Anxiety

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“Charles Darwin observed that fear reactions are fairly universal across species: all mammals, including humans, exhibit readily observable fear responses.”
—Stossel, Scott, My Age of Anxiety p. 42
“In 1915, Walter Cannon, the chair of the physiology department at Harvard Medical School, coined the term "fight or flight" to describe Darwin's idea of an "alarm reaction".”
—Stossel, Scott, My Age of Anxiety p. 43

Negativity

Individuals who suffer from anxiety disorders generally have a hyper-awareness of their environment. They are always scanning for possible threats which can be either external threats or internal threats.

“Anxious people are very smart at plotting out possible bad outcomes.”
—Stossel, Scott, My Age of Anxiety p. 324
“Elements of modern research lend support to Northfield's warning: anxious people have a pathological tendency to focus their attention inward, on themselves, in a way that suggests a book-length dwelling on one's own anxiety is hardly the best way to escape it.”
—Stossel, Scott, My Age of Anxiety p. 24
“David Barlow, one of the preeminent researchers in the field, notes that pathological, negative self-focus "seems to be an integral part of the cognitive-affective structure of anxiety..."”
—Stossel, Scott, My Age of Anxiety p. 24

If the variables in the external environment become too uncontrollable to possibly safeguard against, attention can then switch to the internal environment of the patient where they at least feel they have some control.

“Anxiety disorder patients tend both to feel like they don't have much control over their lives and to be afraid of losing control of their bodies or their minds.”
—Stossel, Scott, My Age of Anxiety p. 87

Sleep

Sleep deprivation appears closely associated with anxiety. Many people who have anxiety also report problems sleeping. It is no wonder then that sleep deprivation adversely affects the brain and cognitive functions. Stress and sleep deprivation can feed off of each other to produce a monster that holds the mind in captivity.

“I'd imagine that the lack of sleep and the extreme amounts of mental stress had done a physical number on my body. Not only was I not sleeping, I was so stressed that I wasn't even getting hungry.”
—Ryckert, Dan, Anxiety as an Ally p. 14
“Nights were always the worst, as I'd lay in bed with a racing mind that would inevitably start fixating on my condition.”
—Ryckert, Dan, Anxiety as an Ally p. 34
“Minutes seemed like hours as I tried to quiet my mind long enough to fall asleep.”
—Ryckert, Dan, Anxiety as an Ally p. 80

Physiology

The notion of the mind and body being separate from one another has existed a long time. It was even once thought that all our mind's thoughts emanated from one a great celestial mind. Modern science and biology has dispelled these ancient philosophies and we now know that the organ in our body called the brain is responsible for our thinking; and that when the brain is damaged so are our abilities to think.

“Physical states create psychic ones and not vice-versa.”
—Stossel, Scott, My Age of Anxiety p. 54
“My anxiety is a reminder that I am governed by my physiology - that what happens in the body may do more to determine what happens in the mind than the other way around. Though thinkers from Aristole to William James to the researchers who publish today in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine have recognized this fact, it runs counter to the one of the basic Platonic-Cartesian tenets of Western thought - the idea that who we are, the way we think and perceive, is a product of our disembodied souls or intellects.”
—Stossel, Scott, My Age of Anxiety p. 30
“The bases of mental illness are chemical changes in the brain... There's no longer any justification for the distinction... between mind and body or mental and physical illness. Mental illnesses are physical illnesses.”
—Satcher, David, U.S. Surgeon General 1999

The part of the brain that is associated with anxiety is the area that is activated during an emotional fear response called the amygdala.

“For instance, acute anxiety generally appears on fMRI scans as hyperactivity in the amygdala, that tiny almond-shaped structure located deep in the medial temporal lobes near the base of the skull. Reductions in anxiety are associated with diminished activity in the amygdala and with heightened activity in the frontal cortex.”
—Stossel, Scott, My Age of Anxiety p. 41

Treatment

To reduce anxiety, the autonomic "fight-or-flight" response must be reprogrammed. Modern treatment generally involves a combination of methods, both pharmacological and behavioral.

“One was accepting that this would be a long fight with no magic solution. The other was discovering the importance of opening up about what I was going through.”
—Ryckert, Dan, Anxiety as an Ally p. 49

Exposure Therapy

In the 1693 the philosopher John Locke described what is now known as exposure therapy in his book on education.

“Your child shrieks, and runs away at the sight of a frog; let another catch it and lay it down a good distance from him; at first accustom him to look upon it, and see it leap without emotion; then to touch it lightly when it is held fast in another's hand; and so on till he can come to handle it as confidently as a butterfly, or a sparrow. By the same way any other vain terror may be removed if care be taken, that you go not too fast, and push not the child on to a new degree of assurance, till he be thoroughly confirm'd in the former. And thus the young soldier is to be trained on to the warfare of life.”
—Locke, John, Some thoughts on education p. 176
“The logic of this approach - which has lately been undergirded by neuroscience research - is that extended exposure to the object of fear, under the guidence of a therapist, makes the object less frightening.”
—Stossel, Scott, My Age of Anxiety p. 68

Meditation

The Law of Noncontradiction states that "contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time". It is the logical basis for the the rationale behind Joseph Wolpe's work on behavioral modification.

“Wolpe’s rationale was that you cannot be both relaxed and anxious at the same time.”
—Wikipedia, Joseph Wolpe

Techniques which involve deep, slow and controlled breathing (diaphragmatic breathing [1]) are often used to help calm the body and change it from a state of anxiousness to one of relaxation. In the same manner, meditation can help the mind refocus its thoughts off of its object of fear and on to an object of security.

“The biomedical view, for its part, increasingly recognizes the power of things like meditation and traditional talk therapy to render concrete structural changes in brain physiology that are every bit as "real" as the changes wrought by pills or electroshock therapy.”
—Stossel, Scott, My Age of Anxiety p. 53
“Meditation led to decreased density of the amygdala, a physical change that was correlated with subjects' self-reported stress levels - as their amygdalae got less dense, the subjects felt less stressed.”
—Stossel, Scott, My Age of Anxiety p. 54

References

  1. Wikipedia. Diaphramatic breathing