Last week [INSERT LINK TO LAST WEEK'S ONCE PUBLISHED] we talked about reducing the anxiety in the amygdala, but say if you have realized that you get anxiety from the prefrontal cortex. You know all of those thoughts that are racing through your mind causing you anxiety. As discussed last week, we'll use different techniques from that of the amygdala to help stop anxiety, so read on.
Do you remember we talked about cognitive fusion where we have a tendency to believe our own thoughts? For example, my boss is calling me into the office. Well, I must've obviously done something wrong and they're about to fire me. You enter the office and receive a promotion, and breathe a big sigh of relief. Then you realize that you just spent the morning in anxiety hell for no reason. Why did I focus so much on my thoughts when they did not end up being true? Well, the answer is that instead of focusing on cognitive fusion, we need to focus on cognitive defusion.
Catherine Pittman, Ph.D., and Elizabeth Karle, MLIS, in Rewire the Anxious Brain, explain that we see an event, and our prefrontal cortex interprets the event which will result in a feeling. For these purposes the feeling is anxiety, resulting in behaviors such as avoidance. Therefore, we need to stop this anxiety feeling by taking a different stance on our thoughts and staying aware of them without getting caught up in them.
We need to learn not to take our thoughts at face value, but simply recognize them as experiences we are having. Acknowledge our thoughts without buying into them. Be an observer and not a believer. In the book, they encourage us to say things like “I need to be careful of this pesky thought, it is just a thought and not real”. You could ask yourself questions such as “what is a different perspective?” Or “what would my partner or friend say about the situation?”
The cognitive restructuring technique is another technique that we can use, in which we work on changing our thoughts to more positive ones. Let me give you some great examples: Anxiety thought: “things will never work out for me”. Coping thought: “I am going to try because at least there is a chance I can accomplish something”. Anxiety thought ‘Something is going to go wrong, I can feel It”. Coping thought: “I do not know what is going to happen, this kind of feeling has been wrong before”. Can you see how changing the thought can help you view it from a different perspective?
The thought-stopping technique is another solution where we do not erase the thoughts but stop them from continuing. Many people try to stop thinking about their thoughts, but it is extremely difficult to do. For example, if I say don't think about pink elephants, you, of course, will think about pink elephants. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge the thought, without judgment, and then say “stop”.
The next step is crucial because what you are going to do is replace the thought with another thought. For example, if you're working in your garden and are worried about seeing a snake, what do you do? Say "stop" before anxiety starts welling up, and start thinking about something neutral if not soothing. This could be a song on the radio or the kinds of flowers you want to plant in your garden. You could also replace the thought with a coping thought. For example, if your thought is "I cannot handle this", then replace it with "it is not going to be easy, but I know that I can handle this". So do not erase, replace.
So at this point, we've covered how the authors tackle the brain's two anxiety pathways and how to stop anxiety through them. Now you have the knowledge and tools to rewire your anxious brain. However, you don't have to do it all on your own. At Clarity Health Solutions, we empower people to live with intention by developing healthy behavior and thought patterns. If you're in the Jupiter area, book your appointment today to come in and get started. No matter where you are in Florida though, we offer telehealth appointments. So start with us to start rewiring your brain to stop anxiety in its tracks today.