Rewire Your Anxious Brain
Use cognitive neuroscience to rewire your anxious brain for improved stress, sleep, and efficiency.
"No one likes you"
"You suck at your job"
"What if I fail at this project and get kicked off the team?"
"Why do I always mess everything up?"
Do these thoughts sound familiar?
Most likely, since this is our brain on anxiety.
When we are anxious, our brain tells us all kinds of untrue stories about ourselves, what others think of us, and the future.
The more the anxious brain gets to practice, the more anxiety and anxiety-related negative thoughts we experience.
You're sick of your anxious brain getting in the way of your focus. Your energy. Your confidence. Your sleep. And so much more.
The good news is, we can rewire your anxious brain to decrease stress and anxiety, improve your cognitive abilities, and increase your confidence.
We do this by:
1) Understanding the neuroscience of the anxious brain
2) Training the anxious nervous system
3) Mastering the anxious mind
Rewire Your Anxious Brain with Cognitive Neuroscience
There is nothing more frustrating than trying to be productive at work or engage in our personal lives and have our anxious mind interfere.
In order to understand how to rewire your anxious mind, it’s first helpful to understand the neuroscience and neuropsychology of the stress and fear response.
From an evolutionary perspective, our nervous system was designed to protect us from danger. When there is a fear or perception of danger, the nervous system responds quickly to protect us.
This was pretty useful when we were living outside as hunters and gatherers.
In modern-day society however, the brain often has difficulty differentiating between what is dangerous or scary, and something that is not dangerous, but rather stressful and anxiety provoking.
A major player in this response is the amygdala, thought of as the “emotional brain.” This is the part of the brain that processes fear and serves as an alarm system for protection.
Unfortunately, this part of the brain can also be responsible for our emotional reactions to stress and anxiety, which is processed in a similar way to fear.
The frontal cortex in the brain is thought to be responsible for worrying, dwelling, and ruminating over things, and this is thought of as the “cognitive brain.”
Once the stress response is activated, the amygdala perceives stressful situations as something fearful or dangerous. This can then cause activation in the cortex, causing us to worry, overanalyze, and overthink.
While these responses can be helpful for keeping us safe, sometimes our brain is too good at keeping us safe, causing high stress and anxiety that gets in our way.
Every time we perceive a situation as stressful, we are training the brain and strengthening this association. Every time we perceive the same situation as stressful again, we are further strengthening this association.
Therefore, rewiring your anxious brain by rewiring these pathways can be helpful.
The good news is, the brain is highly adaptable and can rewire itself, make new connections, and analyze situations in different ways, referred to as neural plasticity.
Train the Nervous System to Rewire Your Anxious Brain
Once the stress response is activated in the body and the mind, a series of physiological changes occur. This is also when the fear response will be solidified in the amygdala.
If we have subconsciously labeled a stressor as something dangerous or fearful, the amygdala will respond in a fearful way when we encounter that trigger.
This will also cause a series of physiological changes, such as increased heart rate, high blood pressure, more muscle tension, and decreased attention and concentration.
Therefore, training the nervous system is one of the best ways to rewire your anxious brain.
Identify Stress Clues and Triggers
First, it is important to identify triggers and early clues to stress and anxiety. The more awareness we have of the early signs that the stress response is getting activated, the better we can take action.
Preparing for triggers is also important. Triggers that we experience are likely to be labeled by the brain as something dangerous or fearful, so planning for triggers is very important.
Engage in Deep Relaxation
It’s important to also physically calm the nervous system with a series of deep relaxation exercises.
Deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation are two excellent strategies that can help with retraining and rewiring your anxious brain.
Deep breathing helps counteract the physiological changes of the stress response. It works to decrease blood pressure and heart rate, improve breathing and lung capacity, and clears the mind.
Practicing deep breathing daily is one of the best ways to prevent high stress and anxiety.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is another deep relaxation strategy that can help relax the body and mind by reducing muscle tension throughout the body.
Teaching the body to be calm and relaxed in a variety of situations can help rewire your brain and change the association between certain situations, places, and things, and your brain’s response to it.
This is also especially helpful to do at night to prepare the body and mind for restful sleep.
Rewire Your Anxious Thoughts
A helpful way to understand anxiety is through the cognitive model. The cognitive model says that our thoughts, behaviors, and feelings are associated.
When the brain perceives a situation as dangerous, a series of negative thoughts about the situation follow.
Alternatively, if we are thinking about something in a negative, unrealistic, or unhelpful way, we are going to experience a higher level of stress and anxiety about the situation, as well as a stronger physiological response.
Therefore, rewiring anxious thoughts is one of the best ways to change how you think about things and perceive them, which can greatly reduce stress and anxiety.
Here are several ways to do that:
Defuse from Your Thoughts
One of the best ways to change your anxious thinking is to defuse from your thoughts.
Defusion is a strategy from acceptance and commitment therapy that allows us to get separation from our thoughts.
By creating some wiggle room between the anxious thought and reality, we can rewire the brain to think about situations differently.
Question the Thoughts
Another great way to rewire your anxious thoughts is to question the unhelpful thoughts that come to you when you are feeling anxious.
An important step in this is recognizing the unhelpful and untrue thoughts that are common to you when feeling anxious.
Once you are able to identify these anxiety thoughts, you can question them for accuracy with a variety of specific questions.
Change the Story
A helpful way to rewire the brain is to change the story of specific triggers that cause anxiety. Triggers are known situations, places, events, things, that bring us anxiety.
Over time, anxiety grows about these triggers due to the association that the brain makes, as well as how we think about it.
Let’s say you get anxious before meetings. Your normal story might be, “I suck as presenting. Everyone will think I’m bad at my job and that I don’t know what I’m doing. I never say the right things.”
New story: “Presenting is challenging for me and I’m not always sure what I want to say. But, I can practice and prepare so I feel better. I also don’t have any information to suggest that people think I don’t know what I’m doing.”
When changing the story, we want to replace the unhelpful story with a new, realistic one.
As you saw from the example, it doesn’t need to be overly positive. However, it is important for it to be well-rounded and neutral, so it is believable to you.
There is nothing more frustrating than an anxious mind that interferes with our focus, efficiency, and personal life.
The good news is, the brain is adaptable and can change its associations for decreased stress, anxiety, and tension.
Follow the tips above to rewire your brain for improved focus, efficiency, and overall mood.
Sick of anxious thoughts getting in your way? My Master Stress Method has helped hundreds of overwhelmed and exhausted clients take back their life by mastering their anxious thoughts and much more.
Book a quick, 15-minute chat so we can talk about how you can take charge of your life, asap.
----About Dr. Julia
Hi! I'm Dr. Julia. Health psychologist, stress and sleep expert, and creator of the Master Stress Method.
I have worked with thousands of individuals in major hospitals, university medical centers, and primary care settings to improve their stress levels, sleep, and overall emotional and physical well being.
My current focus is helping busy professionals prevent and manage the high stress that is getting in the way of their productivity, mood, sleep, and their ability to reach their full potential.
My Master Stress Method has helped hundreds of stressed out, overwhelmed, and burned out clients significantly reduce their stress and anxiety, improve their sleep, and maximize their productivity, in just weeks.
I can't wait to help you stop the struggle with stress, for good. Let's chat :)