowing what causes you to feel anxious is critical. For example, some people get anxious when they are in a lot of traffic or when they are in a loud and crowded room. Keep notes for every time that you start to feel anxious and review these anxious moments regularly in order to identify your anxiety triggers. It is not always possible to fully avoid triggers, so you want to use coping strategies during these times to prevent a full-blown anxiety attack.
Keeping Your Anxiety Under Control
When you are in a situation with an anxiety trigger, you can take action to prevent an anxiety attack. As soon as you start to feel anxious, you need to work to calm yourself down. Start by telling yourself that you are not in any danger and that what you are feeling is just your brain playing tricks on you. This allows you to confront the source of your anxiety so that you can see that it is truly not posing a danger to you from a logical perspective.
Visualization is another technique that is commonly used to avoid anxiety. This is where you visualize something that you find comforting in order to help calm yourself down. You may visualize a calm beach, a cabin in the woods or even your bedroom. You choose what to visualize and as long as it calms you, you can overcome your anxiety.
Deep breathing is another common technique and you can do it anywhere. Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. Since you are changing your focus from your anxiety to your breathing, you will no give your anxiety the fuel it needs to consume you - This will result in relaxation.
It is important to recognize anxiety for what it is or else it is able to spiral out of control. This is easier said than done and it requires coping techniques that you must work to develop. When you have the right coping techniques, you are able to essentially confront your anxiety when it starts so that it is unable to develop into a full-blown attack. This will help you to avoid the more disabling parts of anxiety disorder so that you can live a more productive life.
Take control of your anxiety, and don't let it warp your perceptions - Interrupt the pattern, and apply these techniques.