WHAT IS WORRY
First up let's being with explaining what worry actually is.
It's important to know that worry has been around for millions of years! Worry is completely normal. Humans have always worried – even cavemen used to worry. Worry is a form of protection. Worry keeps you alert and allows you to react quickly to danger!
A little worry is a good thing. A little worry can protect you from touching a hot stove, for example.
There are old (worrier/hypothalamus) and new (thinker/amygdala) parts of the brain which play different roles.
In the older part (hypothalamus) of your brain is like the worry command center, the newer part of your brain is the logical thinking center (amygdala). Every time you have a thought, it goes into your worry AND thinking centers.
Everyone worries and it’s okay to worry, but sometimes the 'worrier' part of the brain can get a little overactive. Sometimes the worrier thinks you’re in danger when you’re really just fine.
Why do you think worry could be a good thing?
How long has worry been around?
What do the older and newer parts of the brain do?
More about the Brain sounding it’s ‘alarm’
You have a thought, about something that is going to ‘potentially happen’ in the future - this thought turns into worry - then the worry part of the brain takes over and body starts to think it is in danger.
This is great if a car is coming at you at a rapid speed and you need to jump out of the way!
Not so good if it hasn’t actually happening and your body is responding with stress. This wears you down and exhausts you on the inside and the out - You are now suffering from an anxious response.
Now, we need both parts of the brain to work together. Often the worry part of the brain takes over, even if there is no need, thats when your palms get sweaty, heart races, and sometimes full blown panic attack takes over.
The symptoms of anxiety typically experienced are:
· feeling restless, keyed up, or on edge
· being easily tired
· having difficulty concentrating, or having your mind going blank
· feeling irritable
· having tense, tight or sore muscles
· having difficulty sleeping; either difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep.
WORRY AFFECTS YOUR BODY
When the hypothalamus puts you on alert it can feel scary because your body may have physical reactions to being worried.
For example, when you’re worried, do you ever get a stomach ache, have your heart race, feel dizzy, or even get sweaty?
That’s okay, these things are perfectly normal. There is a reason for this happening and there are techniques to helping calm that hypothalamus down!
Hypothalamus takes over:
When you have a thought,both parts of the brain see what you’re thinking.
The amygdala collects facts and uses logic to help you make decisions.
The Hypothalamus looks out for danger! If the hypothalamus thinks you’re in danger, it puts you on alert to help you get out of danger.
Hypothalamus puts you on alert to PROTECT you!
Hypothalamus is supposed to ‘talk’ to Amygdala before putting you on alert, but sometimes gets impatient and puts you on alert anyway…handy! NOT!
All about Alerts:
When H thinks you might be in danger, it puts your body on alert to react to that danger. To prepare your body to either fight or run away from the danger, H sends out different signals to your body. You may have heard of this also called the ‘fight or flight’ response.
When you go into alert, the hypothalamus prepares the body by:
Speeding up the body – Possible effect: Trembling
Cooling the system down – Possible effect: Sweating
Getting the muscles ready to fight – Possible effect: Rapid heartbeat
Giving you extra oxygen – Possible effect: Rapid breathing
Shutting down unnecessary systems like digestion – Possible effect: Stomach ache
Shutting down Amygdala systems to focus on the problem – Possible effect: Hard to think clearly
Everything H does above is to protect you from danger. Remember, the caveman was able to quickly run away from the saber-toothed cat because he was on alert!
SO: Why does the hypothalamus put you on alert when there is no danger and why do you get worried about things in the future that haven’t even happened yet?
Sure, we want the hypothalamus to protect you from danger in the present, but not to put you on alert when you think about things in the future. So we want to find the tools to calm the hypothalamus down, so you don't respond to worry with these physical symptoms.
What happens to you when your hypothalamus puts you on alert?
WORRY ISN’T SCARY
When people are worried, they often describe it as feeling scary! You get sweaty, dizzy, and your heart races.
What happens when you jog? You get sweaty; when you watch scary movies, your heart races; when you go on roller coasters, you get dizzy. During all of these activities you LIKE feeling sweaty, dizzy, and having a rapid heartbeat!
The point = when you’re worried, your body reacts, but that reaction is not dangerous. In fact, you feel those same feelings doing things that you enjoy. What happens to your body when you’re worried is just a reaction from the hypothalamus trying to protect you.
Remember, what you’re feeling in your body is not actually dangerous – it is only uncomfortable and the feelings will pass.
Can you think of an activity that you enjoy but also makes you feel dizzy, sweaty, trembly, or that makes your heart race, an activity that gives you a similar response to feeling anxious/worried?
SO LETS SLOW THINGS DOWN
When you start thinking about something big that is about to happen, e.g an exam, a performance, a meeting, a flight, even a dinner out or a trip to the supermarket or to school or college if you suffer from anxiety your body will go onto full alert, you don’t want to mess up, you don’t want to freak out, you want to be a success, right?…the hypothalamus has gone into FULL ALERT and started to overreact, as the worry has taken over and your body starts to react as if danger is near.
ACTION 1 = GO FREEZE.
When you realise your body is on high alert, VISUALISE that there is a blow torch on your finger and you need to freeze it with your breathe.
Take a deep breathe in for 4 seconds
Hold it for 7
Blow out the flames with you ice breathe for 8 seconds
REPEAT THE STEPS AT LEAST 5 TIMES.
This special technique is called 4-7-8 breathing. This is something that you can practice when you are on alert, but it’s actually best to practice each day when you’re not on alert. Practice this exercise each morning or each evening for five to ten minutes and you will begin to retrain your hypothalamus to be calmer.
4-7-8 Breathing Detail:
Breathe into your diaphragm (imagine a balloon inflating below your rib cage)
Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds (quietly)
Hold the breath in for 7 seconds
Breathe out through your mouth for 8 seconds (audibly)
As a bonus, while you’re breathing, try to focus only on your breaths going in and out
Remember, if you can’t do the full counts on the first few tries, it’s perfectly fine. Breathe in, hold, and breathe out for as long as you feel comfortable. With practice, you’ll be able to work up to the 4-7-8 counts. It’s that easy! Try it!
How often should you practice 4-7-8 breathing?
What’s the point of deep breathing exercises?
Try 4-7-8 breathing now!
WORRY AFFECTS YOUR THINKING
How to avoid - avoiding!
Find yourself avoiding certain scenarios, setting or situations just so that your hypothalamus doesn’t go crazy? Maybe there is one kid in school that has disrupted the ‘happy school’ scenario so now you not only want to avoid the kid, but you want to avoid school completely…same thing in the office, but with a colleague?
Your Hypothalamus has built a strong worry link between people, places, and things that you associate with bullying, YES adults suffer from bullying just as much as kids.
The way that you deal with your worry is to just AVOID the people, places, and things associated with a bully. Unfortunately, avoiding is one of the worst ways to deal with worry. Avoiding makes you think you’re feeling better and then you begin to avoid more.
If you continue to avoid, your worry link will become so strong that eventually you may not even be able to drive to your office car park, or school car park. Your hypothalamus may become so worried about bullies that, he’d have to stay home.
I don’t want that to happen! I want you to enjoy school and work and car parks!
ACTION #2: LADDERING
Set up mini- steps on the ladder to reach your goal.
Big Goal: To do a supermarket shop alone
Mini-goal 1: Go to the front door alone.
Mini-goal 2: Walk inside and around the store alone.
Mini-goal 3: Take a small basket and fill it with 5 things and pay for them alone.
Mini-goal 4: Take a small trolley fill it with your list of 15 things and pay alone.
Mini-goal 5: Take your list, fill your trolley, pay and walk out of the store alone.
Each week, work through each mini-goal 1 through. If you are avoiding a person, place, or thing that makes you really worry, then try laddering – it’s easy! If the steps seem too big, break them down even more.
What is a worry link? Do you have any worry links?
What happens when you avoid something you’re worrying about?
Try your own laddering exercise:
What is your big goal?
But ‘What if?’
The Hypothalamus’ job is to protect you from danger–in the present. That means that H should only put you on alert when there is danger around you RIGHT NOW. H is not supposed to put you on alert when you are daydreaming about what could happen in the future. H is not supposed to put you on alert when you are “What Iffing" about the future!
“What Iffing" is when you ask questions about the future. You usually ask these questions to yourself…e.g
“What if my teacher asks me a question?”
“What if I go out for a walk and there is a dog?”
“What if my boss doesn’t like what I do?”
“What if I see too many people and freak out and embarrass myself?”
All of these questions can be answered by the Amygdala using logical and rational thought. A lot of times when you’re “What Iffing”, the hypothalamus gets confused and thinks because you are thinking about something that worries you, that you are in danger right NOW.
The hypothalamus puts your body on alert for no reason. This makes you worry unnecessarily!
ACTION #3: BEST CASE - WORST CASE - MOST LIKELY OUTCOME EXERCISE
Next time you start ‘what iffing’ use the Best case - worst case- most likely outcome exercise to calm your worries down.
Literally ask yourself those three questions and realise the ease within the most likely outcome.
What does “What Iffing" mean, and do you find yourself doing it?
When is it okay for the hypothalamus to put you on alert?
Can you think of a time when you were “What Iffing" last?
How would the Best Case – Worst Case – Most Likely Outcome exercise help you in that situation?
You know by now that when H puts you on alert, it affects the way you think. One thing that H does is make it difficult to think accurately because it narrows your attention to only focus on the worry. Sometimes when you’re focused on something so narrowly, you can make errors in thinking.
These errors in thinking are called ThoughtHoles. There are 5 main ThoughtHoles that you can fall into when you’re worried.
Gigantifying – this is when you blow up your worry or magnify a problem to make it worse than it really is. e.g can’t find your lucky socks for the big performance day
Leapfrogging – this is when you jump to conclusions about a situation without having all the information. e.g see a dog off it’s lead and immediately assume it is going to come and attack you
Keyholing – this is when you only focus on the negatives in a situation. e.g how cold it is in the library when you are trying to study, how someone is speaking too loudly on their phone when you are trying to work, and you have SO much on your plate, or to do or learn, and you are dwelling on how little time you have to get it done!
Moodreasoning – this is when you reason with your feelings instead of your logic. This is where worry causes you to make judgments based on feelings and not facts. Sometimes you feel strongly something bad is going to happen, but you have no information to back this up. Confusing feelings for facts is a common ThoughtHole. Watch out for it! e.g I am going to fail
Extremifying – this is when you view a situation in extremes and often use words like “never” and “always.” When you Extremify, you are not looking at the world in an accurate manner. You think your bad situation is never going to change.
What are ThoughtHoles and how many are there?
When did you last Gigantify or Leapfrog?
When was the last time you keyholed? Can you go back and find the positives in the situation?
Look around you now and find 4 positive things in the situation.
What feelings are causing you to feel like you might fail? What facts can you find to make you realise that you actually might pass?
What are the main words you might use when you are extremifying?
If you had an accurate view of the world, how might things be different?
When did you last extremify?
The 5 C’s
The 5Cs is a multi-step process that will help you escape ThoughtHoles. These will help calm your hypothalamus down and relieve your worry. Imagine you have a bag with the following tools:
ACTION #4 - THE 5 C’S
Catch (Tool – a special net to catch your thoughts)
It’s important for you to be aware of your thoughts. SELF TALK IS CRITICAL. Your thoughts are strongly connected to the way you feel. Catching your thoughts is the very important first step in the 5Cs process.
Think back to the last time you got worried: what thoughts were going through your head?
Catch your own thoughts! Grab a notebook and write down 5 thoughts that cross your mind right now.
Check (Tool – a magnifying glass to find ThoughtHoles)
Here you need to go Check yourself and see what/ if any ThoughtHole you are in. Analyse your self talk and get ready for the next step if you are in a hole!
Collect (Tools – buckets to collect evidence to support different points of view - red for negative and green for positive)
Collect those negative thoughts, collect evidence to support the negative and positive view of your situation. Collect a few pieces of positive evidence in the green bucket and a few pieces of negative evidence in the red bucket.
Challenge (Tool – a podium to debate yourself)
Have a debate with yourself. Challenging yourself is an EXTREMELY important step in the 5C process.
Positive Views (green bucket) will usually make a very convincing argument to Negative Views (red bucket). In fact you may be able to go change your perspective by the end of your debate with yourself.
Change (Tool – a brush which can help you change your perspective)
Calmed your worries down by relying on the facts you have collected - and go change the situation!!
ACTION #5 - THE FARR METHOD
Right, You’ve learned a whole lot about reducing your worries. You’ve learned what to do when you’re What Iffing, how to use the 5Cs when you’re in a ThoughtHole, how to practice 4-7-8 breathing to relax, and how to set up laddering goals when you’re avoiding.
Here’s the question: How do you know what tool to use when you get worried? It can be confusing.
No problem! The FARR method is going to completely UNconfuse you
The same way that pilots use emergency checklists, you are also going to use a checklist when your hypothalamus puts you on alert and you get worried. You’ve learned so many techniques to help you calm your worries down, but when you do get worried, it can be hard to remember which technique to use!
The solution is the FARR method:
F – Freeze to calm down by blowing Freeze breathe and taking deep breaths - remember your breathing techniques every day and look at starting daily meditation.
A – Accept the idea that the Hypothalamus is throwing a tantrum when he puts you on alert, it is uncomfortable, but it will pass.
R – Recognise which issue is causing your worry:
Are you in a Thoughthole?
Are you Avoiding a situation/person/thing?
Are you “What Iffing"?
R – Resolve your worry by using one of the techniques below:
If you’re in a Thoughthole use the 5Cs.
If you’re Avoiding try Laddering.
If you’re “What Iffing" use the Worst-Best-Most Likely exercise.
RECOGNISE - ThoughtHole, Avoidance or What if
RESOLVE - 5C’s (catch, check, collect, challenge, change) /laddering / worst-best-most
Using your character strengths can help energise you and give you confidence.
You can decide to have any character strength you want. All you have to do is act on it!
What are your character strengths? What character strengths do you want to have?
Find your your strengths at https://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths
It may sound a little silly, but practicing gratitude can really help your mood! It’s very easy to let anxious thoughts take over, but you can combat them by focusing on things you are grateful for. You can shift your focus from things that make you feel bad just by remembering all the things that make you feel good.
People who express gratitude:
Work on achieving their goals more
Exercise more and feel healthier
Feel more enthusiastic, more alert and determined
Feel more connected to others
Showing gratitude will help improve your resilience, your health and your happiness!
What are a few things you are grateful for?
Are there things in your life you forget to be grateful for sometimes?
A deeper Look: (extra reading on anxiety)
The stress response begins in the brain. When someone confronts an oncoming car or other danger, the eyes or ears (or both) send the information to the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing. The amygdala interprets the images and sounds. When it perceives danger, it instantly sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus.
When someone experiences a stressful event, the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. This area of the brain functions like a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system so that the person has the energy to fight or flee.
The hypothalamus is a bit like a command center. This area of the brain communicates with the rest of the body through the autonomic nervous system, which controls such involuntary body functions as breathing, blood pressure, heartbeat, and the dilation or constriction of key blood vessels and small airways in the lungs called bronchioles.
The autonomic nervous system has two components, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system functions like a gas pedal in a car. It triggers the fight-or-flight response, providing the body with a burst of energy so that it can respond to perceived dangers. The parasympathetic nervous system acts like a brake. It promotes the "rest and digest" response that calms the body down after the danger has passed.
After the amygdala sends a distress signal, the hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system by sending signals through the autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands. These glands respond by pumping the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) into the bloodstream. As epinephrine circulates through the body, it brings on a number of physiological changes. The heart beats faster than normal, pushing blood to the muscles, heart, and other vital organs. Pulse rate and blood pressure go up. The person undergoing these changes also starts to breathe more rapidly. Small airways in the lungs open wide. This way, the lungs can take in as much oxygen as possible with each breath. Extra oxygen is sent to the brain, increasing alertness. Sight, hearing, and other senses become sharper. Meanwhile, epinephrine triggers the release of blood sugar (glucose) and fats from temporary storage sites in the body. These nutrients flood into the bloodstream, supplying energy to all parts of the body.
All of these changes happen so quickly that people aren't aware of them. In fact, the wiring is so efficient that the amygdala and hypothalamus start this cascade even before the brain's visual centers have had a chance to fully process what is happening. That's why people are able to jump out of the path of an oncoming car even before they think about what they are doing.
As the initial surge of epinephrine subsides, the hypothalamus activates the second component of the stress response system — known as the HPA axis. This network consists of the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands.
The HPA axis relies on a series of hormonal signals to keep the sympathetic nervous system — the "gas pedal" — pressed down. If the brain continues to perceive something as dangerous, the hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which travels to the pituitary gland, triggering the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). This hormone travels to the adrenal glands, prompting them to release cortisol. The body thus stays revved up and on high alert. When the threat passes, cortisol levels fall. The parasympathetic nervous system — the "brake" — then dampens the stress response.
Many of the medications that are useful to treat a depressive disorder are also useful to
help control anxiety. If your doctor has prescribed you this type of medication, particularly if you have been depressed, it is important that you continue to take the medication for several months, and only stop taking it in consultation with your doctor.
This medication typically has few side-effects, it is safe, and will not cause you to build
up tolerance or become dependent.
Sedatives, tranquilizers and sleeping pills.
This class of medication is the benzodiazepines. They dampen the feelings of anxiety very effectively, but also produce the following problems:
· they can interfere with thinking and your ability to remember new information;
· they can make you feel drowsy and sleepy;
· they can interfere with your natural sleep cycle and rhythms;
· they can produce tolerance, so that you might need bigger and bigger doses for the same effect;
· they can produce dependence, so that you come to rely on them and experience an increase in anxiety without them
· they can produce withdrawal symptoms when you stop or cut down, producing
unpleasant anxiety-like symptoms;
· they can make it easier for you not to use the strategies taught to you.