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The Anatomy of Anxiety

26/09/2018 - Posted by Georgena

For many of us, anxiety sucks. It feels unpleasant, it’s uneasy, uncomfortable and sometimes scary. It comes in so many different forms and no two people will experience it in the same way. Sometimes, it comes in different forms, at different times, and in different situations, for the same person! It’s unpredictable. It can arise when we are stressed or relaxed. It can arise out of the blue. It can be rational or irrational. Sometimes, we are anxious about little things while being fine with genuinely scary things.

There’s no real logic to anxiety or worry except that it’s a part of the human experience and we all go through it at various frequencies and intensities. It’s not just you. Do you know the super-high percentage of people who experience anxiety? According to the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (Summary of Results, 2007, 4326.0, Canberra) anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. It is estimated that on average, one in four people will experience anxiety at some stage in their life and in any twelve-month period, over two million Australians will experience anxiety. But it may be many more than that. The thing with anxiety is that it’s generally invisible. We may know somebody very well and yet their anxiety remains hidden, private and even shameful.

A positive reframe for anxiety

Anxiety is a form of energy that needs a different outlet, a new narrative, a positive reframe. Anxiety can be seen as a sign of strength—of wanting to feel good, of gearing up to do something. The more comfortable you become with anxious thoughts and feelings, the better you feel. And conversely, the more time you spend avoiding anxiety, the greater chance there is of setting up dysfunctional habits in order to avoid feeling it. For example, many people fall into the habit of trying to manage the discomfort of long-term stress and anxiety with alcohol.

How the brain and body respond

Yes, there is always a physiological aspect to anxiety. Certain parts of the brain (such as the amygdala) spring into action, releasing a chain of chemicals commonly known as the ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response. More recently, ‘flop’ and ‘(be)friend’ have been added to this list.
All of these are felt as some kind of stress.

Like a faulty alarm system on a car, sometimes these fear signals trigger in humans for no reason at all. When the car alarm goes off randomly, it’s important to remain calm, know that there is no actual threat, and do what we need to do to stop the alarm sound. Similarly, if you feel your brain hitting the panic button for no good reason, use the same process. Remain calm. Remind yourself that there is no actual threat; it’s just a feeling or thought or both. It’s ok. It passes. Talk to yourself calmly, breathe slowly through your nose, and find a pleasant, distracting activity as soon as you can. Focus on the outside world—for example, things you can see, or count, or list, colours you can name—rather than on the internal state. Remain calm and nonchalant until the wave passes. It will.

With strategies like these, you activate other parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus, that moderate the effects of the stress response by providing a soothing or reassuring antidote.

The purpose of our card sets

The aim of Anxiety Solutions and Anxiety Solutions for Kids card sets is to provide people with many ‘antidotes’ to the stress response, using a range of creative, cognitive and physical strategies. Some of these will appeal to some brains more than others, and that is fine. Your anxiety or stress pattern is personal to you, and so too are your solutions.

The most effective techniques retrain the brain away from its habitual pattern by using changes in both physiology and focus. That’s what these cards are all about. Giving the mind a new task that will either alter physiology or focus (or both!) so that a person can access a different state, even if it’s just a slight change or improvement.

From Anxiety Solutions

Booklet Author: Selina Byrne M.A.P.S.

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