• Allison Cooper

Changing Your Relationship with Anxiety Part 3: Healthy Ways to Respond to Anxiety

When you experience anxiety, you have many choices in ways to respond. It is important to note that you don’t always have to respond to feelings of anxiety. Sometimes its helpful to just notice the feeling is there and redirect your focus elsewhere. Anxiety is simply an emotion and will eventually pass. Anxiety isn’t something that’s inherently dangerous, but it can be uncomfortable.


There are interventions that have an immediate, short-term and long-term affect on the amygdala. Strategies that have an immediate effect on the amygdala are diaphragmatic breathing (breathing in through your nose slowly and breathing out the mouth slowly) and aerobic exercise. People tend to underestimate the helpfulness of deep breathing, but if done correctly it can slow the progression of anxiety and communicate to the brain that you are safe.


Exercise can have an immediate and short-term effect on anxiety. It does this by changing the general level of activation for a period of time. If you are able to engage in exercise soon after noticing symptoms you could experience some reduction in anxiety in as little as 20 minutes. Another benefit of exercise is that it can make a certain kind of serotonin receptor in the amygdala less active, likely reducing the number of “false alarms” you experience. Exercise can essentially act like a reset button for the amygdala. In addition, regular exercise reduces sympathetic nervous system activation in the amygdala resulting in fewer instances of anxiousness.


When you experience anxiety, you have many choices in ways to respond... you don’t always have to respond to feelings of anxiety. Anxiety isn’t something that’s inherently dangerous, but it can be uncomfortable.

Interventions that can result in a rewire of the circuitry in the amygdala resulting in long-term change are exposure and experience. As a therapist, I help clients choose how and what exposures to do as well as how to build a fear hierarchy. It is very rewarding to see how people can lean into things that once brought fear and engage in activities that are important to them.


While relying on cortex-based methods like thinking processes and logic can be helpful in certain situations, interventions that target the amygdala are more direct and effective in easing anxiety.


In summary, ways to have a healthy relationship with anxiety include not fighting or avoiding thing that make us anxious as well as leaning into and pushing through the anxiety to change the brain. This can be done through changing your thoughts, working to reduce perceived danger, deep breathing exercises, problem solving, exercise and good quality sleep.


It is my passion to work with individuals dealing with anxiety disorders. First, because anxiety can be so debilitating, and second, because it is highly treatable!

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