How to Use Your Brain to Relieve Stress and Anxiety by Martin Rossman [Text Only]

So if there’s a lot of feeling there that’s hard to process or hard to feel, or that’s unprocessed and that we’ve never dealt with, it’s in a sense useful to keep the mind very busy, because if you get quiet, your emotions will come up. And ultimately we think that that’s a good thing. Emotions are natural, they’re healthy, they have a wisdom to them that most of us have not also been educated. But they can be hard to feel. Nobody — very few people have very much trouble feeling joy. Although a lot of times we’re blocked from feeling joy because we are unable or unwilling to feel other emotions. When you start feeling one emotion, you know the others go, hey the door is open and they might want to come up and be felt.

So there are functions of worry again some of them unconscious, magical maybe not in our best interest over time, others adaptive problem solving go over the problem. So it behooves us to kind of learn what we’re doing with the worry and that gives us choices in terms of what we’re doing with the rest. So worries are the thinking function.

Anxiety & Panic Attacks

Whereas anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling, it’s usually in the chest or the upper abdomen, not always but it’s most often up in this area or this area. It’s an uncomfortable feeling of fear or apprehension or dread. Dread is it’s that feeling, Oh my God, something bad is going to happen. I know it. Something bad is going to happen. You don’t know — it may be attached to something or it may be free floating and not attached to anything. And anxiety often comes with physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, pain in the chest, sweating, shortness of breath. There’s often a feeling with anxiety, if anxiety is very strong like panic attacks, there’s often a very characteristic feeling that comes with panic attacks and the feeling is impending doom.

People with panic attacks they feel they’re about to die. And again since the symptoms are often in the chest, or in the abdomen we see these things in medicine all the time and you could really make a case for one of the — maybe the primary function of a primary care doctor is saying if there’s anything else but anxiety going on, because anxiety can cause so many symptoms in so many systems of the body and make us afraid.

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Since it’s something that’s going to happen, anxiety is a function of a part of the brain, that is the emotional part of the brain, it’s called the limbic system or the emotional brain. So worry belongs to the thinking part of the brain, and there’s a lot of interaction but worry belongs in the thinking part of the brain, the cortex. Anxiety typically comes from the limbic or emotional part of the brain, and I’ll show you what that looks like.

And stress, which is the third leg of our uncomfortable stool here, is actually a physical response to a threat real or imagined, and in modern life most of the threats are either perceived or imagined. So somebody’s probably told you the story of the saber tooth tiger and the fight or flight response and so on. You know that this is a response we think was designed by nature, so when you walked out of the cave and you ran into a big predator like a saber tooth tiger, your part of your nervous system fires off and you get a big shot of adrenalin and your heart beats faster, your blood clots faster and your blood pressure goes up and your muscles get superb charged and you’re ready to run or run the fastest two miles you’ve ever run in your life or fight the tiger to death. And then it super charges you, it’s a kind of thing we hear about when the mother moves your cart to save the baby.

The thing is that this response can go off in response to threats that are not predators, that are not it can go off in response to stock market movements, economic changes, thinking about aging, thinking about whether you can meet your responsibilities, all kinds of stuff and all kinds of stuff that is — that unless you know where the off button is on your television or your radio or your computer that you can just literally pump into your brain 24×7 if you stay up all the bad news of every bad thing that has happened around the world to anybody, or if it’s a slow news day what could happen, like the H1N1 flu because it’s not a terribly — doesn’t look like a terribly dangerous flu right now but it could become really dangerous. And that’s what’s got everybody scared and everybody freaked out and standing on what could happen.

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And yes, there’s a balance between again being able to predict the future and take measures to prevent things happening that don’t need to happen and freaking out for months about something that probably will never happen. It’s a yin yang kind of relationship.

So stress – the important thing here is that stress is a physical response, it’s not stuff that happens to you. It’s a physical response that your body has to survive a short term stress. And if you survived that short-term stress like fight like the saber tooth tiger, you’d either kill it or you run away from it and run as fast as you can climb the highest tree that you can, you burn up all the stress chemicals and when the tiger goes away you kind of limp back to the cave and the read a big sigh of relief and tell everybody about how you killed the tiger or ran away from the tiger and your body rested and compensated and recharged itself and replaced all the chemicals that it used during that intense twenty to thirty minute fight. Or else the tiger has eaten you and you don’t have any more stress.

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