When tackling intense anxiety and panic, we want to have more than one trick up our sleeves. For this reason, I am here to share with you Neuroscience Anxiety Hack #2 – Turn off the Fire Alarm in your Brain.
In my previous post on Hack #1, we discussed how the Fire Alarm Center of the brain, amygdala, fires off a whole array of physical and mental reactions in our body. These responses such as palms sweating, heart rate increasing, thoughts racing can be quite scary and can cause panic in itself. It can feel like our bodies are out of our control.
We might start having thoughts like “I am going crazy…. What is happening with me…. I am going to die… or I know that feeling …. I usually get a panic attack when I feel like that … I don’t want one… It’s so scary…”
These thoughts, in turn, is like adding fuel to the fire as they will provoke more fear and anxiety, escalating things to a full blown panic attack. In response, your Fire Alarm Center, amygdala, will send stronger and louder signal of perceived danger as if you are about to be engulfed in flames. It is at times like this you will need a good anxiety hack!
Remember, the changes your experience in your breathing, muscle tension, digestion, thinking ability are normal responses.
Your body preparing to react to danger whether this danger is real, like getting caught in a building on fire, or imagined, like I will die if I fail this test. The last thing we want to do when we are freaking out about our exam, presentation or interview is to freak even more about all these weird things our bodies are doing.
Here is how you can get back in control and put out some of the fire.
Anxiety Hack: When you start feeling these fire alarm sensations in your body take it as a signal for yourself to start with your mantra. By mantra, I mean any combination of soothing words that you might prepare in advance. For example, at times of panic, I might say to myself: “I am ok. What I am feeling is a normal response to my anxiety. It feels unpleasant, but it will pass like a wave. I am ok now and I will be ok once it passes. ”
I suggest you come up with your own mantra that feels right for you.
Make sure you come up with a few words or one to two sentences in advance. Write it down and carry it with you or memorize it. Don’t try to make one up when you are in a state of panic as it won’t’ work. When we say our mantra out loud or in our minds, we send a signal to our Fire Alarm Center, amygdala, saying “False Alarm, Turn it Down”. Keep repeating it for as long as needed as you ride out the wave of anxiety.
A side note, this hack, of course, applies to the situations where we are not in real danger.
By no means do we want to use it at times when we are caught in a real fire or facing a dangerous person. This is for the times when we are scared to stand up in front of a large group to do a presentation or missed a flight.
Want to make your mantra even more effective?
Substitute ‘I’ in it for your first name. For example, I might say “Viktoria is ok. Viktoria will get through this.” It sounds weird, I know. But the latest research shows that it works. Using a third person when we talk to ourselves activates a different part of the brain. This activation tricks our brain into perceiving it as if someone else is telling this to us and makes the message more compelling and believable.
Here is why this works….
According to the research findings by Dr. Ethan Kross, a psychologist at the University of Michigan:
“When people are feeling anxious or stressed, they can try talking to themselves internally using their own names,” he said. “Our data shows that when you do that, it enhances the ability to read more rationally into situations, which improves people’s ability to control their thoughts, feelings, and behavior under stress.”
So go ahead and try this anxiety hack out today. See what happens when you tell yourself “Ben, don’t eat the second cookie” vs. “I shouldn’t eat the second cookie.” Notice the difference and keep practicing this habit, so when anxiety kicks in you are ready to whip out this tool to put out the fire.
If you like this hack add it to your First Aid Anxiety & Panic Kit. But don’t stop here! Check out my Anxiety Hack # 3 so you are fully prepared no matter what.
Your Global Therapist,