3 steps to reset the anxiety response and re-wire the brain
Step 1. Understanding your brain:
Understanding yourself, and responding with acceptance and compassion instead of fear and dread is the first step.
Often when we have an anxiety response over something we feel isn’t logical, or rational – we don’t understand it, but it feels BIG! You’re having this response for a good reason. Your brain is telling you there is danger.
The amygdala is responsible for the formation and storage of memories associated with emotions such as anxiety and fear. Once triggered you need to wait until the off button is activated. If you have experienced prolonged periods of stress and anxiety, you’ve probably developed a very sensitive amygdala. In other words, your smoke detector is reading false positives and going off all the time.
The amygdala responds to perceived fears whether or not they are real or imagined. If you thought that stick on the path was a snake, or you have a near miss in the car, the body reacts the same way. Over time the brain can become conditioned to fear responses that happen multiple times. Now the fear response is now going off automatically like a smoke detector alarming at steam.
This sensitivity can lead to generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, phobias PTSD, or obsessions /compulsions (OCD), a fear conditioning response that happens in the amygdala.
The way out of this loop is to learn to calm the body down and turn off the emergency response as soon as possible, and train your brain to have a different response with new memories and associations.
First you need to develop awareness of triggers and compassion for yourself. You may need support with this from a suitably qualified therapist.
Step 2.Turn off the emergency response
Try grounding exercises:
Look around the room, notice the colours, the people, the shapes of things.
Listen to and really notice the sounds around you: the traffic, voices, washing machine, music etc.
Notice your body, the boundary of your skin, how your clothes feel on your skin, movement in your hair as you move your head, really feel the chair or floor supporting you – how that feels in your feet, your legs, your body.
Stand up and put your feet firmly on the ground
Move about: stretch, stamp your feet, jump up and down, dance, run on the spot, rub your arms and legs, clap your hands, walk.
Try deeply relaxing yogi breathing :
Count the number of seconds it takes to breath in and match the out breath. then, extend exhale by gently making the out breath longer.
Try progressive muscle relaxation:
To release tension from head to toe, close the eyes and focus on tensing and relaxing each muscle group for two to three seconds each. Start with the feet and toes, then move up to the knees, thighs, rear, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw and eyes — all while maintaining deep, slow breaths.