Learning how to retrain your mind to stop anxiety
This article is going to be kept simple although it discusses a topic that is very complex and deeply engrained into our ancestral instincts for survival.
Put simply; there is a part of our brain called the corpus amydaloideum, better known as the amygdala, they are almond shaped groups of nuclei located deep within the medial temporal lobes of the brains limbic system and they heavily influence our memories and emotional reactions. In many people who suffer from anxiety disorders the amygdala plays a large role in unconsciously maintaining fear based reactions to (what others might call) everyday events.
Therefore, learning how to retrain your fear based responses at an unconscious and neurological level is fundamental to recovering from anxiety and depression and explains why will power is often not enough.
Memories and emotions
Mammals brains (especially hominids) have evolved through millions of years to hardwire emotions to events or behaviours that are good for (or bad for) the animal, from the point of view of their survival and ultimately the propagation of the species.
So if a person ate a certain food and it made them ill (bad emotion) then the amygdala would associate that bad event with the bad emotion and project that learned lesson forward in time – so when that food re-appeared the person would get a “bad feeling” to remind them not to eat it.
Of course, this same process works for good things too, so, if a person did a certain thing and was rewarded with sex – then, they are going to being doing more of that behaviour.
So, your amygdala remembers what happened in the past and how you felt about it (what outcomes you experienced) and it uses that information to “guide” you to make good decisions for your survival.
HOWEVER, just because an emotional memory is stored in the amygdala and classified as good or bad – does not mean that it is true or appropriate!!
If a large dog playfully jumped on you when you were a small child and scared you the amygdala may classify that playful dog as being a huge threat and therefore fire off every-time any dog came near to you. Now, that is a simple example, however, they are often complex and setup during childhood and the informative school years.
Another example could be; a school pupil who had a very strict and over-powering head teacher, perhaps she stood up and answered a question in class, only to be ridiculed and shouted at by the teacher. This would have fired off huge emotions of embarrassment as other children may have laughed at her and her amygdala would have stored that event with a bad emotion – and perhaps, she would have formed unconscious strategies to avoid dominant authoritarian figures or any event that may have any chance of failure or embarrassment.
Databases and pattern matching
Metaphorically speaking, the mind (in conjunction with the amygdala) seems to classify the way these emotional reactions are stored as either “Good or You” or “Bad for You” – I liken them to having to the brain having two simplistic databases of information that it uses to decide (unconsciously and from a survival point of view) if something is good for you or not.
This works well if you are an animal – but for humans our lives are so complex that the opportunities for erroneous data being stored is immense.
To further complicate the matter, the brain works by something called pattern matching, where, if a new experience arises the mind looks for the most similar experience we have (from either the ‘good for us‘ database or the ‘bad for us‘ database) and serves us (what it thinks) would be our best emotional reaction that will influence how we respond to it.
So if the woman who was embarrassed by her teacher went on a blind date and the man was assertive or critical, her amygdala might pattern match him to her former teacher (from 20 years ago!) and give her an overwhelming emotional reaction – that consciously makes no sense to her.
Reprogramming your emotional responses
In our experience, we all have so many entries in our emotional databases from all of events of our lives, especially, our upbringing, our schooling, our religious teachings and our experiences in relationships. Some are true and appropriate, however, many are just plain wrong and certainly well out of date.
As you proceed through the Calmness in Mind Overcoming Anxiety Program we will teach you how to find these out-of-date responses and how to retrain your mind to phase out those inappropriate responses and make sure that the right responses are stored in the right databases.
This is sensible personal growth and wise ways to ensure your emotions are in your control.