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Anxiety and the Brain: 25 Routes to Safety

“I CAN’T DO IT!!! I JUST CAN’T GO!!!” She sobs mournfully while gasping for breath. “My heart is racing, my chest feels like an elephant is sitting on it, and I can’t breathe! I think I’m having a heart attack!” “Sweetie, everything is gonna be alright. Remember your breathing exercises. You are healthy and strong, and this is your anxiety.” “You don’t understand!!!” She screams angrily “You just don’t understand!!! I am gonna die!!! I am so scared!!!“

Anxiety is the sensation of fear in the absence of a real threat. Our brain responds to both fear and anxiety in the same way. In fact, all negative emotions shift the brain into survival mode, creating the illusion that our life is in danger, and then our brain prompts us to fight, run away, or mentally check out until the threat is gone. During this process, our thoughts, words, and actions are limited to those associated with enduring while under the threat of mortal danger. This is why states such as anxiety and depression are so tricky. When we begin feeling them, our brain shifts into a process that reinforces and intensifies the emotion (on a physiological level, emotionally and instinctually, we believe our life is in crisis when it is not). Within this state of urgency, we become unable to access all thoughts, possibilities, and courses of action except those related to escaping danger. Since our brain believes we are under threat, such emotions and instincts as anger, aggression, fear, leaving, and avoidance are intensified; while everything else, like truth, happiness, hope, factual information, and a balanced perspective; is temporarily blocked, until the brain believes the threat is gone. So, in order to reduce our anxiety, we must show the brain that we are safe. All anxiety reduction techniques ultimately demonstrate to the brain that the perceived peril has passed. When it is convinced, we will again gain access to our full range of thought, possibilities, and courses of action. With this physiology of anxiety in mind, let’s take a look at some practical routes to its reduction.

25 Routes to Safety

Deep Breathing

Whether alternate nostril breathing, focusing on your breath, 4-7-8 breathing, or another inspirational method; deep breathing will slow your body down, informing your brain that you are safe (breathing is rapid and shallow when you are under threat, and slows down when you are out of danger). Deep breathing can reduce anxiety.
A Simple Breathing Technique To Reduce Stress In Minutes (Video)
A Breathing Exercise To Help You Live In The Moment

Sufficient Sleep

Physical, mental, and emotional systems are more stable and balanced when we get enough sleep. When we are fatigued, these same systems experience depletion, instability, and imbalance; paralleling the conditions generated while under threat. A fatigued state is more likely to cause the brain to shift into survival mode, because of the physiological (adrenals, thyroid, hormonal), psychological (cognitive distortions), and emotional (shorter fuse or over-reactions) effects from the tiredness. The brain sees fatigue as weakness, and a possible sign of vulnerability to danger. When combined with other things like restlessness, racing thoughts, and worry; the threat indicators will eventually add up to danger to the brain; and the brain will then kick us into survival mode, which will increase the anxiety even further. To master this mischievous little mind trap, it is important to deeply grasp this concept (but don’t grip it too tightly). Sufficient sleep can reduce anxiety.
12 Tips To Sleep Soundly Every Night

Eat Consciously

Eating regular meals of fresh, organic food each day, whether hungry or not, will help us regulate the utility of our bodily systems. When our dietary decisions help balance functions like our pituitary, adrenal, thyroid, and hormones; our brain knows that we are safe (because these functions would be either spiking or depleted if we were in danger). The better our nutritional balance, the less likely the brain is to believe that our eating habits represent a risk to our survival. With this factor addressed, we can check munching off our threat indicator list. Conscious eating can reduce anxiety.
9 Tricks To Eat Healthier

Self Awareness

Greater self-awareness will help us realize what, when, and how we are thinking, saying, and doing; revealing higher level steps toward growth and change. From such an elevated vantage point, it is easier to see the truth, the facts, the evidence around us; and harder to get sucked into the game. When we balance our perspective based on truth and understanding; then irrational beliefs, destructive drama, and exaggerated emotions will be revealed, and fade away. Self-awareness makes us calmer by revealing truth, diffusing irrational beliefs and proving to the brain that all is well.
Self-awareness can reduce anxiety.
The Importance of Self-Awareness and How to Become More Self-Aware
Seven Steps to Self Awareness

Genuine Smiling

If we are smiling genuinely (as opposed to painting a plasticky fake grin across our visage), then our brain knows we are safe (because we would not be capable of smiling genuinely if we were in danger). Genuine smiling can reduce anxiety.
What Science Has to Say About Genuine vs. Fake Smiles

Visit Motivational Medicine for Dr. Kai’s full list of 25 Routes to Safety.
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