and Taming Anxiety
gives a small thing a big shadow.
in four of us will suffer from an anxiety disorder in our
lifetime. And the rest of us will worry, fuss, and fret
far more than we need to. Now, in this excerpt from his
book, "Worry," the psychiatrist who helped put
attention deficit disorder on the map offers his treatment
program for brooders.
is like blood pressure: you need a certain level to live,
but too much can kill you. At its worst, worry is insidious,
invisible, a relentless scavenger, roaming the corners of
your mind, feeding on anything it finds. It sets upon you
unwanted and unbidden, feasting on the infinite array of
negative possibilities in life, diminishing your enjoyment
of friends, family, achievements, and physical being --
all because you live in fear of what might go wrong. People
who worry too much suffer. For all their hard work, for
all their humour and willingness to laugh at themselves,
for all their self-awareness, worriers just cannot achieve
peace of mind.
yet, worry is a very treatable condition. Most people today
are not aware of all that we have learned about worry in
the last 50 years. Just as rainstorms may strike in different
ways -- sudden thunderstorms, lingering drizzle, occasional
showers -- so does worry attack its victims variously. We've
come to understand the many distinctly different types of
worry, and the underlying triggers. Worry may accompany
simple shyness, depression, generalised anxiety disorder,
or even post-traumatic stress disorder. Each kind of worry
responds to specific and powerful techniques, from cognitive
therapy to medication to regular exercise.
Worry is a special form of fear. It is what humans do with
simple fear once it reaches the part of their brain called
the cerebral cortex. We make fear complex, adding anticipation,
memory, imagination, and emotion.
takes many forms, but it almost always stems from an overwhelming
sense of vulnerability and powerlessness. Many of us locate
the source of worry outside ourselves, believing it is triggered
purely by life experiences: "What is going on in the
world to make me feel this way?" Such thoughts only
increase our feeling of vulnerability.
as anyone who has worried knows all too well, even when
the world is right, worry surfaces. Rational reassurances
get no farther into the psyche of the worrier than words
spoken in Martian. "Honey, everything will be fine.
We are not about to go broke." "There really is
no reason to obsess about your boss. He just told you that
you were doing a great job!" "Truly, that mole
on your back is not malignant melanoma!" The worrier
may be momentarily calmed, but the fire soon flares again.
does the worrier go on worrying? His mind has, in effect,
gone into a spasm, a grip that can't relax and accept good
news. He is suffering a kind of "brain burn,"
because his system is continually pumping out a huge bolus
of adrenaline under high pressure.
we are finally beginning to understand the biology of worry,
to pinpoint what is happening in the nerve cells of the
worrier, rather than his soul. It turns out that some of
us may be born worriers. Our autonomic nervous systems are
cranked up higher, and our blood pressure, pulse, and respiratory
rate may be higher.
we may be less sensitive than others to the brain's natural
stress modulators, which are activated by the neurotransmitter
GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid). People who have a good
supply of GABA, or brains that are especially responsive
to it, may be innately cool and calm. By contrast, a fascinating
1996 study actually linked a gene (called SLC6A4) to individuals
who are highly susceptible to anxiety, pessimism, and negative
thinking. Other pioneering research, has revealed that children
who are high-strung and highly aroused early on often become
tense, shy worrying adults. And brain scans have shown that
people who ruminate have excess activity in a part of their
brains called the cingulate cortex.
new knowledge has enabled us to stop blaming worriers for
their woes, and begin helping them to get better. One of
our newest and most powerful findings is that brains are
adaptable and flexible. You cannot give yourself a new brain
but you can be redirected, retrained, reassured, and reset.
You can change.
article was first published