Just a few days ago, while I was driving, suddenly a certain issue came to my mind about some thought that bothered me. At that moment I felt a negative sensation, which flooded me from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. A kind of surge of negative emotions that changed my overall feeling in my body, changed my optimistic outlook on the world, and also started the endless demon dance of repetitive thoughts. I won’t forget this feeling, like a wave of emotions, which I must have felt so many times in my life, but this time it was from a more conscious place; I really recognized the wave of emotions, and more than ever, I felt I needed to analyze it and understand how to deal with it. I realized I was actually experiencing anxiety. This article will address the question of how to deal with anxiety.
It was amazing to feel how within a split of a second all the positivity that I had a second before has vanished as if it had never existed. In the past, if such a situation had happened to me, I would probably have sunk into melancholy and sadness. But not this time … today the practice of positive thinking and learning how can I harness the brain action-mechanisms so that they work in my favor. I understand today more than ever how to calm anxiety naturally in ways that fit into my daily routine. Or in other words, how to calm anxiety naturally without pills or external substances.
Before I dive deeper and explain the steps, it is important that I provide a definition of what fear is, what anxiety is and what the differences are between them.
According to Dr. Hadas Ramati, fear and anxiety are two phenomena that every person experiences in varying doses throughout life. Despite the similarity between fear and anxiety, these are quite different phenomena.
Fear arises when facing an immediate and specific danger. For example a car approaching, a test, awareness of a serious illness, dismissal or a person who looks strange. Fear, physiologically, is activated in the limbic system, and in particular in the amygdala, which responds automatically and without the need for awareness of danger signals.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is associated with thinking and consciousness and is therefore typically characteristic of humans, who are equipped with well-developed thinking abilities. Anxiety does not act when facing a specific threat, but derived from thoughts (conscious and unconscious) that provoke intense and sometimes unbearable tensions. Physiologically, its activity is seen in areas of the cerebral cortex that are associated with high thinking and have evolved in advanced evolutionary processes, especially in the human brain.
To understand how thoughts are formed in our brain, and how they later develop into anxiety, I will first explain what happens in our brains at the biological level. Explained it briefly and fluently Trace Domiguez (source):
“Despite the fact that the average adult brain is only about 2% of your total body mass, it uses a full 20% of the energy you spend while at rest. Your brain has about 86 billion neurons that are interconnected at a 100 trillion – 1 quadrillion synapses. One study found that the firing of neurons uses about 2/3 of all your brain’s energy. Both neurons and muscles need glucose. The simple form of sugar to function. In order to get more glucose, they activate a protein called Glut4 which lives inside ourselves. As you start thinking really hard extra Glut4 moves to the surface of the cell membranes […] the Glut4 is sort of like the neuron is sticking a little fishing net out into the bloodstream to grab glucose. Once the nets are out there, they just keep grabbing more fuel allowing our brain cells to burn the midnight oil. Once it grabs onto the glucose, it can use that to send messages and keep you thinking. Your brain’s electrical signals come from charged molecules called ions, the charge propagates down the length of a nerve cell membrane. When it reaches the end of the cell, the electrical signal is converted into a chemical signal. The chemicals are collectively called neurotransmitters which allow the cells to talk to each other. The neurotransmitters are stored in little containers across the neuron called Vesicles. Neurons can have hundreds to hundreds of thousands of Vesicles – all making sure the messages it wants to send can get out safely. Once the neuron is ready to talk to its neighbor, it’s ready to fire. It releases an ion on Via these chemicals and throws it into the synaptic gap – the space between neurons, and then bam – the ion is grabbed by the next neuron in the chain and the game of “brain telephone” continues.”
In parallel to the world of computers, the biological explanation is very similar to understanding the level of computer hardware. In the next few lines I’ll explain how thoughts are formed at the software level – or what happens to our body after thoughts are formed:
- The initial feeling – as soon as a thought is formed our brain tries to understand what we are supposed to do with it. There is a fraction of a second of surprise that we don’t really understand what is happening to our body.
- Classification – In the next step our brain tries to classify at the most basic level by simple questions:
- Is this a familiar idea or a new one?
- Do we have any existing data in our system that can help us understand whether this is a negative or positive thought?
- Have we ever had a similar thought?
- What are your beliefs / values about that thought?
- Loading Presets – Once your brain decides how to deal with the thought, the same wave of emotions that I referred to at the beginning of the article emerge. If we take the example of anxiety, as soon as your body says, “I know a similar thought, when I think of issues like this I should be scared.” At the same time the presets of the feelings you feel are loaded. If the thought is based on negative past experiences, then the same surge that will flood you will be a wave of fear sensations, and your body won’t know how to deal with the anxiety that has just attacked you.
It’s really amazing to think that the feelings you are experiencing at that moment, are just a preset of emotions. As if your body is saying, “Ah… I know this thought. Once it appears, I should claim the kind of physiological sensations I usually feel when such a thought emerges.” Admittedly, when your subconscious mind doesn’t recognize this thought, it will pull out the most familiar preset of emotions, related to the thought that has just bubbled up. In such cases, the emotional preset can be of excitement, joy, happiness and positivity associated with your new and surprising experiences.
And like everything in life, emotions and feelings are like layers that accumulate over the years. Layer upon layer these feelings accumulate and a phenomenon known as “phobia” is created. As someone who has overcome claustrophobia on his own, I know that phobias are the result of many years in which layers of anxiety pile on top of each other.
So here you are probably asking yourself: how to stop anxiety attacks? Or a simpler question – how to calm anxiety right in the first moments of its formation?
- Calming Anxiety – The fourth stage can come before or at the end of the third stage. And the reason is that we can’t always control at what stage of the anxiety we will know how to calm down the anxiety when it erupts. Anxiety is usually related to the past or future tense, since 28% of our thoughts are related to the past, and 48% of our thoughts – to the future, that is, fear of something that might happen to you. I will illustrate this in the context of my personal story.
How to deal with past anxiety?
I will present my case, in which I experienced a loss. how to calm anxiety at night is the question of all questions. Sometimes I can get anxious before going to bed. I can experience those moments that I felt that were so close to the most challenging moment in life. These immanent feelings can paralyze me from any ability to get out of that mind-loop. I feel the fear I felt back then, like the world is crumbling and collapsing right before my eyes, and I have no ability to do anything. The same feeling I felt in those hard moments is now being felt again as if experienced in the present.
How to deal with future anxiety?
Sometimes the fear that arises within me is related to the fear that the loss I experienced will happen again in the future. I would even refer to it as existential anxiety lest I fail to cope with another loss.
The way to get rid of anxiety in these two cases is to first understand that fear – like any other emotion – is a defense mechanism. Fear is the body’s way of protecting you. All those questions that flood your head are questions that underlie our constant search as human beings for a heavenly-promise (or some kind of reassurance) that nothing similar will ever happen to us in the future. The questions are also an expression of the body preparing itself for a situation where – if God forbid – something similar happens in the future, you will already be ready and know how to act. As if your body is saying, “If I know how to predict every possible scenario, I will feel more protected and safe.” Which is really a misleading feeling, since we will never be able to prepare ourselves for every possible scenario, because the number of scenarios is infinite. The reality is always different from the original design. And like the Jewish saying: “Man thinks and God laughs,” or in Yiddish “דער מענטש טראַכט און גאָט לאַכט”.
The fourth step helps in how to deal with anxiety through re-wiring your thoughts, by a verbal anchor: whenever you identify crippling feelings of anxiety you need to calm the anxiety and its symptoms by “raising a mental flag”.
How to calm anxiety
4.1 Identification Stage – “Wait… Why does this fear arise in me? Ah… Yeah, I recognize that I’m afraid of experiencing loss.”
4.2 Classification Phase – “All these thoughts deal with the same issue of fear of losing a loved one”
4.3. The logical step – “Okay, I understand these thoughts are meant to protect me, to keep me safe”
4.4. Compassion phase – “It’s okay to feel what you feel”
4.5. Calming phase – “You are safe, everything is fine with you”
In this article I’ve tried to illustrate the way of coping that suited me in the question of how to deal with anxiety, and I have shown how to get rid of anxiety in 4 practical and applicable ways. I’ve detailed the fourth way into five stages or “mental flags” that can be raised when anxiety appears and you might want to stop it just as it begins to form. I hope my positive thinking technique can help you soothe or calm your anxiety as well. Feel free to share in the comments below what worked better for you and which of these ideas impacted you the most.