Anxiety and panic are on a spectrum mild to severe from simple fear or apprehension through to full panic attacks. This is what we have been seeing during Covid with our tendency to panic buy. It started with toilet rolls and pasta, moved onto holidays and now we have moved on to fuel for our cars. It is probable that we will have more to come as we face the expected food shortages at Christmas.
A lot of what we are panicking about is socially and based in both Brexit and Covid as we tend to act on rumours in the news and on social media like sheep. In this blog I will try to explain a bit about the brain and our emotions and the different forms of anxiety that are effecting us at the moment. At a scientific level our understanding of the neuropsychology and anxiety has come on leaps and bounds.
When we are queuing on the garage forecourt we may well be experiencing a very real anxiety as fear that we will not be able to get to work, tend to a sick relative, get the kids to school and so on. What we need to understand is that all anxiety is not about what is happening right now it is about what we fear will happen next, in the future. I can be worrying now, in September, about not having food for Christmas dinner to feed the family as I had intended or was expected to do. Do I now start to panic buy to ensure that me and my family will be okay for the festive season? The key here is that actually it is not happening right now. Right now, in the present moment, we have food, our bellies are full and we have nothing to worry about.
Now it maybe that we will not have the food that expect or that we are used to this Christmas however, evolution has given us an amazing tool that we can use right now. It is called creativity. This means that we can creatively solve any problem that life throws at us if we are positive and creative and don’t become swamped in the fear of what may never actually happen.
Panic and fear based anxiety is emotional
Fear is an instinctual response, often a reflex, in the amygdala in our brain that may lead to the physical, even violent or, fight, flee or freeze responses that are activated in the brain stem. This process tends to be highly emotional, often below our awareness. When people have an anxiety/panic attack it is a fear reaction. They will be temporarily out of control. Once they have calmed down and the cognitive brain is back on line they may be filled with remorse and even be shocked or horrified by their previous instinctual behaviour.
The amygdala is a dual almond shaped organ, one in either hemisphere of the brain though usually termed in the singular. The difference between the two amygdalas, which has not yet been studied in the west, is in Ayurvedic neuropsychology recognised as a part of our intuitive function, that sense of knowing without knowing why we know. As such it’s function is both above and below our awareness. When it is functioning above our awareness we call in intuition. When it functions below our awareness we see it as the primal response of instinct. It is these instinctual responses that create the hoarding behaviours that we are seeing at the moment. This is panic, fear and panic buying.
A dictionary definition of panic is a sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behaviour.
Do we really need this fuel? Or, do we need this much fuel? Do we really need a Turkey for Christmas?
The Mayo clinic defines panic as…
“ …a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying”.
Both anxiety and panic are normal emotional responses that as such have no logical connections. When cognition balances the emotion of panic the system is in balance. In balance we can plan in panic we simply react.
Worry Based Anxiety is cognitive and leads to as plan
Worry based anxiety is completely different to emotional based panic anxiety. The anxiety that is experienced in the cognitive brain is completely different to primal amygdala responses in that it is experienced as a reasoned response based in logic.
The reasoning and the logic may, in reality, be faulty but it is experienced by the person as factual. People will say “it is a known fact that…” when it is nothing of the sort. Worry based anxiety also comes from the person not living in the present moment. They have projected themselves forward into ideas and experiences that may never happen but they are living them in the present as though they have. The tools of worry based anxiety are obsessing, which may lead to obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD, rumination, ‘dog with a bone syndrome’, where we cannot let it go and tend to go over and over the same issue again and again.
In Ayurveda worry based anxiety, in the cognitive cortex, is seen as part of the process of the imagination. People with a poor imagination do not get worry anxiety because they have difficulty imagining negative futures to become anxious about. Cognitive anxiety is dealt with by Tantric therapy, which is not all about sex it is about dealing with and controlling the imagination. Worry in the amygdala is dealt with in the Raja therapy which is mindfulness and meditation.
Tantric therapy is based in using visualisation to create future images that are positive and do not have the worry attached to them. The habit of attaching worry anxiety to a particular thought or image is replaced with new positive images that are the new worry free habit. Raja based therapy as mindful relaxation and meditative practice reduces the levels of stress hormone in the body system reducing the instinctual feelings of fear.
I am never keen on the ideas of control but ion this case I am. When we take control of anxiety we are not overwhelmed by it. We are in control of it and it is not in control of us. Sometime we will need some therapy to equip us with the skills to deal with our anxiety.
If your anxiety if based in logical reasoning seek out a cognitive therapist they will be great for you. If your anxiety is fear based find therapist skilled in emotional work they maybe psychodynamic, cognitive analytical (CAT) or Mindfulness based stress reduction MBSR, therapies and courses and you will get what you need.
Most importantly none of us need to suffer anxiety, If you do then please do something about it.
1: An eight week completely free MBSR course at palouse.com
2: A book: Rewire Your Anxious Brain By Catherine Pittman and Elizabeth Karle
Take care, don’t panic and be happy