If we put it in the simplest terms possible, anxiety is 'the feeling of fear or apprehension about what's to come'. It's that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach on the first day of school, before you walk into a job interview, or before you give a big presentation at work.
Anxiety is a perfectly normal and natural part of being a human, and everyone feels it at some point in their lives. But for some, that anxiety is more constant - a stronger and more fearsome foe that nevers seems to go away. This can cause all sorts of problems in your life, making everyday routine tasks difficult, as well as having a negative effect on your mental and physical health. Thanks to COVID-19, anxiety has become more common than ever before, and it can be difficult to know how to deal with it. Since May is all about Mental Health Awareness, I wanted to spend some time looking at what anxiety is, what causes it, and how hypnotherapy could help you take back control of your life and keep those feeling at bay.
If we look back to our ancestors, we can find the roots of anxiety in their survival. Anxiety is essentially the emotion that keeps us alive and unharmed. It's the body's natural response to stress, and it's what kept cavemen alert to danger as they dragged food back to their caves, more aware than ever of their surroundings and how much danger they could be in. By worrying about the potential threats they might face ahead of time, they were prepared to fight or run when necessary. Anxiety is what helped them survive, and eventually thrive, evolving into us.
But our society has evolved a lot quicker than our brains have in recent years, and sometimes our brain can't keep up with what's going on. So it responds to stress in the only way it knows how - as if it's being chased by a bear.
Let's be clear here - anxiety is not stress. It's your mind and body's reaction to stressful, dangerous or unfamiliar situations. Anxiety usually manifests as an intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear. In a more modern space, anxiety is less about making sure we aren't eaten by sabre-toothed cats, and more about protecting us from stress. Whether that's walking down a dimly lit alley at night, getting in trouble with our boss or worrying about relationship problems. A certain level of anxiety in these situations is normal, but when you're struggling with anxiety on a long-term basis, the amount of worry or fear you feel can be completely debilitating, and it can have an impact on how your brain functions.
While anxiety presents differently in everyone, common symptoms include:
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Racing thoughts
- Trouble concentrating
- Difficulty falling asleep
I go into a lot more detail about what anxiety feels like, how it can manifest and what can cause it, in this blog.
What Happens To Your Brain During Anxiety?
When it comes to how anxiety impacts your brain, there has been a lot of research done! Because part of overcoming anxiety and learning how to manage it is understanding what is happening in your brain, and being able to see warning signs and deals with them in a healthy way.
The first is that anxiety floods your brains with stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which tell your body something scary is about to happen, and equip you to cope with danger. In a non-anxious brain, once the threat is gone the sympathetic nervous system takes over, and brings you back to normal. But in an anxious brain, the release of these hormones can actually trigger the release of more stress hormones, continuing until you become overwhelmed.
When your brain deals with anxiety on a long-term basis, it also enlarges your amygdala - the part of your brain that deals with emotions and moods. When the amygdala notices a potential threat, its job is to send signals to the hypothalamus and trigger your 'fight, flight or freeze' response. But in people with anxiety, the amygdala is enlarged and hypersensitive, meaning it sends a lot of false alarms even in non-threatening situations.
Speaking of the amygdala, long-term anxiety can actually weaken the connections between it and the prefrontal cortex, which is the rational, logical part of your brain. Normally these parts of your brain would communicate to decide if a threat is worth worrying about, but when you experience anxiety, that connection is weakened, and it makes it much harder to reason rationally and 'talk yourself down' from the anxious feelings.
Given that anxiety can have such a big impact on your life and your brain chemistry, it's important to know how to manage it. The good news is, with the help of techniques like hypnotherapy, you can retrain your brain, ease off on some of those chemical signals racing around, and return to a place without consistent anxiety.
Hypnotherapy works by encouraging you into a relaxed trance state, which allows you to start a natural shift in brainwave patterns all the way to alpha and theta wave activity. In this state, you feel relaxed and calm, but you are still alert enough to visualise images and reflect on different ideas and positive solutions. During this state, you can start to retrain your brain and bring it away from those anxious thoughts, and make it easier for you to recognise and manage it when they do occur. By treating anxiety at the root cause, rather than the symptom, you can see more positive and rapid results.
Personally I prefer to use Solution Focused Hypnotherapy techniques, allowing us to focus on the present and develop techniques to help you cope and move forward, rather than spending a long time analysing the past. Focusing on the present allows me to help you see things from a different perspective, give you the tools and techniques you need to manage your anxiety from day 1, and break the cycle of negative thinking and dread that can result from anxiety. My sessions use a specific combination of techniques, including Solution Focused Brief Therapy, and understanding of how the brain works, and hypnosis to manage anxiety from three routes, helping you create positive and meaningful change in a short period of time.
Remember, anxiety doesn't have to take over your life. If you're struggling with anxiety and would like some support, I would love to help. Just get in touch for a confidential, no-strings-attached chat to see if Solution Focused Hypnotherapy is a good fit for you.
Feel free to book an initial chat or get in touch to ask for advice or ask questions