Redefining Depression and Anxiety for "Real" Help
If you are in a stress storm, read this NOW.
Posted Jul 01, 2008
Have you ever been in the frustrating situation where you couldn't remember the name of one of your own family members and it is due to stress? Have you been confused at your inability to find simple solutions for an everyday problem? Some days, are you just overwhelmed with too many tasks and feel you're losing control? Do you sometimes wonder if your brain is slipping away? Are you still experiencing conflict in a personal relationship you had years ago, perhaps with a parent who still interferes with your life? Are you at odds with your wife, husband or child because you can't resolve issues that frankly, are really minor when you think about them objectively? Are you bored and feeling trapped in a life without real happiness? Are you getting in your own way because of the negative thoughts you tell yourself?
If any of these descriptions fit you, you may be suffering from the downward spiral of Stress Storms. You know you're in a Stress Storm when you can't rationally talk yourself through a situation that you know is irrational. For example, you know (in reality) that your family will be perfectly fine on a trip or excursion, but your mind nevertheless keeps swirling into images of fear and feelings of desperation and maybe even panic. You can't stop thinking that the plane is going to crash. Or perhaps you find yourself falling into a depression and being stuck there in a sinkhole of despair, but there's no logical reason as to why you're feeling that way. In fact, you may have even just accomplished something great, but the next morning you don't want to get out of bed because you're so down. Maybe, you return to your house 20 times because you're afraid you left the door unlocked. These are signs and symptoms that your brain is deadlocked into a cycle you feel you have no control over-these are stress storms.
Stress storms throw us into the same state of confusion and imbalance as the brain signals go into a spin. In fact, as a result of technological advances, we can now literally "see" this happening on a brain scan. For example, some scans look like two cyclones churning on each side of the brain. That phenomenon is seen when someone is having difficulty letting go of an idea that has no workable solution-similar to the obsessive-compulsive example above of returning to the house 20 times to make sure the door was locked.
When the mind loses its sense of stability and falls over the edge, there's the dangerous possibility of catalyzing a cascade of life-damaging choices that may lead to a profoundly deteriorated life. These types of debilitating brain storms come from excruciating levels of fear and confusion. In this type of situation, the person is literally not thinking straight. In extreme cases, I've seen people who've had these types of brain storms go from being a successful executive to homeless in a matter of months. One minute everything seems great, and the next, you discover your spouse is having an affair; which leads to family turmoil, friendships are crushed, job performance tanks, the mortgage can't be met, you get arrested for DUI...you get the idea. Without a fully functioning mindset, the results can be devastating. And it can happen to anyone.
Stress can swallow people whole as a consequence of many events: you lose someone you love to death or a misunderstanding; you lose your job or even your identity through theft or a simple mistake in the administration office; you enter into a marriage, but all too quickly discover you're married to an abuser, and you lose faith in yourself. The list goes on. But the critical issue is not the event of stress that results in stress storms, but rather getting stuck, the inability of one's mind to get past the storms and become stronger.
When brain storms happen, the brain shifts into a state of disassociation for its own protection from pain or disorientation. And without a plan of restoration, the connecting points in your brain where messages - in the form of chemical signals - are passed along and begin to reform into negative circles of thinking. That makes getting your world into perspective a Herculean task. You may become paranoid concerning your friends and family; you may feel isolated from support; and, you may feel hopeless and resign yourself to a barren life. Further, your brain may stop processing new information and regress into a solitary state of survivor-mode, which erodes your self-esteem and confidence. Of particular note, drug and alcohol abuse makes brain storms far worse, as they chemically disrupt and distort both your brain's outgoing and incoming messages.
New Hope for Changing Your Life NOW
But the way we can be helped is all changing-and in a big way. A veritable revolution is taking place that is transforming the mental health field. Although some of the more dazzling technology is still on the horizon, there is enough information accessible today that no one should feel they are stuck in a life they are unhappy with.
To be blunt, the whole definitions of anxiety and depression are being re-defined in brain language. As I go into greater detail in my upcoming book, The Stress Answer, the new brain maps give signature readings for these disorders and with a map you can go about training your brain out of these traps. For example, did you know that the signature for bipolar disorder may be more of an inflammation of the brain tissue than a derangement of emotions? Did you know that Lithium, the mineral found to be most effective for this disorder is actually an immunity enhancer than psychotropic mood leveler? For the first time, we can get to the real cause-and-affect levels of these mental walls.
These advances do not necessary negate medication or psychotherapy, but it does put them in a plan where they can be used most strategically and with more specific objectives. The exciting steps are not what I can do for you in these amazing discoveries, but what you can do for yourself. And there is more. The remedies can be as old as ancient folk medicine and how humankind used music and ritual, and are based on true science of the brain down to the cellular level.
One of the greatest breakthroughs in understanding how the brain works has emerged with the advent of a concept called brain plasticity (also called neuroplasticity). This field of research has demonstrated that (contrary to popular belief), your brain is not permanently hard-wired, but rather, is able to physically, chemically and anatomically change in response to your thoughts, experiences and behaviors throughout your lifetime. That's powerful information. This suggests that we can alter - and therefore potentially heal - our brain by directing the organization of stress thoughts (e.g. through mental training) in a step-by-step method.
Training Your Brain to Cope with Anxiety: Some Coaching
One of the basic principles of brain plasticity is that nerve cells that are associated with thoughts as well as behavioral activities tend to cluster around thinking habits. That is one of the reasons getting into stress storms are so difficult to stop. The more you get into an anxiety stress storm, the more nerve cells get into the action and create a "mob" consciousness in your brain.
How do you turn the herd into another thought process? How do you bring order into chaos? In my book, I offer many ways, but one of the basic ways is to use the oldest of remedies - music. A slower rhythm will turn the high-frequencies of anxiety in the brain in an entrainment within ten minutes. Keep your favorite music selections at hand to start unpeeling the neuron flood with your iPod or CD player.
The second brain plasticity principle is that neurological bundles of thought neurons are reactive to immediate experience and need. So how do you do that when you are so anxious you can't think straight? What can do, as a brief example, is to deliberately change your thought habits to stress cues. Like Scarlett O'Hara said as her method of dealing with impending stress, "I will worry about that tomorrow," we can teach our brains other alternative ways of dealing with anxiety and the fear of subsequent disasters by "worrying about it tomorrow."
The third principle of brain plasticity is that in order for the storms to stop, the thought pattern of neuron firing has to stop, at least briefly. This can be done by skillful distraction techniques, including yelling "stop!" in the midst of the storm. Getting someone you respect as an authoritative person can be recruited by you to take the responsibility to call a halt to your brain pattern. Many other approaches work as well, but you can find a traffic cop or technique to call "time out," and get yourself out of the storm for control.
The final principle I want to introduce in this blog is that all brain patterns have to be reinforced. If you don't create a celebration for a new process for your brain, it will go back to the beginning and you will have to do it again. Any new brain has to be celebrated if you are going to keep it. That is just the law of the brain, so when you find a better pattern to use for your anxiety management, immediately find a way to keep it. Reward yourself by singing and dancing (literally), sharing it with others or any other way you need to in order to create more neurons to this new site.
I hope you're beginning to see how truly remarkable brain scans can be as tools for identifying the stress dynamics in the brain. And more importantly, I hope you're beginning to see that you absolutely have the power to improve how you function, feel and live from day to day.