Anxiety impacts all of us at different times in our lives. In the following article, I’m going to help you overcome your anxiety naturally and effectively. The article might seem long, but the knowledge and awareness you’ll get from it are worth your time. Not only will the article explain how to overcome your anxiety, but it will also reveal how to identify behaviors that have been making your anxiety worse and how to avoid them. Last but not least, the article will teach you some things that will help you conquer your anxiety and take your life to a whole new level.
You might ask yourself why you should listen to me.
Well, as a hypnotherapist I have helped hundreds or even thousands of people overcome anxiety and depression. This is something I’m exceptionally good at!
If you are new to me and my website, you shouldn’t let the ‘hypnosis’ aspect throw you off. What you’re about to read is not fluff, and it’s definitely not something mystical. The field of hypnosis and hypnotherapy has attracted many doubters over the years because it has been misunderstood for a long time.
Thanks to recent scientific studies on the brain and the development and use of the fMRI, we now know that hypnotherapy is effective and has proven benefits for you and your amazingly powerful brain.
As a Solution Focused hypnotherapist, my activity focuses on brain-based therapy. The actual hypnosis is only a part of the therapy.
If you want to understand and overcome anxiety, you must first understand how your brain works and how anxiety affects it.
As humans, we are part of the most advanced species on Earth. We live in complex societies, have moral compasses, and we can explain and understand abstract thoughts. But the main reason we’re so advanced is our brain. Those 3 lbs. of tissue in our heads are the most complex objects in the known Universe.
But like everything that’s complex, the brain can be simplified. The most advanced part of our brains is what I like to call the intellectual brain. The intellectual brain is made out of our neocortex, the left prefrontal cortex in particular.
When this part of our brain is engaged, we are confident, motivated, and we believe in ourselves, which makes us very driven and goal-oriented. This part of the brain is also naturally positive in its thinking.
And the intellectual brain doesn’t only affect the way we feel. When this part of the brain is engaged, we tend to be more creative, make better decisions, and have better control over our body. Simply put, the intellectual brain is phenomenal.
If we only used our intellectual brains, writing this article would be redundant because all of us would be happy, creative, and able to operate at our best capacities. Anxiety would be a term in a foreign language we couldn’t possibly comprehend.
However, there is another part of our brains we need to talk about.
Although our brain is incredibly complex, we can divide it into two broad areas to explain what anxiety is and how we can overcome it. The two areas are represented by the intellectual brain (which we’ve just discussed) and the primitive brain.
If the intellectual brain is represented by the neocortex, the primitive brain is represented by the limbic system. This is the oldest part of our brain. This area is highly emotional, makes irrational decisions, and its sole function is to ensure our survival and the perpetuation of the species.
When this part of our brain is engaged, we cannot make complex decisions. There is no room for emotions like happiness, confidence, contentment, or wellbeing. This part of our brains gives us only two choices: fight or run away. And that’s where anxiety comes in handy.
Anxiety saved our prehistoric ancestors from extinction. When the prehistoric men and women roamed the Earth, anxiety was keeping them on their toes when wild animals approached, or when a stream looked too deep to wade through. Anxiety kept our primitive selves safe by kicking our brains into action and making split-second decisions for us. It forced us to either face the danger or run away from it.
The hypothalamus (which is part of our primitive brains) releases stress hormones into our bloodstream. Hormones like adrenaline and cortisol ensure we have the physical capacity to fight or run. Once in our bloodstream, the hormones increase our heart rate so the large muscles in our legs and arms can tense. Moving around makes us warm, so our bodies start sweating beforehand, preparing us for the action.
Simply put, our primitive brain triggered the anxiety response to maximize our chances of survival. And not only did we survive, but we also evolved from the cave-dwelling creatures who needed to run or fight their way out of every situation.
Fortunately for us, humankind nowadays faces less and less life-threatening experiences. Most of us can go a lifetime without being attacked by wild animals, and we surely don’t need to run to catch our supper. However, we need to understand that these were common – maybe everyday occurrences – for our prehistoric ancestors.
One of the problems with our primitive anxious brain is that it’s not the brightest of minds. Our intellectual brain encourages creativity and positivity, and it can make the calculations necessary to design and launch a spaceship. Our primitive brain is extremely basic. Its function is to induce anxiety.
Our primitive brain evaluates every situation and decides whether to release the anxiety-inducing hormones or not. But unfortunately, the primitive brain is not evolved enough to tell the difference between worrying about an upcoming deadline and worrying about wolves attacking in the night.
So when the primitive brain perceives something as worry or danger, it will quickly kick in to save us. It doesn’t matter if you prepared a presentation for weeks. You’re worried, so the primitive brain will kick in and release anxiety-inducing hormones right before the meeting. Your primitive brain doesn’t care if you’re sweating while pointing at a chart. You’re ready to fight or run, so you can save yourself. You are prepared to face life-threatening danger now!
I’m sure you are already familiar with the anxiety response and know what an anxiety attack feels like if you’re reading this. However, you might not be familiar with all the symptoms of anxiety:
It’s important to realize how anxiety is created if we want to understand how to overcome it. What causes us to switch from the wonderful intellectual brain to the anxious primitive brain?
Well, anxiety is caused by negative thinking.
I’m going to say that again, so I’m sure you register because this is extremely important. Anxiety is caused by negative thinking.
Lots of people reading the previous sentence will think ‘Negative thinking causes anxiety? It has to be more than that!’
Allow me to explain.
Every event we face in our lives is neutral by itself. If we look out the window and notice it’s raining, the event is neutral. But when we think about the rain’s effects, the event loses its neutrality.
We might think the rain will help the plants in our garden grow, and we transform the rain into a positive event. Since we don’t have to water our garden later, we get a good feeling. Our intellectual brain is engaged, and we feel happy about the rain.
However, if we think the rain will make traffic even worse and our commute miserable, we turn it into a negative event. By associating rain with negative outcomes, we engage the part of the brain where anxiety lives. Sure, rain might ruin our day, but it might not produce a full blown anxiety attack. However, the negative thoughts increase the primitive brain’s power and control.
The primitive brain has its hooks into us, so we’re more likely to suffer from an anxiety attack if we encounter something that triggers negative emotions like worry or fright.
Another good example of how negative thinking can induce anxiety is the fear of speaking in public. This is a clear example of how the event itself does not cause anxiety, but our thinking of it does. If public speaking would normally cause anxiety attacks, nobody would be able to talk in public. However, some people don’t have any problems with talking in front of a crowd, while others suffer from debilitating anxiety from just imagining it.
Some people prepare for their speeches by thinking empowering thoughts. They force themselves to realize the opportunity holding the speech offers, or how helpful it could be for them in the future, and so on. This kind of thinking engages their intellectual brain and allows them to prepare.
On the other hand, some people might dwell on all the things that might go wrong during a speech. They imagine how silly or bad they would look on stage, or how their arguments could be turned against them. And we already know which part of the brain we engage with this kind of thinking, don’t we?
A fascinating aspect of our primitive anxious brain is that it can’t tell the difference between reality and imagination. Imagine your driving exam is coming up in two weeks. Now, taking your driving exam is a pretty important step in anyone’s life, so most people will naturally think about it as the date approaches. The instinct to think negatively about it can be very powerful.
If you are worried about the test, chances are you will think about it going badly. You are aware these are only thoughts on an intellectual level, but you will still experience some anxiety responses because the primitive part of the brain cannot tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imaginary.
Two weeks pass, and now you’re up to take the test. The intellectual part of your brain knows this is your first time taking the test, but it also remembers you taking the test over and over, each time with negative or even disastrous outcomes. Hardly great preparation! Instead of being calm and composed, your negative thoughts cause an anxious response which makes you a trembling mess.
Our primitive brains are naturally wired to make us anxious. The primitive brain releases large amounts of hormones into our bloodstream when facing impending dangers like wild animal attacks or the attacks of rival tribesmen. This response is intense and makes us fully engaged for the upcoming event.
But the release of anxiety-inducing hormones can also be a gradual process. A small and apparently harmless event such as speaking in public can make everyone feel a little anxious. However, if we focus on the event and think about all the negative things that might happen, our primitive brains will kick in and intensify our feelings of anxiety.
There is a psychology metaphor I borrow to describe this process: Every negative thought is stored and accumulated in a stress bucket. The fuller the bucket, the more engaged our primitive brain becomes. If the bucket is full and overflowing, our anxiety turns into a real problem.
Thankfully, our brains are naturally capable of lowering our anxiety levels. Our brains are most effective at reducing our anxiety during a period of our sleep called REM (Rapid Eye Movement).
When we go to sleep at night, our brains enter something similar to the maintenance mode of a computer. With the help of different sleep steps, our brain can evaluate our activity and prepare us for the coming day. When the brain enters the REM step, it’s almost as active as during the day. Even though we are sleeping, the brain is working hard at filing memories and making new neuronal connections.
During the REM sleep stage, our brain takes the emotion out of our memories, so they become more factual-based. This is the brain’s way of resetting us and emptying our stress bucket. Let’s see how this works.
Let’s say you argued with someone at work. It might not be over something crucial for your job, but you’re still annoyed. When you tell your spouse or a friend about the fight, they tell you to forget about it. But you can’t forget about it. You’re downright angry, why would you let it go?!
One of the REM’s functions is to take the negative emotion out of the memory and file it away as a simple fact. When you wake up the next morning, you realize you might have overreacted. You might forget about the argument altogether. If you’re still thinking about it, you’re only doing it because you’re wondering how you let a trivial matter affected you so much.
The problem with REM sleep is that it’s extremely demanding for the brain. When observed under a fMRI, the brain during REM sleep lights up like a bonfire. The brain cannot sustain this process for long, so it might not be able to empty our stress bucket if it’s full. The brain also needs some time to enter the REM stage of sleep, so it might not get the chance to empty our stress bucket if we wake up often during the night and disturb our sleep cycle. High stress levels can lead to sleep problems, which can reduce our REM sleep, creating further issues.
I hope the previous sections showed you how to start helping yourself overcome anxiety. First, we need to stop filling our stress bucket by improving our thought process. Second, we need to sleep well to maximize our REM sleep periods.
In the following section, I’m going to present the 3P’s that will help you overcome your anxiety. Until then, feel free to listen to the 10-minute audio session below frequently (once per day if possible). This is a relaxation session that will help you relax and improve your thinking process. The audio session is designed to help you combat anxiety and anxious feelings, and it can help induce REM sleep, helping you empty your stress bucket.
Remember to bookmark this page and listen to the audio session daily for the next seven days. This act alone can improve the way you feel and lower your anxiety levels.
I hope the article so far has explained why we should banish negative thinking from our lives. This is the first P of the three: Positive thinking.
Now, I say positive thinking because it fits well within the 3P’s formula. But this step is more than just positive thinking. Sure, positive thinking is infinitely better at helping with your anxiety than negative thinking. However, if you want to improve your life and take it at a whole new level, you should think about this step as SOLUTION rather than POSITIVE thinking. So positive thinking becomes Solution Focused Thinking.
If you want a very simple explanation of the difference, imagine you’ve just lost your job. Now, after losing your job, you have three options. You can think 1) Negatively, 2) Positively, and 3) Solution Focused.
Negative thinking might lead you to believe there’s no point in applying for jobs because there are none out there matching your skills.
Positive thinking might lead you to believe you shouldn’t struggle with finding a job, as the right opportunity will find you shortly.
Solution focused thinking is the type of thinking that not convinced you to get a new job, but also outlines the best ways of getting one. Instead of wishful thinking, solution focused thinking gets you to upload your CV on hiring platforms, make inquiry calls, and contact people who might be able to help.
You can see how powerful this way thinking can be. Solution focused thinking is empowering, and it stops negative and anxiety-inducing thoughts.
So, which are the other two P’s? Well, before I tell you all about the other two, I want to show you what you can get out of them and why they’re important.
Prehistoric men and women were rewarded by their brains when they carried out certain tasks that benefited them. Things such as gathering food or hunting, looking after their family, and interacting with other members of their tribe were recompensed.
The reward for doing these things gave our ancestors confidence, motivating and making them happier. The reward also increased their pain threshold and allowed them to cope with physical pain. The brain rewarded our ancestors because they performed actions that took them in a better place, away from the discomfort of anxiety.
Now, thanks to the advancements in science and neurobiology, we know that the brain rewarded our ancestors by releasing various neurotransmitters into our bloodstream. One of the neurotransmitters, called serotonin, has a direct link to anxiety and anxious behavior.
A steady flow of serotonin promotes wonderful feelings such as happiness, motivation, and contentment.
Nowadays, we don’t have to hunt or gather, but we still need to be active and interact in a positive way so our brains will reward us with serotonin. The serotonin release makes us feel better and removes anxiety.
As you might have guessed, the other two P’s that relieve anxiety are:
Now that you’re familiar with all 3 P’s and how anxiety affects the brain, it’s time to put all the information into action. Here’s how you use the P’s to lower your anxiety
I admit these 4 steps to overcoming anxiety might not seem much at first glance. However, going through them with consistency will bring positive changes to the way you feel. Performing these steps regularly will make you feel more confident and happier. Doing so will improve the quality of your sleep, which will enhance your ability to cope with everyday life.