So, last post I discussed Anxiety Disorder from the perspective of natural survival instincts. Understanding that you are working with a natural reflex empowers you to find strategies that weaken this reflex until it is under your control.
I'm going to go over several Anxiety management strategies. All the well-educated readers of “Reality of Anxiety” probably have already heard these tips, but I am going to focus on how to understand their effectiveness in light of the anxiety reflex.
As I mentioned before the Anxiety reflex is a triggering of the “fight or flight” response that is designed to protect you from a threat to your life. Unfortunately it often gets triggered when our lives aren't in danger and the anxiety reaction does us more harm than good.
When the subconscious mind triggers the anxiety alarm, “Watch out, someone or something is trying to kill you!” You immediately begin to search for evidence that the threat is real. If your brain senses signs of danger then the “fight or flight” response is turned up. If no danger is found or after the threat is gone your brain is supposed to turn off the reflex. Unfortunately, when you have Anxiety disorder your “off switch” is harder to get at.
Many of the best Anxiety Management Tips tell your brain it's time to hit the off switch:
Deep breathing: Your brain pays careful attention to the body. When the body acts like it is in danger the brain assumes their must be danger. This can become a vicious cycle such as in a panic attack. The good news is that you can use this to your advantage. You conscious brain can take control of breathing. By forcing yourself to take slow deep breaths you are sending a message to your unconscious brain that there is no real danger.
Calm People: Your brain is searching for signs of danger when you are anxious. When other people respond to your anxiety by becoming anxious themselves your brain takes their behavior ask proof that there must be a real threat. This is why high-strung families and friends can sometimes worsen your anxiety. If all you see are unworried people who speak calmly then your subconscious gets the message that there isn't a threat to your safety. So tell people to try to stay mellow for you or hang out with calm people when you are anxious.
Positive Words: I know is seems foolish to keep repeating to yourself, “I feel good. I feel great.” But your subconscious is listening. Hearing soothing words even from your own mouth confirms that that the anxiety reflex was a false alarm. Once again this is a way that you can use your conscious mind to tell your unconscious mind to turn off the stress response.
Exercise: This technique works because it give the subconscious brain exactly what it is looking for. Your brain wants to fight or run to get away from danger. If you exercise to get yourself sweating and out of breath you brain assumes that the danger must be gone. Exercise is like a reset button for your stress. Your body relaxes and your blood pressure drops after aerobic exercise.
Sometime people will need medicines that adjust brain chemistry to dampen the anxiety response, but often the best ways of combating this natural instinct are the natural ways that our own bodies can turn off the reaction. Any Anxiety suffer probably knows a lot more techniques than these I mentioned.
I encourage my patients to think about how the reflex works and how anxiety control techniques are helping their reflex realize there is no danger. I have found that this perspective really helps people feel they have control over their anxiety.
Doctor D is not an expert on Anxiety Disorder or even a psychiatrist. He is a regular doctor who blogs at Ask An MD. Doctor D has cared for lots of patients with anxiety while living a high stress life, so he has given a lot of thought to Anxiety. Most of his experience is anecdotal from years of practicing medicine. For specific treatments or advice about your own anxiety be sure to talk to your doctor.