Anxiety and the Brain
There are many factors which are connected to the rise in anxiety in our society today, especially in the last several years since the pandemic was declared. This is affecting all ages and it can be hard to let go of the pattern of being stuck with worry and anxieties. What I’d like to focus on is the origin of how anxiety can create patterns in the brain which keep people stuck in the grips of fear.
The Triune Brain Theory which I learned when I was becoming a Brain Gym Instructor is one theory which has been helpful for me in understanding how the brain functions. This theory was developed by a neurologist in the 1950s named Dr. Paul McLean. He described our brain as operating like three interconnected, biological computers. The most primitive part, made up of the brainstem and the cerebellum, is the Reptilian Brain which works automatically to keep our body working and functions to protect us.
The next part of our brain located in the bottom/middle of the brain is called our Limbic System which responds mostly with feelings to what we are experiencing. Its role is to work automatically with the primitive brain to help us survive. The Limbic System contains a vital part of our memory system called our Amygdala which was formed during the last trimester of pregnancy. From birth on it functions much like a fire alarm system always checking for danger so it can leap into action before conscious thought has even occurred.
The last and most advanced outer part of our brain is the thinking part which is called the Neo Cortex. Especially the Prefrontal Cortex, located behind our forehead, is our executive thinking part. It is what makes us human and can help us analyze situations, solve problems, learn new things, and make choices. It is comprised of a conscious left hemisphere which thinks in logical and linear ways and a subconscious right hemisphere which is more creative, intuitive, and connected to our emotions. Dr. McLean suggested that the key is having all three parts connected and sending signals back and forth between all three levels of processing.
In our brain, it is our thoughts which generate electrical signals which travel down neural pathways affecting our body’s physiology. These are essential frequencies which can either connect us for thinking and problem solving or disconnect us, shutting down a healthy way of responding.
The switch for triggering whether the brain responds from the upper thinking, part or the lower, primitive brain is determined by the amygdala. This memory center checks whether we feel threatened or in danger or are we able to stay connected to higher level thinking and processing and stay calm in our body. Our brain responds automatically depending on previous experiences which trigger similar thought patterns, negative emotions, and beliefs. These triggers which program fight flight or freeze can all happen subconsciously based on perceived dangers rather than any real threat or harm. In the brain, neural pathways which are used over and over are training the brain to become faster and more efficient at whatever it is focused on. This means you can train your brain to stay stuck with stress symptoms such as tension in the body and a cascade of anxious thoughts. Over time our thoughts become habitual which can then generate a feedback loop of worry and anxiety. Because the amygdala cannot tell the difference between a thought and what we are really experiencing, it generates the adrenalin and cortisol our body needs to fight, run away from danger or to freeze/numb to the overwhelming fears and anxieties.
However, it is possible to break out of the anxiety loops which keep you feeling stuck and hopeless or believing that anything can ever change. One of the best ways to do this is through a breath pattern which slows down and deepens the breathing. When you take a slow deep breath in, pause, and then exhale even more slowly, it signals the amygdala that you are safe and there is no current danger. This may take a couple of deep, diaphragmatic breaths to communicate your safety, but your amygdala will eventually sense that the danger is over. Becoming aware of your thought patterns and beliefs which triggered the threat response from the amygdala is also a key part of stopping the habitual patterns.
If it is a child who is being plagued with anxiety, first check yourself to see if they are picking up your energy and then lead them in some calming breath exercises which of course you would do together. I have written a book called Be the Boss of Your Thoughts, A Guide to Reduce Stress and Lower Anxiety in Kids which explains how the brain functions and has ten energy exercises for calming children at the back of the book. You can check my website for more resources such as EFT Tapping instructional videos, books, games, and energy cards for kids. For teens or adults there are also many breathing apps and meditations which can be accessed by cell phones and the internet.
Another excellent tool for calming stressed brains is NeurOptimal Neurofeedback. For over fourteen years I have helped children as young as three and up to adults who were ninety – three find relief though a quantum brain training tool which calms their Central Nervous System (CNS). Using NeurOptimal, which is a safe and non-invasive tool helped their nervous system to be more flexible and resilient. If you wish to learn more about this wonderful resource called NeurOptimal, you are welcome to visit my other website at www.waterloobrainconnections.com to learn more about its great results.
The last piece of information I would like to share with you is about the Anxiety Relief Summit led by Laura Leavitt which features twenty – four different, expert speakers who share their wisdom about stopping anxiety patterns. Starting on July 24th through Aug. 6th, 2023 this free summit shares two presentations per day which will be available for twenty-four hours. I will be presenting on Helping Children Transform Their Anxiety into a Superpower. When you attend my session, I will be giving away for free my EFT Tapping Poster which shows the eight tapping points to help children shrink their anxiety. To learn more or to sign up visit lauraleavitt.ca