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Anxiety, ladies and gentlemen. It’s ominous, it’s villainous, it’s a waste of perfectly good brain space! We all agree—it can bloody well do one.
Now there’s a bee in the bonnet—nobody knows for sure. There are techniques, therapies, and drugs coming out of our ears to try, but they are not guaranteed to work.
The fact of the matter is this: your anxiety worked hard to make you the nervous little critter you are today. Our nervous system transmits information via cells called neurons, which work together to inform our reactions to stimuli. The more we use specific neuron pathways, the more refined they become, and just like electricity, neurons will take the path of least resistance.
Anxiety, unfortunately for you, has become your path of least resistance, and like any bad habit, it will take a lot of energy and persistence for your brain to unlearn it all.
Chin up, though. I’m not going to advise you to find a room in the middle of nowhere and pad it out with cotton wool.
Here are five methods which can help you to rewire your brain.
When your doctor recommends exercise as a way of combating your anxiety or depression, don’t scrunch up that button nose of yours! Not only does research link it to reducing the risk of illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes, but it also gives you a boost in self-esteem and mood.
It is always easier to focus on your recovery when you are feeling at your most positive in body and mind, so that boost you gain from exercise provides you with the perfect starting platform for recovery!
The UK National Health Service recommends 150 minutes of exercise a week, including a combination of aerobic and strength workouts.
It may sound counter-intuitive, scary, and a recipe for disastrous heart palpitations, but when we think back to how the brain works, it makes perfect sense. A lot of people suffering from anxiety tend to retreat further and further away from the things they fear, and quickly find that their fears magnify exponentially in response. If you expose yourself to these fears, as hard as it may be, your neurons must adapt because you are not following their bogus instructions anymore.
At first, it may very well be a disaster. You might have a panic attack and run for the hills screaming your head off. The more you do it, however, the more you are forcing those pesky neurons to find new and more positive pathways. Fear exposure is essentially putting your foot down and demanding a more effective response than avoidance.
The way your thoughts are processed are currently your enemy, and as they say—know your enemy.
To keep a thought journal, all you have to do is record your day and note down the types of thoughts you are having. This technique is especially handy as you can choose to be as succinct or as wordy as you like, making it an easy one to fit into your daily routine.
For each day you record, try to answer the eight questions below:
- What have you eaten and when?
- Have you done any exercise?
- What are you doing?
- How do you feel?
- How do you want to react?
- How do you actually react?
- How do you feel after a specific reaction or action?
- What has your sleeping pattern been like?
Over time, you might begin to see patterns in your behaviour and be able to identify "cause and effect" connections. For example, you may notice a trend of feeling down mid-afternoon on the days you've had a smaller lunch. Knowing this, you can trial larger lunches to see if there is a difference in your mood.
Putting yourself under the microscope and finding out how you work means you are better equipped to start addressing those negative thought processes and feelings you are experiencing.
If you are anxious about something, write down what it is that makes you nervous. What are you worried might happen? Once you identify the worry behind your anxious behaviour, you can begin to dissect the validity of it.
The first thing to do is to score the level of your belief by asking yourself how much you currently believe in it. Then you make a list of any evidence you have to support the worry, and a list of evidence to counter the worry. After you have made your for and against arguments, you rate your level of believe again.
This is a particularly good method for people who suffer from "worst case" syndrome. You are retraining your brain into a more rational line of thinking, and the more you practice this line of thinking, the more naturally it will come to you.
Assign yourself a guardian angel.
You might have noticed that all of these things take time, effort, and motivation. If you are feeling particularly low or on edge, realistically you're going to find it hard to be proactive in your recovery. Here is where your guardian angel comes in...
It could be anyone. A partner, family member, friend, doctor, or even a therapist! What you need is someone to jump start you when you are in that dark place, where pushing yourself seems next to impossible. When you find this lovely, special person, make plans with them and tell them what you need.