The most common emotional symptom is anxiety, and when it disrupts daily life, it is called an anxiety disorder, which impacts about 30 percent of us sometime in our lives. What does anxiety look like from a Brain Based Health perspective and how can the BBH view help us feel better faster?
Passing anxiety is normal, and from a BBH perspective, it's a negative emotion, and negative emotions are not bad. According to Antonio Damasio, emotion and neuroscience researcher, emotions are the genetically-primed way to alert us to what we need.
What about anxiety disorders? The Stress Circuits, know as allostatic circuits are encoded when we are in stress overload, which is a pretty common occurrence in modern life. Based on Joseph LeDoux's work on anxiety, once we've had a moment of intense anxiety or fear, we have a reconsolidation window (time period for cementing that memory into the long-term memory system. erasure) of 10 minutes to 4 hours. If we do not process that memory, it becomes locked into long term memory as a Stress Circuit.
This is not good, but it can be cured. That's a strong word and a major claim, so let's explore this idea. First, all of this is really challenging because our current mental health diagnostic system is not brain based. These terms were and diagnoses were developed before the time of brain imaging. They are not necessarily bad or wrong, but they are definitely out-of-date. The are ("pre-BBH"). It's so important to share these ideas about BBH because when we use them, people can stop judgments and instead, get busy feeling better, and do that faster, which is the point! What follows is a quick sketch of anxiety based on BBH:
"I feel anxious some of the time." Notice that you are feeling anxious. It's the product of our genes that use emotions to get our attention and identify what you need. Once you know what you need, the anxiety will vanish.
"I have an anxiety disorder. What is wrong with me?" There is nothing wrong with you. You've just had a pile up of Stress Circuits that were encoded when you were stressed and did not have the emotional tools to process that experience within the reconsolidation window. The wire went into long-term memory systems, and then easily springs into activation in response to small daily stresses. You have a wiring issue, and everyone has some of these circuits. Learn how to target that wire when it arises and rewire it. As you rewire these circuits, you'll be more robust (will not get triggered as often) and more resilient (bounce back from anxiety more rapidly). You'll not only be less anxious but you'll have the tools to prevent these circuits from piling up in your unconscious mind in the future. You'll "nip" them in the bud!
That is the power of brain-based health, that we can stop apply labels to problems that are really just symptoms of Stress Circuits, and instead learn how to clear away old wires and prevent new one's from being encoded. That is emotional security to me!