Anxiety is the body’s neurochemical reaction to a mental or physical threat. Without it you can’t survive.
It’s the sensation created by elevated levels of stress chemicals.
- Adrenaline – increases sensitivity and alertness
- Cortisol – mobilizes energy stores/ inflammation
- Histamines – immune system/ inflammation
- Endorphins – modulates the stress response
Anxiety is an automatic survival response. The unconscious brain is estimated to process 11 millions bits of input per second whereas the conscious brain deals with 40 per second. It is a huge mismatch. That is why it’s not subject to rational psychological interventions alone.
Decreasing your body’s level of stress hormones causes anxiety to drop.
There are two ways of accomplishing this:
- Relaxation strategies
- Stimulating the brain to change (neuroplasticity), so there is less reactivity to stress.
There are two more critical concepts:
Since anxiety is a unpleasant deeply seated core survival reaction, you’ll do almost anything to avoid it. Essentially, anxiety is the pain. The basic intent of it is to cause you to act in a manner to diminish a threat (control) and move on. When you can’t escape a mental (thoughts) or physical threat, your body will secret more stress hormones to increase your chances of survival. The sensation generated is anger. Anger is anxiety with a chemical kick. It’s even less subject to rational interventions.
Not only are there strategies to decrease the stress hormones, there are powerful ways, to stimulate increased levels of relaxation (play) chemicals, such as:
- Oxytocin – bonding, the “love” drug
- Dopamine – reward
- Serotonin – mood elevator
- GABA hormones (the body’s equivalent of Valium).
This dramatically different chemical environment generates a deep sense of well-being.
Your capacity to enjoy your life depends on your skills in minimizing your levels of stress hormones and stimulating your “play” chemicals. Modern neuroscience has documented why “Laughter is the best medicine”.
Listen to the Back in Control Radio podcast Anxiety Basics.