Emotional Wellbeing

Mental Health

Mandy Kloppers

How to Retrain Your Brain If You Have Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are currently the most common mental health disorders in the United States. The term anxiety itself is very broad, and it can be situational or triggered by a specific event. For example, people in car accidents may experience PTSD and anxiety as a result, but it may eventually subside.  

There is also ongoing anxiety that may occur for no known reason and doesn’t subside over time.  

Anxiety, in that case, is defined by unreasonable, unwarranted and uncontrolled worrying.  

There are specific types of anxiety that can affect a person as well. Along with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there are panic disorders, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. There’s also generalized anxiety disorder, which means that someone feels anxious most days and when one worrying thought has a resolution, another takes its place almost instantaneously.  

While anxiety is a mental health condition that should be managed by an experienced health care provider, along with recommended treatments, you might also work on retraining your brain.  

The following are things to know about retraining or rewiring your anxious brain and some tips.  

It Takes Time 

Before you start engaging in specific strategies to rewrite your anxious brain, it’s important to be aware that it takes time. Over time, the more you’re able to relax your brain, the more likely it is that the genes that control stress reactions will become more resilient.  

When you engage in mindfulness practices over time, it also helps you create thicker layers of neurons in parts of your brain, including the prefrontal cortex. When you’re mindful and actively working on harnessing the power of your brain, you can activate your left prefrontal cortex.  

This part of the brain is where we suppress negative emotions. You can also reduce the activity of the amygdala, which is like the brain’s alarm bell.  

Recognize Where You Are At the Current Moment 

Anxiety is all about thinking about the future and sometimes even the past and feeling on high alert. You’re planning for things that haven’t happened and may not even happen.  

One important thing to keep in mind to rewire your anxious brain is where you are at the present moment, which is why mindfulness and training your brain go hand-in-hand.  

When you’re feeling anxious, ground yourself in the current moment and tell yourself that you are not in danger and you are not facing a fight-or-flight situation.  

There’s the phrase that often floats around that your focus determines your reality, so keep that in mind.  

Be aware of your thoughts and work to control them instead of letting them control you.  

You need to work to convince your brain that you’re safe and everything is okay at the present moment.  

Give Yourself a Worry Window of Time 

If anxiety is something that’s consuming your thoughts, it’s also consuming not only your mental but also your physical energy. You can’t then perform at your best as a result. 

Rather than telling yourself to cut out the worrying, which is often easier said than done, instead, tell yourself you’ll worry later.  

You’re giving yourself permission to worry, but you’re taking control of when you do it.  

Set aside a very specific time of day, each day, where you leave yourself alone with your worried thoughts. Eventually, the hope is that you can gain control over your thoughts to the point that you don’t need this time, but until you’re ready for that, keep scheduling your worry time.  

Try Open Monitoring 

There’s a tactic shared by psychotherapist Dr. Timothy Stokes called open monitoring, which speaks directly to the concept of retraining the amygdala.  

You start by imagining a situation that would cause you to feel anxious or upset. Then, think very closely about the emotions it causes. This could include physical symptoms.  

Tell yourself it’s just a feeling that you’re having and then repeat these steps for up to half an hour. 

Challenge Your Anxious Thoughts 

Finally, you want to change how you view the world. If you have anxiety, the world may seem like it’s full of many more threats than you may actually even need to worry about. Your brain can be inundated by the negative.  

However, identify the specific things that cause you to feel fearful or anxious.  

Discredit them as facts, and instead tell yourself they’re theories that you’re going to argue against in your brain. This will help you balance out your thoughts.  

Photo by Candice Picard on Unsplash