The Many Faces of Anxiety

Did you know there are many types of anxiety?

Anxiety is actually a term for a number of different conditions. When someone is diagnosed with anxiety it generally refers to Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Many people don’t realise that a number of other mental health issues are classed as a type of anxiety: Post traumatic stress disorder; obsessive compulsive disorder; panic disorder and phobias to name a few.

Anxiety can be understood by looking at a very old part of our brain known as the limbic system. This part of the brain has much to do with our automatic and subconscious responses to situations that don’t even need us to think about or be aware of. However, it is also our self-protections system, our fight or flight response.

One of the central features of this system is something called the amygdala. We can consider this to be a kind of guard that is permanently on duty in our brain on the look out for danger. So we’ll be going about living our lives, where highly evolved intellectual parts of our brain (like the pre-frontal cortex) are in control. Here we are logical, we are conscious, we think, we speak, we interact. This part of the brain is quite simply the most complex thing in the known universe.

Regardless of this vast intellectual resource at our disposal, if our amygdala, this centurion, if you will, thinks we are in some sort of danger it will take over from our intellectual brain and warn us we may be in trouble.

Imagine yourself walking down a busy road, planning what you’re doing with your day, thinking about something that happened earlier and basically minding your own business when suddenly, as you’re about to cross the road a car approaches at speed. What happens? You immediately stop thinking whatever you were thinking and you’re alerted to the immediate danger and quickly step back upon the pavement.

What else happens? Well you notice your heart rate has gone up, maybe you’re shaking, possibly feeling a little sick from your near miss. This is all thanks to the amygdala. It doesn’t care what you’re doing it just does not want you to die. Oh, and the increased heart rate, shaking, sickness? That’s because it’s signalled to another part of it’s ancient system – the hypothalamus – to prepare you for danger. To get your body ready to run; to pause the less important processes your body was carrying out in order to deal with the more immediate issue of keeping you alive.

We evolved this way. And the weird thing is, this part of the brain is essentially no different from a rat. Or a monkey. Or any other mammal.

Very interesting, but what has this got to do with anxiety? Well pretty much everything as it happens. This part of the brain is also very much in play when it comes to modern life problems, things it cannot deal with or has not evolved more effectively to.

So, let’s say you have an argument with a friend. You get angry. Why? Well it’s a response to feeling threatened. You see a spider and literally want to run as far away from it as possible. Why? Well it’s a learnt response to a perceived threat (a phobia); You’re having flashbacks from a deeply traumatic event that is unlikely to happen again (post-traumatic stress disorder – where your brain, more specifically your hippocampus – another area of the limbic system -is replaying memories as it does not want the events to happen again and reminds you of them); You feel sick and anxious about being in debt  -why? Your limbic system is getting you ready to run from a perceived threat.

One of the key ways in which we can deal with anxiety effectively is by understanding what is happening to us internally and find ways to get the more evolved parts of our brain to take control. When we do so we are able to cope better and find the best solutions we can to life’s issues. We will always need the limbic system. We’d quite simply not be here without it. But when it comes to the complex modern day issues we face in our lives it’s not up to the job.

Solution- Focused Clinical Hypnotherapy is a very helpful, evidence-based type of therapy that can work with such issues. It isn’t about looking into past memories (regression) and it certainly is not about a therapist controlling the person. It is actually about helping and empowering the person to reduce their anxiety and find more helpful ways to respond to life’s problems. It’s about learning new techniques and approaches, achieving goals and living in psychologically healthier ways.

One of the best things about this type of therapy is that it’s fast. It isn’t about spending months talking about the past. Or in other words, focusing on the problem. It’s about future thinking, planning and proofing our lives to be stronger, more resilient, happier and more in control.

To talk more and book a free session with me please contact me on 07810 823529 or email blackdogwales@gmail.com.

Julie Jones

www.blackdog.org.uk

2 thoughts on “The Many Faces of Anxiety”

  1. This is insufficient explanation to at least one type of anxiety – social anxiety, which I have suffered from since 1988. 31 years. It is not a fight or flight response, it is a gradual freezing or closing down. I am highly alert to the situation, usually just talking to somebody. Sometimes I faint. The repurcussions can last up to a week. I have never read a satisfactory reason for this behaviour, never, though it is a common condition

    • Hi Simon,

      Thanks for your comments. I really just wanted to explain how some of the brain mechanisms work in response to anxiety. It is an extremely complex issue and very personal to each individual. I’m sorry you have suffered for such a long time with this. If you would like any support from myself with this issue through hypnotherapy please let me know. I am able to offer sessions via Zoom so you would not need to come to my practice if this was difficult for you. Take care, Julie

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