Why Do I Have So Much Trouble Controlling My Chronic Anxiety?
Do you struggle with chronic anxiety, but don’t know how to keep it under control? It turns out that trying to control anxiety may not be as effective as attempting to see it from a different perspective. Lindsay Holmes, in the Huffington Post , writes about how people with anxiety see the world differently from those who don’t.
Brain Plasticity and Chronic Anxiety
The article refers to research showing that a person who has chronic anxiety cannot actually control it. This is because the brain of someone with anxiety is fundamentally different than that of a typical person. The researchers used the example of study participants listening to sounds associated with particular outcomes that could cause anxiety. When they were asked to listen to different tones, the people with anxiety could not tell the difference between what they heard and the previous tones. Their brain’s plasticity (ability to adapt and make new connections) remained changed long after they had heard the original tones.
Brain Processing and Chronic Anxiety
People, then, who have high levels of anxiety, process the world differently. It is hard for them to differentiate between situations that are safe vs. those are not safe. However, the question becomes, how do these people get to the point where they cannot tell the difference?
What the Article Leaves Out
What the article doesn’t mention is that people with anxiety could have developed the condition through a variety of ways. For instance, through
- a genetic predisposition to anxiety.
- exposure to a traumatic event in childhood, such as abuse or neglect.
- experiencing a traumatic event as an adult.
People who experience trauma, no matter the age, learn that they need to keep their defenses up. This means that their first priority is safety. That is actually a part of our biological makeup. The problem is that anxiety can become hard-wired into our brains. It is then more difficult to navigate different situations and our thinking becomes more rigid.
Making Brain Changes and Chronic Anxiety
Trauma actually changes the brain, but the brain can change again, too. By participating in therapy, people with chronic anxiety can develop new pathways that help them not associate danger with every situation. For instance, someone who was abused as a child is going to approach every new relationship as having a potential for danger. But, if that person can establish a healthy relationship with a therapist, that person can learn to feel safe and begin to generalize that experience with other relationships.
Mindfulness and Chronic Anxiety
Another thing that people with anxiety can do is utilize mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness can allow you to become more aware of your anxiety and how it works. Some ideas to develop mindfulness include:
- Practicing breathing exercises.
- Spending time in a quiet, calming space.
- Reflecting on past experiences and the emotions that come up.
- Recording your thoughts in a journal.
What you learn during these times can be helpful in discussions between you and your therapist.
If you have chronic anxiety, you shouldn’t blame yourself. The condition is not something that is in your control or can simply be shut off. Luckily, your brain has the ability to learn new ways to process that data. With help from a trained therapist, you can relearn how to perceive the world. Then, you won’t have to feel on guard all of the time and can experience much less anxiety in your daily life.