The #1 Reason that You Cannot Be Trusted
You can’t be trusted. I can’t be trusted either. No one who lives with nagging anxiety can be trusted over their own thoughts. You know why? The amygdala, that’s why.
A few articles ago I wrote about how the brain is a jerk The amygdala is that part of the brain that houses emotion. To bottom line it, the amygdala is what tells us whether we should fight, flee or freeze.
We have no control over what the amygdala chooses. It is the jerkiest jerk part of the brain. Personally, I freeze. In some instances, this can be fine. But more often then not, it makes me look ridiculous in situations that warrant some kind of response.
When you are in an anxiety-producing situation, you are in what is often called an amygdala-triggered state. Your defenses are up. You are guarded and unable to think clearly.
In the article using self-care techniques to manage anxiety, I talk about different things you could do to help you contain your worried thoughts. But right now I want to focus on the jerky amygdala triggering fear and paralyzed thoughts.
What: The Fear
When we are in an amygdala-triggered state, we cannot see the forest for the trees. We are imprisoned by our own thoughts. We cannot possibly see a solution because all we are focusing on is the problem. And the problem is so big that we cannot possibly see a way out of it.
I think it was Mark Twain that said I’ve lived through a thousand tragedies, some of which actually happened.
This resonates with me. How about you? Most of the problems that I have have been stories that I have made up. If I allow myself, those stories will be blown further out of proportion than you can imagine. Here’s an example:
- The Fear-Triggering Event: Being in an interview
- My take on this event: Everyone will be staring at me. I probably have something hanging out of my nose. I will have nothing intelligent to say, and they will all laugh at me after I leave. I won’t get the job, which probably means I won’t get any job.
- What is more likely: I will go to the interview, answer all the questions and be fine.
In the example given above, my brain was so trapped by my worried thoughts that I could not think clearly. There was no rationalizing. I allowed my thoughts to spiral to a place that is not only nonproductive but could actually be destructive.
This is important to note because in this state of panic I am useless to my own recovery. My mind has drifted so far left of reality that I am not going to be able to fathom that there is a logical way of thinking.
So Now What?
The goal is to get to the cortex part of the brain, the side of the brain that is not a jerk. The Cortex controls thoughts. It is here that you can begin to rationalize.
You may be too far gone to self-talk yourself out of an amygdala-triggering state, but you could probably talk a friend off of the anxiety ledge, right?
The key is to distance yourself from your own emotions. When the fear is not your own, you are not in a defensive mode. Therefore, you are more likely to move from the amygdala to the cortex. In other words, from fear to logic.
What This Looks Like
When we can learn a principle from a distance, we are not engaging our emotions. Therefore, our amygdala lies dormant and does not go into defense-overdrive.
Take yourself out of the equation.
What? You ask. The situation is about me, how can I take myself out?
Simple. Imagine that you are talking to a friend. What would you tell your friend about their fears about interviewing? My guess is that you would probably tell them something logical. You might remind them that they are qualified for the position and that they have good people skills.
You might also remind them that they have been in interviews before and have done just fine.
When you are talking to a friend, you are in an emotionally safe space. You probably have no vested interest in the event or its outcome.
You have eliminated the amygdala-triggering state.
See where I’m going here? If you know what your fears are, you can talk about them before you are faced with them in a way that does not produce anxiety.
The best way to manage fear is to strike while the iron is cold. What I mean by this is, when you are not already in a highly anxious state, talk about events that might be coming up that will likely produce fear and anxiety. Then, say what you would say to a friend about said event. Maybe write it down so that when the event actually happens, you have something to refer back to.
When your amygdala is already triggered you will not be able to think clearly. This is why it is important to have clarity of thought before the event occurs.
The #1 reason that you cannot be trusted when in a fear-producing situation is because your amygdala has gone into overdrive. The goal is to get to the cortex part of your brain where your logic resides.
You won’t necessarily be able to do this in the midst of an anxious episode, so it is important to understand what your fears are, what events might be coming up that will trigger those fears, and then look at them through a different lens. This is striking while the iron is cold.
You will better be able to avoid this happening if you take yourself out of the situation and talk to yourself as if you are talking to a friend. This provides emotional distance from the event.
If you really want to nerd out, I suggest reading What Happens to the Brain When We Feel Fear by Smithsonian.com.
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