How to calm down anxiety when your brain is in overdrive

A simple technique to activate the part of your brain that calms you down

How to calm down anxiety when your brain is in overdrive

Racing thoughts. Anxiety. Worries that won’t go away. These are all symptoms of an overactive mind.

If you have experience with any of these, you’re not alone. Rates of anxiety have risen in recent years, and it’s because our minds take in so much information on a daily basis. This can trigger chronic stress that seems inescapable.

I used to be challenged by thoughts of worry or stress. Over the years I have learned how to calm my overactive mind. Here’s how I did it.

Calm begins when you turn down the noise in your mind.

We can easily overrun our minds with too much information and not allow enough stillness. Our minds then form a habit of overactivity that can interfere with our ability to calm down.

It is extremely beneficial to your health and well-being to practice calming your overactive mind, so that you can regularly be in a quiet, serene place, and know all is well.

The good news is you don’t need to spend several hours alone every day to find a calm state again. (Although if that kind of solitude brings you joy, follow that!)

You can release your tension and return to a calm place again in just a matter of minutes.

Use this simple technique to calm your overactive mind:

Place your fingertips on your forehead, above each eye. Press firmly for three to four minutes while taking some deep breaths, focusing on the exhale. Repeat aloud or in your mind:

“I am okay no matter what happens. Everyone else is going to be okay no matter what happens.”

Release your hands and shake them gently for a moment or two. Use this process several times a day when you start to notice stress or start to worry.

I highly recommend using the “I am Calm” Healing Oil with this technique. This oil was formulated to calm the nervous system and reduce stress. It supports your body in quieting nervous and anxious thought processes.

Simply place a drop or two of the oil in your hands, and inhale deeply. Then proceed with the technique.

How does this technique work?

An overactive mind cannot access your prefrontal cortex—this is the part of your brain that regulates expression, decision making, and behavior. It’s the part of your brain that knows there is a solution to life’s situations.

But when your mind is stressed or anxious, the prefrontal cortex shuts down. This technique helps blood come back to that frontal portion, which calms your overactive brain.

Deep breaths help send oxygen and awareness to this part of your brain so you can return to a calm, relaxed state.

Calming your overactive mind will improve your sleep and quality of life.

Here’s what my Healing Center clients recently shared about their experiences:

“I’ve been using essential oils for years so was really wowed when I used “I am Calm” on my feet before bed and had the deepest, most amazing sleep! Don’t remember hitting the snooze, when I checked the clock apparently I’d been hitting it for half an hour! My body needed that!! Thanks Carol!!”

“This may be helpful to any insomniacs in our group. I’ve been having trouble sleeping ever since I hit menopause, both because of hot flashes and restlessness. Last night, since it was a Saturday and I don’t have to work today, I decided to try something new. I put the “I am calm” oil on my wrists and behind my neck about an hour before bed. Then I diffused the “I am Calm” mixed with the “I am Nurtured” in my bedroom and I slept for 5 hours straight, woke up, then fell asleep again for 3 hours. Yay! Normally I wake up every hour. What a relief.” Isabel B.

Would you love to clear the stress that’s causing your overactive mind?

I invite you to join me on July 15th in the Carol Tuttle Healing Center as we go through the Healing Plan for Stress, Fear, and Anxiety. I will personally be guiding the Healing Center members through this 2-week plan and would love to support your own inner healing.

How to calm down anxiety when your brain is in overdrive

While we all feel anxious from time to time, how anxiety changes the brain can be pretty profound and surprising. From laying down new neural pathways, to inciting unhealthy coping responses, there are quite a few surprising ways unchecked anxiety can begin to leave its mark on your mind, body, and even your personality.

That’s because “our bodies [and] minds are designed to deal with short-term threats,” Dr. Steve Levine, board certified psychiatrist and founder and CEO of Actify Neurotherapies, tells Bustle. “When chronically stressed by anxiety, our protective mechanisms turn against us and result in damage, including to important brain communication circuits.” While it’s not a change you can see, obviously, you might feel these changes in the form of increased anxiety, or other mental health issues — such as depression.

“Fortunately, healthy activities like exercise or treatment in the form of talk therapy or medications can reverse some of these changes and restore a healthy balance,” Dr. Levine says. “But it argues for addressing anxiety as early as possible.” If you feel anxious, or think your anxiety might be getting out control, don’t hesitate to seek help. In doing so, you can prevent some of the changes listed below from happening over time. But more importantly, you’ll be starting down the road to better handling your anxiety, and feeling better in general.

You Can Have Trouble Concentrating

Anxiety can feel overwhelming, so it may not come as a huge surprise that letting it go unchecked can eventually lead to impaired thinking, or lack of focus.

“When our brain is on overdrive, it doesn’t have the capacity to stop the intrusive thoughts,” Lakiesha Russell, licensed professional counselor at The Evolving Chair, tells Bustle. “We are not able to focus to complete tasks because [those negative thoughts] are constantly repeating in our minds.”

That’s why anxious folks might feel like they can’t concentrate at work, or like they can’t think of anything else. It’s a symptom that drives many people to eventually go to therapy — which is often the best course of action — in order to reel their busy brains back in.

You May Forget How To Calm Down

When anxiety has taken over your brain — and your worried thoughts are the loudest thoughts you’re having — it can begin a cycle where you essentially lose the ability to self-regulate, or calm yourself down.

“We need to be able to self-regulate our bodies when we are stressed but if we are constantly in a state of anxiety, we are . not able to calm [ourselves] down when stressful situations come our way,” Russell says. It’s a vicious cycle, and one that may need to be broken with the help of loved ones, a professional, or anxiety medication.

You May Develop Other Mental Health Issues

If you’re anxious more often than not, it can certainly lead to other mental health issues down the road, simply due to the fact you aren’t taking the time to manage your symptoms in a healthy way.

As Russell says, “Untreated anxiety increases your chances of depression or substance abuse,” since you might try to self-medicate, in order to calm down. And while understandable, that’s definitely not a sustainable or healthy way to deal with the issue.

Anxiety can be managed with the help of a therapist, with medication, and sometimes even with something simpler, such as reaching out to friends and family for support.

The Brain Will Lay Down “Anxious” Neural Pathways

Since your brain is similar to a muscle, it can actually be “trained” to act a certain way. “Brains are similar to muscles in that the more you use specific neural pathways, the more strengthened those routes become,” Brigitte Gordon, DNP, PMHNP-BC, a psychiatric doctor of nursing, tells Bustle. “This is true for an anxious individual’s brains as well. The more anxious you are about something or anxious about many little things in general, the more your brain will go back to those same anxious thoughts, whether triggered or unsolicited, because that is the neural path that your brain automatically wants to take.” But the good thing is, you can also train your brain to go a different, less-anxious way.

Your Initial Anxiety Can Lead To More Intense Anxiety

Another case for treating anxiety ASAP — even if it doesn’t feel that intense — is the fact anxiety can start to grow and eventually lead to more anxiety. For this, Gordon points to the “‘kindling hypothesis,’ which was first explored in the 1960s by Goddard and associates by experimenting with small electric shocks that subsequently made larger changes to the brain. The same may be true for anxiety — the more someone remains anxious and goes untreated, there may be a cumulative effect that results in a larger, crippling anxiety.”

So the takeaway here is that you shouldn’t hesitate to seek help for anxiety, especially if it feels like it’s getting worse. “In my experience, the sooner anxiety is faced head-on, whether that be with therapy and/or medication management, the better the long-term outcome,” Gordon says.

You Might Not Be Able To Sleep

If you’ve experienced anxiety, then you know it can make it tough to fall sleep. And that can, in turn, make anxiety worse. As Gordon says, “Maybe one of the most detrimental changes that anxiety may have on the brain is the toll it takes on sleep. Sleep is one of the most underrated anxiolytics out there.” Which essentially means it has a calming effect.

Without sleep, anxiety can quickly spiral. “One of the major ways anxiety affects sleep is that it may prevent us from reaching REM sleep, the powerful dream-state that satiates our deep need for rest,” she says. “Without reaching REM we are left vulnerable to a host of detrimental outcomes, including, worsening mental health.”

You May Become Stuck On “High Alert”

The whole point of anxiety is that it serves as a signal to alert you to danger, and prepares you to either fight or flee. (You know, the whole “fight-or-flight” response.)

The thing is, when anxiety is left untreated, our brains can become stuck in that mode — even when nothing threatening or dangerous is actually happening.

“Another word for this is the ‘arousal’ in your brain [is high] (not sexual arousal, but psychological arousal),” Erin Carpenter, LCSW, owner of Thrive Counseling, tells Bustle. “This means your brain is on high alert for danger, scanning the environment for possible threats. This all happens on a [subconscious] level of course, so you may not be aware of it happening. But you will be aware that, over time, you will become more reactive to stressors, and find it difficult to come back to a calm ‘baseline.'”

How to calm down anxiety when your brain is in overdrive

Do You Sometimes Suffer From “OTD?” I sure do and so do most of my clients—those bright, accomplished professionals, executives, and leaders who look like they have it all together. Even the most focused and grounded high achievers get sucked into today’s perfect storm of unremitting urgency and unhealthy expectations. Their sharp, but overworked, minds wind up circling in self-doubt or stuck on the simplest decisions… the result OTD: Over Thinking Disorder*.

You know the feeling. You’re tired, overwhelmed, or emotionally triggered or spent, and your inner critic just takes over the mic in your head to repeat old stories, rework past choices, or replay, “the problem with that” track until you’d like to pull the plug on thinking. Try as you may, you are unable to calm your mind. Unfortunately, attempting to go to sleep might not even pull that plug. (3 am OTD is the worst—too tired to think straight, too stuck in overdrive to sleep!)

These thought tracks tend to play off a common theme: somehow you are “not enough” or don’t have enough to deal with the challenge or decision in front of you. The shame trigger is pulled, and you feel powerless to come to any “aha!” or simply take back control of your own thoughts and calm your mind. F.R.U.S.T.R.A.T.I.N.G. And it’s not like you are dumb—you know there’s a better way to use your precious brainpower, especially if your brain is supposed to be sleeping, relaxing, or playing!

As a coach, I hear a lot of thought circles before my clients drop down into their wisdom and find the clarity they need. It’s helpful to look at why you are stuck by asking yourself some questions.

Are my brakes working?

The number one reason I see my clients (ok… or myself!) fall into is OTD is a brain with a “brake” problem. Your frontal lobe (the executive center of your brain) is supposed to apply the brakes to non-productive, worrisome thinking. But when it is tired, hungry, thirsty, lonely, or sad, it just doesn’t do that well. You’ve seen your children melt down when they are hungry or tired. You have that same brain, and while it has learned some self-control, it is still not capable of full mental and emotional regulation unless it has fuel and rest.

  • HALT(T) check in: Am I Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, or Thirsty. (I added thirsty to the AA acronym because even minimal dehydration reduces cognitive function and mood regulation.) Before you can calm your mind, explore these basic needs and do a full-body scan to see what you need to attend to first.

    Have I been hijacked?

    This is also frontal lobe fail, but for a different reason. Whenever your brilliant brain senses danger, it sends the frontal lobe “off-line” to deal with the “threat.” (It actually directs the blood from your frontal lobe to your legs so you can run. Less blood = less effective.)

    Safety is your brain’s first job, one that trumps all other functions, like keeping your perspective or constructive thought. This hijacking can occur whenever your stress load adds up in volume (the proverbial “death by a 1000 paper cuts”), or you are dealing with a “biggie”.

  • Breathe. Take few long slow deep breaths, lingering on the exhale, and ask yourself, “What is my current stress level?” Keep breathing slowly and see if you can lower your body’s stress response. This will help ramp up your brainpower to deal. (Want some breathwork guidance?)
  • Ask the 4 Questions© to get clear about your stress and what you need now. Getting clear will build your coping confidence and help power up your brakes.
    • What is the real data?
    • What story or assumptions am I adding?
    • What do I need now?
    • Who do I want to be?

    Am I in quicksand?

    Everyone has his/her own emotional quicksand areas. In hindsight, you probably know some of yours. These are places where you’ve stepped, been pulled, or pushed that triggered strong emotional reactions, despite your best efforts to be “rational.”

    But in the moment, or when you are worn down – physically, emotionally, or mentally – that self-awareness (another frontal lobe function) is MIA. So this frontal lobe fail often occurs subconsciously—you are on edge about something else and it affects your ability to think clearly about what’s in front of you. Your emotions have a far stronger hook on your mind than a cognitive challenge. And you can’t just “stuff” emotions. I cannot tell you how often in coaching conversations, when we drill down under the surface of “stuck”, we find an emotional trigger has been fired. So how do you climb out?

  • Breathe! Again?…yes…. This powers up your brain!
  • Notice how emotionally charged you feel. Put a hand down on your heart or gut and breathe deeply again.
  • Ask, “What is being tapped deep down under my swirling head?” Are you feeling vulnerable, betrayed, scared, or angry? Why? Is it an old pattern, not necessarily needed here? Honor the feeling with a little self-compassion, and then get strong.
  • Decide how you would like to be in this situation. Is there another conversation you need to have with someone or yourself? This is taking back control.

OTD, like many automatic patterns, is a great metric, asking you to check in and see how you are really doing. What do you need? How can you more proactively get it? So next time you really need to calm your mind, HALT(T), breathe, and get curious, and never, ever hesitate to seek some support! It is so much easier to get clear in conversation with someone else!

If you would like help conquering your OTD and lowering your stress … please call or email me today!

*Totally made that up and hope it means nothing bad to anyone! I get so tired of hearing people spew acronyms, I thought I’d take the offensive and create my own! And my apologies to Doctors of Occupational Therapy, the offices of technology development, and those of you going Out The Door!

Last Updated: January 28, 2021 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Tracy Carver, Ph.D. Dr. Tracy Carver is an award-winning Licensed Psychologist based in Austin, Texas. Dr. Carver specializes in counseling for issues related to self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and psychedelic integration. She holds a BS in Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University, an MA in Educational Psychology, and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Carver also completed an internship in Clinical Psychology through Harvard University Medical School. She was voted one of the Best Mental Health Professionals in Austin for four years in a row by Austin Fit Magazine. Dr. Carver has been featured in Austin Monthly, Austin Woman Magazine, Life in Travis Heights, and KVUE (the Austin affiliate for ABC News).

There are 33 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 100% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status.

This article has been viewed 154,242 times.

Everyone worries sometimes. However, if you find your mind is on overdrive all the time, you may need to find ways to calm it down or clear it. Meditation, yoga, and mindfulness can help you clear you mind, which can calm your thoughts down. However, you can also learn ways to distance yourself from your anxiety, so that it doesn’t run your life. You may also find that your mind employs cognitive distortions, which are ways your mind plays tricks on you to convince of something that isn’t objectively true; figuring out which ones your mind uses is the first step to combating them.

How to calm down anxiety when your brain is in overdrive

While it’s normal to get nervous about an important event or life change, about 40 million Americans live with an anxiety disorder, which is more than the occasional worry or fear. Anxiety disorders can range from a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which is intense worrying that you can’t control, to panic disorder — sudden episodes of fear, along with heart palpitations, trembling, shaking, or sweating.

For those with an anxiety disorder, it’s important to look into strategies that can help manage or reduce anxiety in the long term, like talk therapy or medication. But everyone can benefit from other ways to reduce stress and anxiety with lifestyle changes such as eating a well-balanced diet, limiting alcohol and caffeine, and taking time for yourself.

Plus, there are steps you can take the moment when anxiety starts to take hold. Try these 10 expert-backed suggestions to relax your mind and help you regain control of your thoughts.

1. Stay in your time zone.

Anxiety is a future-oriented state of mind. So instead of worrying about what’s going to happen, “reel yourself back to the present,” says Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety. Ask yourself: What’s happening right now? Am I safe? Is there something I need to do right now? If not, make an “appointment” to check in with yourself later in the day to revisit your worries so those distant scenarios don’t throw you off track, she says.

2. Relabel what’s happening.

Panic attacks can often make you feel like you’re dying or having a heart attack. Remind yourself: “I’m having a panic attack, but it’s harmless, it’s temporary, and there’s nothing I need to do,” Chansky says. Plus, keep in mind it really is the opposite of a sign of impending death — your body is activating its fight-or-flight response, the system that’s going to keep you alive, she says.

3. Fact-check your thoughts.

People with anxiety often fixate on worst-case scenarios, Chansky says. To combat these worries, think about how realistic they are. Say you’re nervous about a big presentation at work. Rather than think, “I’m going to bomb,” for example, say, “I’m nervous, but I’m prepared. Some things will go well, and some may not,” she suggests. Getting into a pattern of rethinking your fears helps train your brain to come up with a rational way to deal with your anxious thoughts.

4. Breathe in and out.

Deep breathing helps you calm down. While you may have heard about specific breathing exercises, you don’t need to worry about counting out a certain number of breaths, Chansky says. Instead just focus on evenly inhaling and exhaling. This will help slow down and re-center your mind, she says.

5. Follow the 3-3-3 rule.

Look around you and name three things you see. Then, name three sounds you hear. Finally, move three parts of your body — your ankle, fingers, or arm. Whenever you feel your brain going 100 miles per hour, this mental trick can help center your mind, bringing you back to the present moment, Chansky says.

6. Just do something.

Stand up, take a walk, throw away a piece of trash from your desk — any action that interrupts your train of thought helps you regain a sense of control, Chansky suggests.

7. Stand up straight.

“When we are anxious, we protect our upper body — where our heart and lungs are located — by hunching over,” Chansky says. For an immediate physical antidote to this natural reaction, pull your shoulders back, stand or sit with your feet apart, and open your chest. This helps your body start to sense that it’s back in control, she says.

8. Stay away from sugar.

It may be tempting to reach for something sweet when you’re stressed, but that chocolate bar can do more harm than good, as research shows that eating too much sugar can worsen anxious feelings. Instead of reaching into the candy bowl, drink a glass of water or eat protein, Chansky says, which will provide a slow energy your body can use to recover.

9. Ask for a second opinion.

Call or text a friend or family member and run through your worries with them, Chansky says. “Saying them aloud to someone else can help you see them clearly for what they are.” It can also help to write your fears on paper.

10. Watch a funny video.

This final tactic may be the easiest one yet: Cue up clips of your favorite comedian or funny TV show. Laughing is a good prescription for an anxious mind, Chansky says. Research shows that laughter has lots of benefits for our mental health and well-being; one study found that humor could help lower anxiety as much as (or even more than) exercise can.

Sources

Tamar Chansky, PhD.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

How to calm down anxiety when your brain is in overdrive

Do You Sometimes Suffer From “OTD?” I sure do and so do most of my clients—those bright, accomplished professionals, executives, and leaders who look like they have it all together. Even the most focused and grounded high achievers get sucked into today’s perfect storm of unremitting urgency and unhealthy expectations. Their sharp, but overworked, minds wind up circling in self-doubt or stuck on the simplest decisions… the result OTD: Over Thinking Disorder*.

You know the feeling. You’re tired, overwhelmed, or emotionally triggered or spent, and your inner critic just takes over the mic in your head to repeat old stories, rework past choices, or replay, “the problem with that” track until you’d like to pull the plug on thinking. Try as you may, you are unable to calm your mind. Unfortunately, attempting to go to sleep might not even pull that plug. (3 am OTD is the worst—too tired to think straight, too stuck in overdrive to sleep!)

These thought tracks tend to play off a common theme: somehow you are “not enough” or don’t have enough to deal with the challenge or decision in front of you. The shame trigger is pulled, and you feel powerless to come to any “aha!” or simply take back control of your own thoughts and calm your mind. F.R.U.S.T.R.A.T.I.N.G. And it’s not like you are dumb—you know there’s a better way to use your precious brainpower, especially if your brain is supposed to be sleeping, relaxing, or playing!

As a coach, I hear a lot of thought circles before my clients drop down into their wisdom and find the clarity they need. It’s helpful to look at why you are stuck by asking yourself some questions.

Are my brakes working?

The number one reason I see my clients (ok… or myself!) fall into is OTD is a brain with a “brake” problem. Your frontal lobe (the executive center of your brain) is supposed to apply the brakes to non-productive, worrisome thinking. But when it is tired, hungry, thirsty, lonely, or sad, it just doesn’t do that well. You’ve seen your children melt down when they are hungry or tired. You have that same brain, and while it has learned some self-control, it is still not capable of full mental and emotional regulation unless it has fuel and rest.

  • HALT(T) check in: Am I Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, or Thirsty. (I added thirsty to the AA acronym because even minimal dehydration reduces cognitive function and mood regulation.) Before you can calm your mind, explore these basic needs and do a full-body scan to see what you need to attend to first.

    Have I been hijacked?

    This is also frontal lobe fail, but for a different reason. Whenever your brilliant brain senses danger, it sends the frontal lobe “off-line” to deal with the “threat.” (It actually directs the blood from your frontal lobe to your legs so you can run. Less blood = less effective.)

    Safety is your brain’s first job, one that trumps all other functions, like keeping your perspective or constructive thought. This hijacking can occur whenever your stress load adds up in volume (the proverbial “death by a 1000 paper cuts”), or you are dealing with a “biggie”.

  • Breathe. Take few long slow deep breaths, lingering on the exhale, and ask yourself, “What is my current stress level?” Keep breathing slowly and see if you can lower your body’s stress response. This will help ramp up your brainpower to deal. (Want some breathwork guidance?)
  • Ask the 4 Questions© to get clear about your stress and what you need now. Getting clear will build your coping confidence and help power up your brakes.
    • What is the real data?
    • What story or assumptions am I adding?
    • What do I need now?
    • Who do I want to be?

    Am I in quicksand?

    Everyone has his/her own emotional quicksand areas. In hindsight, you probably know some of yours. These are places where you’ve stepped, been pulled, or pushed that triggered strong emotional reactions, despite your best efforts to be “rational.”

    But in the moment, or when you are worn down – physically, emotionally, or mentally – that self-awareness (another frontal lobe function) is MIA. So this frontal lobe fail often occurs subconsciously—you are on edge about something else and it affects your ability to think clearly about what’s in front of you. Your emotions have a far stronger hook on your mind than a cognitive challenge. And you can’t just “stuff” emotions. I cannot tell you how often in coaching conversations, when we drill down under the surface of “stuck”, we find an emotional trigger has been fired. So how do you climb out?

  • Breathe! Again?…yes…. This powers up your brain!
  • Notice how emotionally charged you feel. Put a hand down on your heart or gut and breathe deeply again.
  • Ask, “What is being tapped deep down under my swirling head?” Are you feeling vulnerable, betrayed, scared, or angry? Why? Is it an old pattern, not necessarily needed here? Honor the feeling with a little self-compassion, and then get strong.
  • Decide how you would like to be in this situation. Is there another conversation you need to have with someone or yourself? This is taking back control.

OTD, like many automatic patterns, is a great metric, asking you to check in and see how you are really doing. What do you need? How can you more proactively get it? So next time you really need to calm your mind, HALT(T), breathe, and get curious, and never, ever hesitate to seek some support! It is so much easier to get clear in conversation with someone else!

If you would like help conquering your OTD and lowering your stress … please call or email me today!

*Totally made that up and hope it means nothing bad to anyone! I get so tired of hearing people spew acronyms, I thought I’d take the offensive and create my own! And my apologies to Doctors of Occupational Therapy, the offices of technology development, and those of you going Out The Door!

How to calm down anxiety when your brain is in overdrive

Worrying has become the norm these days.

We worry about paying the bills. We nervously read up on and monitor our health. If that wasn’t enough, then we fret about our kids getting into college. And when they do, we worry about them finding a good job after graduating. There’s an endless supply of material for mind sweat.

According to The National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental diagnosis in the United States and go hand-in-hand with depression. Anxiety affects some 40 million adults in the U.S. age 18 and older.

Why Your Brain Is Wired To Worry

Your brain is biologically wired to worry.

The same circuits in your frontal lobes that allow for superior human intelligence: decision-making, problem-solving, and planning, also produce worry. In your brain, the only difference between worrying and planning is the amount and type of emotional involvement and self-oriented processing. Worrying carries more highly charged negative emotions.

Your brain’s top priority is always keeping you safe and alive, and it’s evolved to accomplish that task very well. That innate instinct stuck in overdrive results in worry. Sometimes, worrying is justified and is just your brain doing its job. Oftentimes, it’s anything but useful and is you indulging in negative thought patterns.

Worrying becomes a problem when your brain’s anxiety-circuits activate too frequently continually triggering your body’s fear response. This initiates the release of stress hormones which damages your mental and physical health over time.

The Difference Between Worry And Anxiety

Although the words are often used interchangeably, worry and anxiety are technically two different things. Worrying is based in your mind in thoughts, and anxiety is the physical manifestations of those thoughts, for example, a queasy stomach or carrying out behaviors that help avoid anxiety-producing situations.

In your brain, worrying primarily involves the prefrontal cortex and its interactions with the limbic system, particularly the anterior cingulate. Anxiety is the activation of the fear circuit and only involves the limbic system – communications between the amygdala, hippocampus, and hypothalamus. When your amygdala identifies a situation as threatening, the hypothalamus initiates the fight or flight response.

Ways Out Of The Worry Trap

Both worry and anxiety can completely derail your life. When you’re using your higher-level mental resources for worrying, you can’t access those parts of your brain for more important things, like completing that big project at work or planning the annual family get-together. Your brain can’t focus on the task at hand or connect with others very well if it’s preoccupied with worry.

You can take concrete steps to break the habit of worrying. That’s what it is: a habitual brain pattern. To change it, you have to calm your brain’s fear circuit and consciously engage and guide your thinking brain. Here are some ways to begin to do that:

1. Become aware of your emotions.

The first step to decreasing worry is to realize when you’re doing it. Becoming aware of your emotional state as it occurs enlists your thinking frontal cortex and suppresses the fight or flight amygdala response. In one study, when people simply labeled an emotion, their brains calmed down.

2. Practice deep breathing.

Taking slow, deep breaths through your nose into your diaphragm with slow exhales. This engages your parasympathetic (calming) nervous system and turns down your body’s stress response. Relaxed breathing tells your body to relax. Relaxed breathing tells your body to relax.

3. Stay in the now.

When you find your mind drifting to the past or future, bring your attention back to the present, a practice known as mindfulness. In this moment, realize that you are alright right now. It’s your thoughts creating a sense of danger. Bringing your awareness back into the now calms your amygdala and activates your thinking frontal lobe. Many studies show that with repetition, mindfulness practice can lead to long-term, lasting reduction of anxiety and worrying.

4. Focus on what you can control.

Your brain craves control, and it’s happier and calmer when it feels more in control — even if it’s just an illusion. Feeling in control can reduce anxiety, worrying, and even pain. In the book, Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool, Taylor Clark writes:

The more certainty and control we think we have about a potentially threatening situation, the less stress we will feel. Interestingly enough, perception is all that counts with this. You don’t actually need to have perfect certainty or total control over how things will pan out; you just need to believe that you have them.”

5. Make a decision – any decision.

Research shows that simply making a decision about whatever it is that you’re worrying gets your thinking brain involved, increases dopamine levels, deactivates your amygdala, and shifts your brain’s focus. Making a decision — no matter how small — also elevates your perceived control giving confidence and mood a boost which helps you to take even more positive action.

6. Decide that good is good enough.

Imposing unrealistic expectations on yourself or others often triggers worry. You don’t have to aim for exercising every single day. Three hours of cardio a week is the standard advised and is more doable. While meditating for thirty minutes daily would be awesome, a ten-minute meditation session will yield positive results too.

7. Stay open and get comfortable with uncertainty.

We create a lot of needless worrying because we attach to a specific outcome and stress about things going the way we want them to. What you like, want, and think you need isn’t always going to be the best or even get you to your goal, oftentimes. By trying to force one particular outcome, you limit other possibilities that could bring what you were seeking in the first place. I’ve seen this happen many times in my own life.

When I let go, let life surprise me, and mindfully respond to what does arise, situations often turn out better than I could have even planned. It’s about learning to have faith in yourself and the universe and getting comfortable with uncertainty.

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“Every Anxious Moment Is An opportunity To Practice A New Response.”

Listed below are things to remember when your anxiety goes into overdrive:

  • Acknowledge the anxiety: You should acknowledge the current reality that you are anxious and that it is going into overdrive. Do not ignore it.
  • Accept the anxiety: Accept the fact that you are anxious. Do not fight or resist the feeling of anxiousness and accept the symptoms of anxiety going into overdrive.
  • Wait: Instead of randomly doing things to alleviate anxiety, wait for some time. Waiting for a bit allows you the time to think straight, concentrate, remember past episodes, and choose a justifiable action or response to the situation.
  • Watch: While waiting, watch for all the symptoms that occur during the period when anxiety goes into overdrive. You may also watch the response of your body and mind to the situation. If possible, note down your observations in a diary for future reference.
    • If anxiety attack occurs when you are working, driving a car, etc., then keep working while simultaneously following the above steps at a slower pace, till you are able to gather yourself and find a suitable response.

Anxiety cannot be stopped at will; it will eventually subside, but there is no time frame as to when that will happen. Also, there is not much that you can do to stop an anxiety attack or stop it from going into overdrive. You can however take steps to make this period of anxiousness less discomforting.

  • Breathe deeply to commence the relaxation process: Breathing tends to quicken during an anxiety attack; this is because of the fear or flight response of the body which occurs during anxiety attacks. Hence, regaining control of your breathing is the first and most important step to start the process of relaxation and alleviation of anxiety.
    • Deep breathing facilitates additional flow of oxygen to the brain and across the body, which helps bring relief from the symptoms. Deep breathing is marked by an ‘out-breath’ that is longer than the ‘in-breath.’ In other words, you may count to 11 when breathing out and count to 7 when breathing in. You may also visit a therapist and learn breathing techniques, belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing.
  • Start thinking to interrupt anxiety: The logical section of the brain gets employed and begins working harder than rest of the brain when thinking. This can help calm down anxiousness and associated heightened emotions. It may not be possible to immediately start thinking other things, but it can be kick-started by known activities like backward recitation of the alphabets, etc. Doing so will trigger the thinking area of brain to begin working and pave the way for alleviation of anxiety.
  • Talk to self for assurance: Silently talk to yourself about the anxiety and it going into overdrive and other aspects that you may observe. You may also remember past episodes of anxiety and give yourself assurance about the self-limiting nature of anxiety and how its causes are often irrational. Assuage self with assurances like ‘anxiety is not going to be the death of me’, ‘the attack is temporary,’ ‘everything will be alright in some time,’ and ‘things could be way worse,’ etc.

When anxious thinking begins to take over your life, remember the first quote in this powerful article. It will gove you the proper mindset to take on your challenges and doubts.

The End The Anxiety Program Is The #1 CBT Based Program For Anxiety Sufferers Today. Learn More Today And Find Your Own Freedom From Fear.

Anxiety relief doesn’t have to be complicated.

Posted Sep 19, 2018

THE BASICS

  • What Is Anxiety?
  • Find a therapist to overcome anxiety

“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes everyday —unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” ― Dr. Sukhraj Dhillon

How to calm down anxiety when your brain is in overdrive

Recently I received an email from a college student who’s struggling with anxiety and wants to get unstuck.

A tall order for a non-therapy client, but he was nice and the millennials are struggling with stress and worries at alarming rates, so here goes.

I’m going to share a simple technique I’ve used with many counseling clients, and it’s a game changer.

How to Overcome Obstacles to Peace of Mind

But first, let’s talk about what trips up even the most well-intentioned person in the quest for a quiet mind and body.

  • Over-attention to the content of your worries. This is especially prevalent in people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I know how counterintuitive this may seem when it’s your mind obsessing over scary thoughts, but honestly, they are not that important. Your brain is stuck in overwhelm overdrive, but don’t let it take you along for the ride. Grab the steering wheel and park it below.
  • Underattention to problem-solving. Largely because of the first obstacle, your rational mind becomes dormant in the throes of runaway unhealthy thoughts and uncomfortable physical sensations such as rapid, shallow breathing, tightening in your chest, dizziness and nausea, etc. Next to “ER” (see below), problem-solving is your best asset for calming an anxious mind.
  • Feeling overwhelmed by…everything!
  • Giving in to impulsivity. According to research published by The Journal of Affective Disorders, a correlation exists between anxiety and impulsive behaviors. This is largely due to an inability to delay gratification and intolerance for uncertainty. Examples of giving in to impulsivity include: abusing substances or “self-medicating,” self-injury, avoidance of unpleasant situations, physical or verbal aggression, excessive social media or other media use to the extent that responsibilities are neglected, etc.
  • Allowing your emotions to get the best of you. “Emotional regulation” (a most unfortunate name for a must-have mental wellness tool) is where it’s at. At its core, ER (not the medical facility where up to 40 percent of the population ends up with complains of chest pain, when in fact, panic attack is the culprit) is the ability to withstand a wide variety of emotional situations and uncomfortable feelings. Examples of healthy emotional regulation include deep-breathing to slow you mind + body, pausing before you respond to an angry inquiry, taking a timeout when stressed, walking away instead of engaging in a psychological arm wrestle, etc.

Now the anxiety-relief tip, you’ve been waiting for.

Twenty Minute Calming Technique

1. Stay in the fray of your frazzled feeling state (3 minutes). While the tendency may be to “get calm,” your worries alert you about something which needs to change. Think of this as a mini-meditation for increasing self-awareness.

2. Sit in silence, close your eyes and pay attention to your body (2 minutes). Where do you feel stress? Is it your stomach, your head, your chest area? Where do you hold tension? Make a conscious effort to breathe into those areas of stress and replace the heaviness with relaxation.

3. Settle on one small action you can do which will bring you one step closer to solving your problem (10 minutes). Anxiety loves avoidance, so beat it at its own game and start acting. Set a timer for 10 minutes and completely immerse yourself in this step. Clear all distractions and focus on your goal (if you’re stuck, start with what you’ve been avoiding and what specifically bothers you about uncertainty: Is this an uncomfortable conversation with your spouse? Is it opening your VISA bill? A stagnant relationship? The time between text messages to a love interest? Needing to know the results of the lab test? The security of a good job upon graduation?).

4. Write down one task you will complete tomorrow to stay on the action track (5 minutes). Get specific and hold yourself accountable.

Repeat this process daily so you develop a nice habit. Challenges can be all-consuming or all-empowering. The goal is not necessarily to be calm, but to handle daily stress better and to find the right side of ‘in control’ quicker.