The Truth About Anxiety
Science shows different brain activation during anxiety than worry.
Plus, this is how anxiety gets WAY worse.
Can you spot the difference between worry and anxiety?
If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack or episodes of anxiety, you probably know the difference. It’s hard to put to words unless you’ve struggled with them first-hand. But for people who’ve never struggled with either, they use the two words interchangeably.
When in reality, they are very different animals.
For them, it’s similar to calling a black widow spider and false widow spider the same thing. At first glance, they look the same. In fact, both are venomous. But the black widow is WAY more venomous. The same thing is true of anxiety, as you’ll soon see.
So let’s explore four little-known differences between anxiety and worry:
#1: Drip vs. Downpour
You’re leaving for work in the morning.
You lock your front door, head towards your car, and cold water drips on your head.
You look up and notice the gutter is leaking.
Worry is like a leaky gutter, there’s typically one source of worry. It could be a BIG presentation coming up, an upcoming test, a job interview, or an approaching deadline. But usually worry is focused on one thing. Anxiety is more like a downpour, a barrage of worries hitting you from many different directions.
#2: Internal Dialogue vs. Imagery
Think about something that you worry about:
What if I mess up during that meeting?
What if I say the wrong thing?
What if it’s not good enough?
This is a key difference between worry and anxiety. Typically, worry involves internal dialogue primarily. However, anxiety is usually not just negative thoughts but also imagining vivid wort-case scenarios and other frightening situations.
According to psychologist Guy Winch, “emotional mental images such as those associated with anxiety provoke a much greater cardiovascular response than emotional verbal thoughts (such as those associated with worry)”
#3: Different Brain Activation
The brain “lights up” very differently
According to physiologist Dr. John Mayer, worry activates the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, where thinking and higher level problem-solving takes place. Anxiety activates the more “primitive centers” of the brain including the amygdala, hypothalamus, and hippocampus.
When the amygdala activates, so does the fight or flight response. If a wild animal or stranger attacks you, this response kicks in. Then adrenaline is pumped into your blood stream, your heart rate increases, and more blood is sent to your muscles. This boosts your reflexes, reaction, speed, and perception. During anxiety your body reacts as if it’s dealing with this type of life-threatening situation.
#4: Anxiety is a Double-Whammy
Here is where anxiety goes from bad to worse.
It’s one thing to worry.
It’s another to worry… about worrying.
Something I call meta-worry.
Because you just aren’t feeling bad but judging yourself in the process. A 2013 study in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry found people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) viewed their worry as harder to control than those without anxiety. And because they view it as more difficult to control, they worry about it more.
In fact, a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology looked at the connection between psychological health and accepting emotions. Researcher, Brett Ford found, “People who accept these emotions without judging or trying to change them are able to cope with their stress more successfully.”
So how do you stop anxiety?
I can’t do this topic justice in one article, let alone 20. But here’s an important lesson that I share when working with private clients:
Practice Emotional Honesty
This is the foundation of emotional mastery. Be honest about the emotion you’re feeling. If you’re feeling down, anxious, freaked out, or whatever else – be honest with yourself. Don’t tell yourself…
I shouldn’t be feeing this way…
This shouldn’t be a big deal…
This shouldn’t be bothering me.
Without judging yourself, simply accept the emotion you are feeling.
It does NOT mean you are weak.
It does NOT mean you have to stay there for long.
It does NOT mean you are giving up.
It simply means you are recognizing the emotion for what it is.
From there you have power over it.
From there you can try to change it.
But it starts with accepting (and being honest) with what you’re feeling first.
The Renegade Life Coach
P.S. Check out more Anxiety & Stress Management articles by clicking here.
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