If you have ever tried to make a decision while experiencing anxiety, you know that it is almost impossible. As soon as your brain offers a possible solution, your anxiety quickly tears it apart, making it sound like the worst idea in the history of ideas.
Now, there is actual research to explain exactly what happens in the brain of anxious individuals trying to make a decision. According to a recent study published in “The Journal of Neuroscience,” the prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that becomes affected during times of anxiety. By doing tests on lab rats, researchers were able to determine that anxiety caused numbing of neurons in the prefrontal cortex, which made decision making especially difficult.
Luckily, there are things that we can do to reverse the effects of anxiety on the brain, and return us to our quick-witted selves!
Working with a therapist is a proven method for releasing anxiety’s hold on your emotions. A skilled counselor will use a combination of techniques, mostly, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help change your thought patterns. This approach is short-term, goal-oriented, and very practical! You will leave the therapist’s office with a new set of tools to handle day-to-day problems. In more severe cases, you may also be referred to a psychiatrist, to determine whether medication is an appropriate addition to your treatment.
Just for fun, let’s look at some of the more common thought patterns that cause anxiety. Remember, these can be successfully transformed through some time on the couch!
Overgeneralization – I failed once, so I will fail Every. Other. Time.
Personalization – Everything is my fault.
Disqualifying the Positive – I got all A’s and a C, but all I see is the C. See?
Emotional Reasoning – I feel stupid, so I must be stupid.
We know that the neurotransmitter, serotonin plays a role in a host of mood disorders, including anxiety. Psychotropic drugs called Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to treat anxiety by stabilizing serotonin levels in the brain. Even without drugs, there are things that you can do to increase your serotonin stash.
Some activities that increase serotonin levels include:
Listening to music
Getting some sun
Remembering happy events
Laughing – It really is the best medicine!
Make It Mindful
There is increasing evidence to support the idea that mindfulness, or, the act of staying present to what you are experiencing, is helpful in treating anxiety. In some ways, it feels counter-intuitive to ask a patient to lean in to such a negative feeling, but, what we have found is that it gives clients a sense of empowerment over their sensations. By staying with a difficult feeling, you learn 1) that this feeling is not permanent, and 2) that it will not destroy you.
Mindfulness is a great tool because it can be practiced anywhere, at any time. The internet is ripe with pre-recorded mindful meditations, like this one. Try it, and let us know what you think!
If you would like to learn more about how to fight your anxiety and win, contact us. We are here to help!