Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Book on Anxiety

Rewire Your Anxious Brain: How to Use the Neuroscience of Fear to End Anxiety, Panic, and Worry
by Catherine M. Pittman and Elizabeth M. Karle

This book was a wee bit repetitive, but it made the relevant science of the brain perfectly clear to a non-sciencist like myself.

What I found most interesting is that anxiety can have two different routes through the brain.  There is cortex-based anxiety that basically comes from our thoughts and that we are quite cognizant of.  Whether we are obsessing over some problem, or reasoning ("If this happens, I won't be able to pay the mortgage"), we know those thoughts are there.  The cortex notifies the amygdala, and we get the faster heartbeat, adrenaline, tensed muscles, etc. that we associate with being stressed out.

But there is also amygdala-produced anxiety that completely by-passing the thinking parts of the brain.  Very useful when you are suddenly in danger from a mad dog or drunk driver who seems to come out of nowhere. It's not the time to stop and analyze the situation!  The kicker is, though, that the amygdala can set off the danger/anxiety chain reaction when there's nothing wrong because something went wrong once in a similar situation.  And because there's no thinking involved, you may not even know why.

One example from the book was a woman who felt anxious and upset at baby showers and Thanksgiving dinners.  She just wanted to escape, even though there was nothing unpleasant about these events.  She had no idea why.  Eventually, she figured out that when she was in grade school, her teacher had had the students stand in a circle and read out-loud, and she was derided for her poor reading ability.  Her amygdala associated being in a circle with anxiety, hence gathering around the table at Thanksgiving or sitting around the room at a baby shower made this woman anxious.

Happy, both the cortex and amygdala can be retrained.

I was really fascinated by this idea because I dislike dogs---but I didn't as a child, and I cannot remember any negative dog experience.  But if it is amygdala-based anxiety, I wouldn't have to remember it.

Plus I have plenty of cortex-based anxiety, worrying, obsessing, and general stressing-out and the book has some techniques for dealing with that.  Nothing revolutionary, but it was nice to have it all in one place.

1 comment:

  1. Huh. Interesting. I know that lots of anxiety (through the thinking brain or not) is unhealthy, so retraining to prevent as much as possible seems like a good idea. Are you going to be trying the ideas? I'd be curious to know what works for you. (I'm certain that different techniques will work better for different people.)