That feeling of dread, darkness and weight. A pounding of the heart, tension in the gut or tightness in the breathing.
It’s horrible , so why do we have it?
The first point is that it’s a normal reaction to perceived threat that has kept us safe throughout our evolution.
If you are walking down a dark alleyway and hear footsteps behind you it’s appropriate to increase your alertness and readiness.
This system was evolved to be active for a short duration to deploy all our available resources towards staying alive.
However, if we have habitual thoughts of things going wrong then we constantly trigger our defences.
Our very own smoke alarm
Think of your threat sensor (the Amygdala in the brain) like a smoke alarm, any indication of danger (even a passing thought) will set it off.
You can’t say to a smoke alarm “I’m about to make toast, please don’t go off”. The smoke alarm has no choice, it must go off.
So with our Amygdala continually being triggered we gradually become accustomed to living on alert. We may not even realise that our anxiety level is elevated, but there are some clues if this is the case.
What are the clues?
Some people find it impossible to completely relax, some find it hard to sleep, some get regular colds or other illnesses, some feel irritable or intolerant, some find it hard to concentrate. Most feel somehow uncomfortable in their own skin, made worse because there is often no obvious cause.
So what can we do?
Well if you consider that your own imagination is triggering your alert system, it’s rather like your own thoughts are hacking your amygdala.
One option is to hack your amygdala back by using breathing exercises, posture shifts, deliberate positive thoughts, good diet and deliberate self care.
All of these are like an “All Clear” signal to your amygdala.
Another approach is to examine why you might be habitually imagining negative thoughts.
This would be a good project to work on with your psychotherapist.
by Tom Corbishley, Psychotherapist