By Lucie Dickenson ~
Isolation. This is what many tend to do once they are diagnosed with an anxiety condition. This isolation can take a physical, emotional or mental path. Sometimes all three are at play.
It is a protective instinct we have to retreat when we believe we are not well. It is an old piece of outdated information in our primitive brain that tells us to hide in order to keep us safe from predators.
So we listen to the shout of the amygdala and believe that by hiding we are going to be safe, and thus reduce anxiety. Note when you have an anxiety attack, your first instinct is to run, to escape the impending danger. (of which there is none, but this part of your brain is not reasonable, it is emotional). After many episodes of this fleeing for cover, you create a new neural pathway that now treats this instinct as habit.
So now you get a symptom, and immediately you run. Maybe home, maybe to a bathroom, wherever you can take cover and be alone to hide from the big bad anxiety monster. With this new pathway in your brain, there is no thought process that is necessary, it is an automatic response. You begin to deep breathe and think, wow I beat this, But really, you just reinforced the pathway to become deeper and deeper engrained. But that is okay, I did this, because I did not know better. I thought running, deep breathing and calling my husband was the right thing to do. And it is exactly the right thing to do if we were running from a tiger thousands of years ago.(less the phone call lol) But that is not what is happening. What is actually happening is built up stress in our bodies, escaping and firing miscues of danger.
There are other forms this isolation can take besides just running for cover. Some people shut off emotionally and go into a state of feeling they are not in this world. This is called depersonalization or derealization. Yep, I had this too. This was a doozy of a symptom. This is when you have nowhere to hide so your brain does this trick of shutting down to help you so not to have to deal with the fear of the perceived impending doom. I used to explain this to my husband as if a veil was between me and the rest of the world and I could not cross over to the real world. It was a very odd feeling that really scared me, (but once I understood it was just another symptom of anxiety, I gave it no importance and let it run its course)
Others may avoid certain locations because symptoms arise in those specific spots. And there are even other people who get wacky symptoms wherever they go. For example I could smell EVERYTHING and it would give me fierce anxiety. But I soon learned it was again my primitive brain heightening my senses allowing me to “smell danger”.
How to overcome this vicious circle of events? Don’t retreat. Go against everything your body and mind is telling you. Stay. Face the feelings and let them wash over you. Feel it all, all the fear, the impulses, the scary messages your brain is throwing at you. Stand there and let it be. It will stop. It will be very uncomfortable, but it will stop. And when it does, you begin the building of a new pathway in your brain. One that says this anxious feeling is not as scary as was first thought, and that you can handle it. Just like a muscle, this new process will be built over time. Keep standing your ground and the anxiety will fade.
And remember to thank your amygdala. It was only trying to keep you safe. That is its job. You are just giving it an upgrade on what to distinguish between real and no so real danger.
You absolutely can get over anxiety. Symptoms may be scary, but remember they are not dangerous. And once the symptoms are gone, well that is when the deep work begins…
Love Always, Lucie
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