This is a very common question around the topic of anxiety. If you read my last article you now realise that our thoughts are a massive driver of anxiety, but what if you are monitoring your thoughts and you still can’t figure out what’s driving those awful feelings of fear and stress?
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Well you are most likely experiencing a body-based anxiety. What is body-based anxiety? Well to fully understand and manage your anxiety you need to understand two basic concepts around how your brain monitors and responds to dangerous situations.
Our brains are designed with an in-built alarm system that in constantly vigilant, watching for dangerous situations that may be life threatening or disadvantageous. In my last article I wrote about the frontal cortex and explained that it is responsible for creating and responding to the internal narrative you are writing. This narrative is using all the sensory data that is being taken in by your eyes, ears, touch etc, as well as comparing this data with previous experiences and future expectations. If this story line is dangerous then all the chemicals that are used to prepare for problems are released. This feels like anxiety.
That’s the first main area of stress generation, the second is much more subtle and difficult to evaluate with your conscious mind. This is the amygdala, the amygdala is a small almond shaped organ deep inside your brain that has many functions, one of which is to store emotional memories. If you have a scary experience at school as a 5-year-old or a teenager, your amygdala records that memory of fear and then continues to scan for similar situations for the rest of your life!
Let me illustrate that with an example from my life, I had many very unpleasant experiences at school as a teenager, fear, loneliness, panic, bullying, exclusion so on, actually when I left school I swore I’d never go back! Then ironically, I ended up choosing a career as a high school teacher.
It was only in the last few months that I realised that this body-based anxiety triggered by the amygdala may be the cause of a lot of anxiety felt during teaching. Especially when I started a new school and was walking into a new classroom, I would feel my anxiety levels rising. I was frustrated too because even though I would use monitoring and retell the narrative in a more realistic light, I would still feel the fear.
It wasn’t until I read “rewire your anxious brain” that I realised re framing my narrative wasn’t the way to deal with this body-based anxiety created by the amygdala. This part of your brain doesn’t respond to thoughts, but to the way your body is acting at the same time it scans and discovers the situation that is similar to the old threat memory.
So how do you stop feeling anxious for no reason? When you detect that your anxiety levels are rising and realise there’s no real reason for them, take on the posture your body would take if it was feeling confident. Stand tall, breath deeply and slowly, smile and look up, all the postures you would take if you felt confident. Studies show that these posture changes and slow breathing, directly feedback to the amygdala and tell it to stop creating anxiety.
Body based anxiety only listens to your body language not your thoughts.
You are in effect retraining your amygdala to reassess that type of situation. A place you will see this working in your life is when you work with animals. I haven’t had a lot of experience training animals, but I’ve noticed that they don’t respond to your words so much as your body posture. The amygdala is just like that. For years you have left that part of your brain untrained, just like a little puppy but you need to start retaining it to remove this instinctive body-anxiety response and turn it into a more appropriate and helpful response.
Such a simple way to deal with the anxiety isn’t, try it now, stand up straight or sit up, breath slowly and deeply, look up at the sky and smile, a real content, confident smile. Instantly your telling your brain to calm and that there is no real problem.
This part of your brain is like training an animal, it responds to posture and expression more than language. So start training it to be calm today!
Everyday do a little bit to be a little better… UpGradeMe