I am quite an analytical person so it was important to me during my own recovery to understand fully what my body is doing and how to reverse things in a way that my body and mind understand to put it right.
That was the method that worked for me and the method I use in teaching others. I do feel that you need to have an understanding of how your body is working along with your natural instinct to protect yourself to keep you stuck, however everyone is different and so I do understand that what is the best method for me may not appeal to someone else.
With this in mind I have a strong belief in the Amygdala part of your brain which I feel is key in creating and then reversing Anxiety. I did cover the Amygdala in the section of the web site labelled "What is happening to you", however I believe that the information is so important and so key to understand that I have also put it in the " How to help yourself section"
Learning to talk directly to your Amygdala in a way in which it understands is in my experience the only way to encourage symptoms of Panic and Anxiety into remission, as it turns off your feelings of intense fear at the root.
I will start by introducing the Amygdala and its function.
The Amygdala are a pair of small organs within the medial temporal lobes of the brain that are responsible for making these fight or flight decisions within you.
The Amygdala actually perform a really important role in that they are responsible for the formation and storage of memories associated with emotions which include the emotions of anxiety and fear.
The Amygdala is also responsible for activating the fight or flight response within you. It works on a subconscious level rather like breathing so you are not consciously aware of it. If you think about it though if it is responsible for saving your life in an actual dangerous situation it may only have seconds and so activation is very quick.
Scientists have in fact shown that fear conditioning, experienced by those who develop an anxiety disorder such as Generalised Anxiety, Actual Panic attacks, Phobias or obsessions (OCD), all happens within the Amygdala and is stored by it as an inappropriate anxious reaction.
The Amygdala is like the body's Anxiety heat control Thermostat
All Thermostats typically control Temperature. But not the Amygdala, it's a thermostat that is responsible for full control of the Emotion of Anxiety in humans. That is its job and its really effective and really quick, with less than a second to full blown activation.
Basically because you have suffered from stress or worry overload, you have triggered this anxiety response due to your stress overloading and the way that you are reacting to your feelings of stress.
You have then had an episode of intense fear often in a non dangerous situation. You know it's not logical as you are in no danger but as it's such a bewildering and terrifying experience to feel this for seemingly no reason you focus on it and fear it and you react.
It's the way that you react to this fear that has started this process and you begin to train your Amygdala to react in a negative way to fear.
It is the reaction you have to the feeling of fear that turns a Panic Attack into an Anxiety Disorder.
Basically when we are confronted with a situation which we feel may be a danger to us, our sensory organs send fast nerve impulses to the Amygdala, the Amygdala is then responsible for making the fast decision whether it's appropriate to activate the fight or flight response.
Once it has chosen to react with an anxiety response we are immediately prepared to protect ourselves. We get a huge surge or adrenalin which prepares our body to either fight, run or freeze. All a protected measure designed to save us from the perceived dangerous situation that it thinks we are in.
But there is also another part to the Amygdala.
It is also responsible for the formation and storage or memories which we have associated with emotional events that happen to us, in other words its really good at linking this reaction to the situation and so every time in the future that we encounter that situation again we are programme to feel the fear automatically.
We can condition ourselves to fear. So during the fear response the sensory stimuli reach the Amygdala and they then form memories of this stimuli.
Then the association between what caused the anxiety to start and the reaction we had causes the memory to become fixed in the brain.
So if we felt the fear response in the supermarket and ran away in response, we begin to condition ourselves that the supermarket is dangerous and remember the emotions we felt there. The next time we go in, we will feel the feelings and emotions associated with the memory now stored in our Amygdala. The Amygdala does not know that the supermarket is dangerous, it only goes by what we tell it, our reaction.
The Amygdala is involved in the making of our fear responses and reactions and stress hormone release.
It also means that the arousal of emotion that follows the learning event then influences the subsequent memory of that event.
So basically if you experience an event and react with the anxiety response, you will make a connection and an association. Next time you experience the event it is automatic that you will feel some anxiety, if you react again you will only strengthen the link and ingrain this reaction in your brain and your fear will continue to grow.
This is without doubt the cause of all Anxiety Disorders. Every time you feel fear and react You are conditioning and training yourself that there is a real threat to you and your life even when you are not in any danger.
The Amygdala plays a huge role in mental states, and is related to many psychological disorders such as Anxiety Disorders
So let's look in more detail at how we trigger this reaction .
Because these decisions are made on an subconscious level, the only clue that the Amygdala has made one of its really fast decisions is when you feel the familiar anxious feelings in your body
In our decision making processes there are two types of error (not correct)decisions that we can make:
- A False Positive
- A False Negative
Let's say you think and decide that there is a vicious dog just behind a gate that is slightly open, when in fact there is nothing at all behind the gate. That is a false positive,
When you get this false positive error you still get really afraid as if the perceived dog was behind the gate but you won't have the danger of being attacked as there is no dog behind the gate. You would still feel the fear even though you are actually not in any danger.
What if you see the open gate but decide there is no dog behind it when there is?. This is a false negative.
When you get this false negative you actually feel no fear at all, but you probably will be attacked.
I am highlighting all this because the Amygdala works on a subconscious level and does not care whether it is scaring you to death with false positives. It just is your own internal alarm system that it's only concern is keeping you safe as it does not want to make a false negative mistake as that could cost you dearly.
Your Amygdala is always on alert and always on the lookout for possible danger. Quietly in the background its always watching.
When it sees any danger it slams the switch activating your fight or flight response. Then you react and condition it and make things much worse! You fear response is stuck on and is now miss firing all the time.
This activity is the root problem of all Anxiety Disorders.
The Amygdala plays a vital role in the formation of Anxiety conditions. We can safely say that by changing our reaction to the fear response we can reverse the process and re-train ourselves to react in a different way. This is really good news because it means without doubt that it is possible for anyone to gain control of their Anxiety problems and move forward positively, regaining their quality of life.
Here is some other facts about the Amygdala.
- Remember the Amygdala is always watching and always on alert for some clue or sign of danger. It does not matter if this is true or false danger it always reacts the same, It races into action, hits the fight or flight button and floods you with dread and fear and the feeling that something terrible will happen.
- It only learns through conditioning, you teach it by your reactions to fear. If you react to every situation you go into by running for the hills as soon as you feel a sensation of fear, then your Amygdala will react to how you are teaching it to react. You may not feel like it but you are in control.
- It does not learn by conscious thought, it's all done on an unconscious level as that is the way to quicken the reaction and save your life. It is only trying to protect you.
- It only learns when you are afraid and its fully activated, so to re train and cure your anxiety problem you must go back into the situations you have conditioned yourself to avoid when you trained your Amygdala that normal things were in fact dangerous in the first place. The short term fear must go up for the long term fear to go down.
- If you stay away from what you fear your Amygdala will always believe that these places are fearful, it will never learn its actually ok. You will stay stuck in the cycle as you have not shown your Amygdala that these situations are not dangerous.
- You need to form new memories and associations.
The only way to get better from any type of Anxiety Disorder is to truly understand the role of the Amygdala and to begin to retrain your own brain to respond differently to the feelings of Anxiety and Panic that you are experiencing, in a way in which your Amygdala understands.
How do you talk to my Amygdala in a way in which you will re train it?
In exactly the same way you learned your anxiety disorder in the first place, just in the opposite way.
You have to feel this fear in the short term to remove it in the long term. You must go against your instincts to protect yourself, as you do not need protecting, this may feel bad but you are not in any real life threatening danger.
If you have run away every time you have an anxiety or panic attack, you are teaching your Amygdala that the only way to keep you safe is to leave and quickly.
Trouble is one situation very quickly becomes loads of situations until everywhere we go and everything we do is filled with fear and running, I know because I have been there.
Logically to recover you must go into training, and commit to long term training in the situations you fear, you must show your Amygdala that it has no need to react in all your normal situations as there is no danger.
Another way to look at this is to just begin to live your life before you had an elevation of panic just take the feelings with you. Normal living despite your Anxiety will give you back normal life.
We want the panic to come so that you can learn to deal with it, stop avoiding your panic and go towards it.
- You first need to activate the fear response by exposing yourself to a trigger that will induce panic, for example if its driving - get in the car, If it's the supermarket go shopping.
- When you feel the fear and know that your response has been activated its easy- just stay where you are till the fear goes down.
- When you feel the fear go down, you can leave, trust me there will come a point where you feel it's gone however long it takes. Trust the process, I have been there and I know what I am talking about. When it goes either stay there and enjoy a little more of the situation fear free or leave knowing you are one step closer to feeling remission of your symptoms.
Through a constant group of simple rules, the sensory organs can be manipulated to send messages to the Amygdala to actually remove the anxious reaction.
This is exactly why for long lasting recovery, medication and avoidance behaviours do not work, they just compound the problem. There is no quick fix but there is a lasting way, that will grow your confidence and lead you to a much more positive quality of life.