Rewire Your Anxious Brain | Catherine M. Pittman

Summary of: Rewire Your Anxious Brain: How to Use the Neuroscience of Fear to End Anxiety, Panic, and Worry
By: Catherine M. Pittman


Embark on a journey to rewire your brain and combat anxiety with the help of Catherine M. Pittman’s book, ‘Rewire Your Anxious Brain.’ This summary delves into the complex functioning of the amygdala and cortex, two crucial regions in the brain that process fear and anxiety. Gain insightful knowledge about how emotional memories and thought patterns contribute to anxiety, and discover the power of exposure-based treatment and various coping strategies. Equip yourself with the tools to break free from the shackles of anxiety, panic, and worry by understanding the underlying neuroscience and learning to communicate with your emotional memories.

The Anatomy of Fear

Our brain’s alarm system, the amygdala, constantly searches for danger and triggers the body’s fight or flight response. This pathway operates outside of logic and language, making it difficult to control anxiety with calm thoughts. Emotional memories associated with fear are stored in the amygdala, making it essential to communicate with it using emotional language to overcome anxiety.

Overcoming Anxiety through Exposure Therapy

Our brains wire together when we feel anxious about a particular event or object, strengthening that neural pathway. To overcome this anxiety, we need to form new associations by gradually exposing ourselves to the source of fear. By focusing on our breathing and observing our body’s physiological responses, we can provide corrective information to our amygdala, which allows new neural pathways to form to counteract the fear. With regular practice, these new pathways become stronger than the old ones, leading to reduced anxiety.

Experiencing anxiety is never comfortable, and it can worsen without appropriate interventions. However, several interventions can help with anxiety disorders. If you’re looking to reduce amygdala-based anxiety, exposure therapy might be an excellent option for you. This approach aims to form new associations with the anxiety trigger, competing with the older neural pathways that contribute to fear.

In our brains, neurons that fire together, wire together. Thus, people who have experienced anxiety for an extended period have a well-entrenched neural pathway associated with that anxiety. However, emotional memories created by the amygdala are difficult to access consciously, and they can’t be erased. One must create new associations that compete with the old ones.

The authors refer to this mechanism as “activate to generate.” When people activate anxiety, they create a new neural pathway that slowly replaces the well-entrenched one. Exposure can be gradual, like slowly wading into the water, or abrupt, like diving in. However, it’s crucial to let the anxiety response run its course without cutting it short; otherwise, you may reinforce the negative pathways.

If you intentionally expose yourself to a trigger and end up feeling anxious, engage in activities that help calm the amygdala. Begin by focusing on your body’s physiological response and try to observe it without judgment. Then, focus on your breathing, meditating if necessary, to break free from loops of anxious thoughts. Finally, bring awareness to your muscles and release the tension that anxiety can cause.

In conclusion, exposure therapy is an excellent option for reducing amygdala-based anxiety. By creating new neural pathways, people can supplant the entrenched ones associated with anxiety. By focusing on one’s breathing, observing the body’s physiological responses, and releasing muscle tension, this technique is an effective way to counteract anxious thoughts.

The Cortex and Anxiety

The cortex and the amygdala operate in different ways, but they both contribute to anxiety. While sensory information can trigger the amygdala’s fear response, the cortex-based anxiety is independent of sensory information, meaning that it comes from our own thoughts. Worry and other negative types of thinking can create neural grooves that reinforce this anxiety. It’s essential to recognize which types of cortex-based thoughts ignite your anxiety and focus on ways to break this pattern.

The brain is an incredible organ that holds the capacity to process an enormous amount of information, both consciously and unconsciously. The cortex and amygdala are two crucial parts of the brain that work closely together but operate differently to produce the emotional response of anxiety. While the amygdala is responsible for initiating physiological responses and creating emotional memories, the cortex, being the thinking and perceiving part of the brain, interprets situations and anticipates future events.

The cortex-based anxiety occurs when your own thoughts and images produced by the left and right hemisphere create anxiety. Worry and negative thoughts can deepen these neural grooves that strengthen the connection with anxiety. Obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviors can also contribute to this pattern.

Identifying the types of cortex-based thoughts that create anxiety can help break this cycle. Strategies like cognitive-behavioral therapy can help in restructuring negative thinking to create a new pattern. Recognizing that the cause of your anxiety is not only sensory information but also prolonged cortex-based anxiety is the first step towards finding a solution. Taking action and addressing this kind of anxiety is essential not only for the reduction of anxiety but also for creating new neural pathways that will strengthen positive thoughts.

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