One of our heroes, the leading research neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux, has a new book out – Anxious: The Modern Mind in the Age of Anxiety.
He has, of course, been talking about the subject.
He says we can all learn to calm our minds ourselves, although that would be more work if you’re a born worrier. The hereditability of anxiety is estimated at between 30 and 40 per cent, although LeDoux says that the environment will regulate the degree to which a gene is expressed. Nature/nurture: if you have anxious parents, being anxious is modelled for you – you learn how to do it.
LeDoux says that anxiety is a practice we engage in: We develop habits of mind as well as habits of behaviour. However, like most habits, it can be broken – which is the key element of the #beliefswork that we do.
He has an interesting view on overcoming a phobia. Since he says that anxiety has two components, a basic fear reaction compounded by our thoughts about the situation we fear. The classic “What if?” A spider phobia for instance would benefit from a two-pronged approach: counselling (such as #beliefswork ) to deal with the conscious fear and separate exposure therapy to extinguish the unconscious fear by being exposed to spider pictures subliminally for 30 milliseconds. The spider images would enter the brain and cause your heart to race, but because the exposure is so brief, you don’t start thinking about it — you aren’t consciously aware of what the stimulus is. It would directly extinguish the non-conscious threat-detection system.
Meanwhile, there is a simple way to can tackle our own anxiety, which LeDoux uses himself. “When you breathe in the proper way — something the yoga masters figured out centuries ago — it calms the conscious mind.”
When you breathe in the proper way, you naturally engage the parasympathetic nervous system which has the job of shutting down the fight-flight system. As one of our trainers, Rob Smith, has pointed out before, breathing in the proper way is breathing from the stomach, not high up in the chest. Try it.