Are you unable to calm down your racing thoughts? You have hit the right post! Learn simple things about how to overcome your anxiety.
Anxiety is driven by the reacting part of our brains. When you sense something that seems threatening, your body releases cortisol, the stress hormone that springs your body into action. This is called the stress response.
For our ancient ancestors, this meant being on the ready to fight, take flight, or freeze (play dead) when facing scary threats, such as a fearsome saber-tooth tiger.
While in modern life you thankfully don’t meet any saber-toothed tigers, everyday challenges can still make you feel very anxious—thanks to your old-school reacting brain. Usually, two words are driven by our anxious minds—What If?—lead the charge.
Examples of “What If’s” in modern-day life include:
“This new boss is so demanding and seems impossible to please! What if I lose my job?”
“What if I can’t supervise my son’s virtual schooling (or get him to in-person school) and be at work on time?”
“He is so nice but what if he dumps me?”
“I am so scared about these tumultuous times we live in! What if this country falls apart?”
“Shoot, I thought I saw your text, I meant to respond, so sorry this slipped through! What if things like this keep falling through the cracks?”
Your Reacting Brain Can Be Tamed By Your Thinking Brain
Fortunately, there’s another part of your brain, called the prefrontal cortex: the “thinking” part. The main job of the prefrontal cortex is to provide logical thinking to help control your emotional responses to stress so that you don’t get too stressed out and overreact. If you place your finger on your forehead, you’ll be about as close as you can get to touching your prefrontal cortex.
Your prefrontal cortex can rein in your stress response, slowing down the release of cortisol—if it determines that whatever your amygdala is freaking out about is not in fact a threat, or if it recognizes that the situation is manageable. This logical thinking part of your brain is very important for helping you manage anxiety and not overreact. This helps you make good choices. And as you’ll see, often when you feel stressed out, you have to consciously remember to turn to your thinking brain to gain back control from your reacting brain.
The 7-Word Question That Comes To The Rescue
Realizing how “What-ifs” can really get your mind racing, you can use the power of “What is the worst thing that can happen?” to slow them down. The following sanity-saving activity is from my latest book, The Anxiety Depression and Anger Toolbox for Teens, but it is applicable for all ages:
Close your eyes and reflect on the “what-ifs” that you have struggled with in the past and those that still come into your mind. Fill in the “what-ifs” blanks below. As you do so, reflect on each “What-if,” and think about how it gets in your way. Now think in earnest about this commonly undervalued, seven-word question, which is your antidote to stress and anxiety: “What ‘s the worst thing that can happen?”
Here’s an example to help you get started:
What if I lose my job while trying to take care of my kids during this pandemic?