Most knee-jerk, automatic, impulsive reactions while in the throes of an anxiety attack are the result of your brain’s amygdala, propelling you into fight-flight-freeze mode.
So to beat your anxiety at its own game, you’ve got to do differently next time your heart starts racing or you feel panicked just thinking about that upcoming extended family get-together.
To get your brain on the right side of calm, you’ve got to give it a break.
Here are several buzz words to help you remember: listen, go slow, stay present, get curious, think “rational” and “informed,” be action-oriented.
The following six steps done consistently, and in succession, can help you avoid the fight-flight-freeze response. The ultimate goal for rewiring your over-active mind and body is to bore your central nervous system.
1. Listen to your body’s stress signals. Physiological arousal comes in many forms. Common physical reactions include rapid heart-rate, tightening in the chest, difficulty breathing, dizziness, and nausea. When you notice your body getting worked up, don’t allow your mind to go with it. If you need extra support for tuning into the mind-body connection, check out this mindfulness resource.
2. Practice deep-breathing or another relaxing technique to slow your mind and body. This step is crucial for getting you out of panic mode and into your rational mind. This article includes multiple calming techniques.
3. Examine your thoughts. Do you notice any catastrophic, unrealistic and unhealthy thoughts? Anxiety loves drama, over-attention to the content of your worries (“Stop, you must blink 23 times before approaching this intersection or you’ll crash into that lady crossing the street!”), and worst-case scenarios: “What if this headache is a brain tumor?”
4. Replace distorted thoughts with adaptive thoughts: “My anxiety is acting up again. It wants me to think I’m going crazy. I’m sweating and my breathing is shallow, but I’m okay. I’m going to pull over to the side of the road and calm down. Being a few minutes late to work is not the end of the world.” Making it to this step means you’re thinking with your rational brain.
5. DO differently. Because anxiety is rooted in the automatic fight-flight-freeze response, the brain can’t distinguish between a real threat and a perceived threat. It’s common to go into auto-pilot mode and either react impulsively with anger (fight), or escape due to emotional flooding (flight). Sometimes the perceived threat is so intense, you may become immobile (freeze). Once you identify your patterns of unhealthy behavior, you can make informed decisions about what to do instead: “Rather than swallow my anger, I’m going to tell my husband I feel unimportant when he sides with his family about child-rearing.”
6. Repeat steps 1-5 as often as necessary. Sometimes this process with take a few minutes, while other times it may take a lot longer. That’s okay. It is possible to rewire your brain’s response to stress, and repetition is key. Remember the ultimate goal is to bore your central nervous system.
Don’t give up! Anxiety can feel overwhelming, all-consuming and never-ending. Having a guided technique at the ready, means you can think, feel and behave differently next time your worries threaten to hijack your mental health. Take it one step at a time 🌿🌱