In the previous blog, we discussed neuroplasticity, and the opportunities it provides for your mental health. To refresh your memory, neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to rewire itself. Although once thought that the brain could only change as it developed, this was found to not be true, and it is actually proven that you have the ability to change your fully developed brain. As mentioned previously, this is an amazing thing in terms of your thoughts and feelings, whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, negative body image, or other things, it can be really beneficial in rewiring how you think in this case. But, the main question is, how exactly can you do that?
When it comes to something like anxiety, neuroplasticity can help you in countless ways. Relieving that stress that may come with things can be fixed, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Neuroplasticity exercises to relieve stress and anxiety can be really beneficial, here are a few examples.
Neuroplasticity with Anxiety
Our brains tend to create an automatic default setting around specific triggers or situations when it comes to anxiety. For example, if you experienced an anxiety attack at a concert, you are more prone to experiencing an anxiety attack the next time you are at a concert as well. Your brain is repeating that reaction because your amygdala is triggering that fight or flight response after experiencing a certain stimulus. So, even if you feel like you’re at a concert and you’re not, this can still make you feel that experience and trigger that panic.
So where does neuroplasticity come into play? Well, your hypervigilance is the “old” neural pathway in action. With neuroplasticity exercises, you can create a buffer between the stimulus and your response so that your anxiety isn’t as easily triggered; In other words, you can view this as creating that “new and improved” neural pathway in your brain.
How do you practice this though? Well, the main idea is to practice ways to not trigger that stimulus and calm you down before it takes control of your emotions. Additionally, working on this on your own is possible, but can be very challenging. Working with a therapist can be really helpful and beneficial in giving you these tools. With that being said, here are some different recommended techniques for expanding your neural pathways to anxiety/panic attacks.
Change your approach to anxiety
In order to rewire, you have to change the way you think. So, rather than letting your brain run those scripts of things that make you anxious over and over, you have to change that and create a new script in your brain for when a stressful situation happens. Rather than worrying about things that make you feel uncomfortable and unsafe, focus on your perception of each situation, and develop a new way to make you feel more comfortable and safe. For example, rather than telling yourself “I feel scared about confronting my boss”, instead work on telling yourself “I feel scared about confronting my boss, but I can do it, here is what I can do to deal with it calmly and safely.” The more and more you practice telling these positive thoughts to yourself, the easier it becomes for your brain to resist that stimulus trigger and go into that panic attack, and you now have a way to feel calm and know you are in control.
Playing it out/Practicing
Not only can you change what you tell yourself inside of your head, neuroplasticity works by changing your behaviors as well. Rather than avoiding the thing you are worried about at all costs, start practicing doing more of what you’re scared of. Rather than starting with a big challenge, start small and work your way up to it. If you are someone that struggles with social anxiety, rather than avoiding it, you could start by complimenting someone at the grocery store. You have to be uncomfortable to become comfortable, which applies for a lot of things in life. When it comes to neuroplasticity and practicing rewiring yourself, changes have to be made in order for your brain to change. As you slowly increase your tolerance for stressful situations, things like confronting someone or speaking to a stranger will slowly become easier and easier. With this, your fight-or-flight response will become less reactive to the same stimuli.