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Knowledge is Power - Part 1 Understanding Anxiety.

Updated: Feb 3, 2021

My name is Carole Baker and I am a counsellor and psychotherapist with 20 years’ worth of experience working with adults, children and young people.

I have attended a variety of different training courses, from humanistic counselling, to CBT and Transactional Analysis psychotherapy.

My fundamental approach to my clients is that each person is unique and that each person should be prised and valued.

I believe life is about balance. Living in today’s society requires a lot from us and it can be a very demanding place to be a part of. Sometimes, in order to re-establish balance and harmony, it can help to find a safe space to talk through thoughts, feeling and experiences that can otherwise become repressed.

The Talking Spirit Team asked me to talk about anxiety and why it happens to most, if not all of us. This is why the 'Knowledge is power' blog was created. If we can all understand the whys behind our issues we have the power to make changes.

About Anxiety…

A stressful situation be it environmental, such as a car approaching you at speed on the pavement, or psychological, such as a persistent worry about something — can trigger a release of stress hormones that go on to produce a series of automatic physiological changes in the body.

This chain of physiological reactions to stress is known as the "fight-or-flight" response and evolved as a survival mechanism. It is a very primitive but powerful reaction that has allowed humans to assess threat and react instantaneously and without the need for “conscious thought”, which typically slows down thinking. Unfortunately, in today’s society, we see that the body can also overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as traffic jams, work pressure, and family difficulties.

Sounding the alarm

The stress response begins in the brain (see illustration below). When someone confronts an oncoming car or other danger, the eyes or ears (or both) send the information to the amygdala. The amygdala interprets the images and sounds. When it perceives danger, it instantly sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus.

Command Centre

The hypothalamus area of the brain functions like a command centre, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system so that the person has the energy to fight or flee. We see a process that goes like this:

Sensory data fed to hypothalamus

´All sensory data is initially sent by the body to the Hypothalamus, which acts like a switchboard, sending it to the relevant part of the brain.

Data sent to amygdala

´The hypothalamus sends the data both to the relevant part of the brain and also to a small part of the mid-brain called the amygdala; the brain’s threat assessment centre. Date from the hypothalamus reaches the amygdala in 0.038ths of a second and significantly before it reaches other areas of the cortex.

Data also sent to cortex

´When the information is sent to the cortex, we of course think about it. The problem is, that sometimes there is no time to think -- in fact too much thinking can sometimes leave you dead.

Amygdala does a quick threat assessment

´The senses are compared in the amygdala with our stored fear responses. If any of these are triggered, then the amygdala has to act quickly.

Amygdala blocks 'slow' thinking

´If the fear response is triggered, then the amygdala floods the cortex with chemicals or hormones called adrenaline and cortisol to stop the pre-fontal cortex working and to prepare the body for fight / flight.

Unthinking response

´The result is that we act without conscious thought. We jump out of the way of a falling branch, or dive into the pool to save the child. This can be extremely positive and can save lives. However, it can also be negative which we see in the case of over anxious reactions and amygdala hi-jack.

Unfortunately, there are times when the amygdala holds fears that are irrational, such as (for me), spiders, and fears that are real, based on personal experience. However, it is the same response that is happening each time we react in a stressed way to a threat, be it real or perceived.

Next week, I’d like to explain the function of the nervous system, and how it plays a crucial role in the anxiety response and how we can help recalibrate it to lower the stress response and create more balance in our lives.

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