Why you can't talk your way out of anxiety 

Have you ever felt so tense that you tried to think your way out of your anxiety? Yet the harder you try, the more you experience fear that accumulates into panic attacks, increased anxiety levels, or depression.


It would help if you learned to feel safe rather than attempt to think your way out. When you panic, the frontal cortex (executive brain or thinking brain) goes offline as a response to the part of your brain known as the amygdala. The amygdala then takes over and alerts the body of disruptive symptoms and feelings. You won't think your way out, but you can take steps to feel safe again or even learn to prevent the escalation.

It is a process of understanding what is happening inside your body and working with the process rather than fighting against the feelings, yes, learning to listen to your body. Together we will examine the role of the body and what steps you can take to achieve a healthy life balance. It's all about what occurs in the brain.

Your amygdala is the processing centre of your emotions. When something does not feel right, it links your feelings to other aspects of the survival brain. It plays a crucial role in memories while creating fear and accessing danger, often from past negative experiences causing anxiety, and can keep you in a state of fight, flight or even frozen. Have you ever wanted to resolve a problem but didn't know where to start? To begin, we require insight into the process going on within. 

The amygdala comprises neurons, the cells that supply the electrical and chemical components transmitting signals to various parts of the body. It is constantly on the scan for danger through the peripheral nervous system, and glial cells that act as caretakers to maintain your neurons by carrying out maintenance tasks. In simple terms, neurons are the thoughts we create, good or bad, and we can change from the negative thinking of the critical voice that holds us back to a more positive outlook in as little as 21 days by grasping the basics.

The amygdala is a tiny almond-shaped structure and part of a much larger system called the limbic system. It supports your functions, including motivation, emotion, behaviour, and long-term memory. It is the part of the brain involved in behaviours you need for survival: feeding, caring for your young, reproduction, and the fight or flight responses. The amygdala is the security trip switch of the mind, or if you like the smoke detector alerting you to danger. 

When you feel threatened, you go into a state of fight, flight or freeze. This function is linked to the survival brain and originates from when we were hunter-gatherers. Today we no longer have the problems of being a hungry bear's dinner; however, we have more complex issues that arise for us, such as maintaining a family and meeting the increasing mortgage payments every month. It's not getting any easier.

The amygdala sends out a message when we feel in danger, which is linked directly to the activation of the central nervous system. According to how you train your mind to respond, you will cope with life issues or experience great difficulty and uncertainty, which could lead to long-term poor health. You might become restricted, fearing what-ifs or talking your way out of things that otherwise would benefit you. Furthermore, once you begin to worry, your thoughts increase, painting a picture of the worst outcome before the facts become established.

Thinking in this manner feeds the cycle of anxiety. It is possible to develop a more positive mindset where you open up to seeing a real opportunity and creating an action plan. Before we build a vision, we need to clear the mind of clutter to reach new life goals.

A meaningful conversation with  a counsellor who understands physiology can help you cope with overwhelmed feelings. Once you know the fear process, you can feel more at peace with yourself by gaining a new perspective on the problem and how it will look six months, one year, or even five years from now.

When we talk about the autonomic nervous system, which has several divisions, we refer to the central division supporting the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral division consisting of the autonomic and somatic nervous systems. 

We are referring to the collective information-gathering highways of the body. The autonomic brain functions 24/7, even in sleep. The brain also controls the body by sending messages through peripheral pathways to the body by commands from the brain of what actions you require.

The peripheral nervous system (PNS) branches outwards to reach every part of the body, functioning as a primary communication system of the body, feeding information to the brain from all your senses. It also regulates the unconscious processes we often take for granted, such as breathing and heartbeat. It sends signals from the sense organs carrying signals from the nose, ears, and all other peripheral nerves stretching out to the tips of the toes and fingers to the central nervous system.

The peripheral nerves send messages from the brain through the spinal cord to the rest of the body. These feelings come from the autonomic nervous system receiving increased warnings from the amygdala. The autonomic nervous system has roots in the brain and controls the heart, blood pressure, and intestines. Do you find that when stressed, you get that tight gut feeling? This is why. 

The autonomic nervous system has neurons. These neurons receive messages from the brain according to our levels of anxiety. Peripheral nerves can become damaged due to being fragile. If nerve damage occurs, it can affect the ability of your brain to communicate with your muscles and organs in the body. 

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS) have powerful interactions with the body's immune system, which can also modulate stress reactions. The central nervous system is fundamental. It regulates the autonomic nervous system in triggering stress responses, which is significant in interpreting situations as potentially threatening.

Your sympathetic nervous system becomes activated by danger or stress and responds to stressful situations, such as fending off an enemy or fighting a threat to your life. In these situations, your sympathetic nervous system increases your heart rate. It delivers more blood to areas of your body that need more oxygen or other responses to help you escape danger.

The sympathetic nervous system consists of a complex network of nerves that prepares us for vigorous activity. The sympathetic nervous system sends signals to adrenal glands, releasing hormones known as adrenalin, cortisol, and epinephrine. These hormones combine to cause the heart to beat faster. These hormones, together with direct actions originating from the autonomic nerves, will cause the heart to beat faster increasingly and the respiration rate to increase. At the same time, blood vessels in the arms and legs dilate while the digestive process changes, and blood glucose levels (sugar energy) in the bloodstream increase.

The process happens to deal with the emergency. The sudden response prepares the body for an emergency or acute short-term stress. The sympathetic nerves prepare our organs for fight or flight by increasing the breathing in the heart and releasing adrenaline from the kidneys while decreasing digestive activity. You might feel you are experiencing uncontrollable body feelings or even a heart attack.

Your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) has the opposite effect of the sympathetic nervous system. However, the two systems operate together to keep the body in balance. When you begin to feel danger, the sympathetic takes control for the duration it takes for the feeling of danger to pass. Once you feel safe again, the parasympathetic nervous system will reset your body to normal. 

So to explain what is happening in times of stress and anxiety, we need to learn that the amygdala in the brain's limbic system alerts you to danger however you perceive it to be. The peripheral system takes in information from the outside world and relates this to the sympathetic nervous system, which prepares you for action by increasing the blood flow through the heart.

When you experience an activation of the nervous system over a prolonged period, it affects other bodily systems and becomes problematic. Chronic stress from stressors over time can form a drain on the body while the autonomic nervous system continues to trigger physical reactions.

Once the danger has passed, the parasympathetic will take control and restore your nervous system to a healthier balance. Next, we examine how to calm your body before reaching this stage.  

Calming the body in times of anxiety and stress

I hope I have shed some light on the reaction anxiety and stress cause if you allow it to; it may sound a little complex if you have just learned this for the first time. It becomes a whole-body experience and can cause other illnesses if it progresses. However, These undesirable feelings can be avoided with the knowledge of self-care. Talking with a mental health counsellor can be a significant step in the self-management of your body balance. 

Past triggers can start the whole process, and we become increasingly panic-stricken unless we have learned to calm the situation down before it takes root. It's all about taking control of the mind. Check in with yourself and ask yourself how you are regularly doing; keep a journal of your daily life and keep it balanced with gratitude for the good things you have and your challenges. Writing might initially feel like another task added to a busy life but remember that the goal is mental health balance.

Only by befriending your mind can you remain in touch with a healthy balance instead of allowing yourself to drift and the alarm bells sounding once you feel panic regularity is the key to good mental health.

Engaging with a mental health professional is always an excellent plan to develop a routine of good mental health and endure challenges. Not only will you feel you have an accountability partner, but you will also have support when things feel tough. Counselling is a process that enables you to speak your deepest feelings and be heard in an empathic and non-judgemental, confidential manner.

Anxious thoughts chase each other; trying to quieten anxious thoughts with self-assurance and reassuring thoughts is like a drug that temporarily eases the problem before self-doubt comes flooding back into the cycle. Fixing anxious thoughts won't work and can become exhausting.

Engaging a mental health practitioner will teach you how to regulate your body. Once you slow down your breathing, you can trick your body into feeling safe.

The next step is acknowledging what we can change and what we are powerless over. Much anxiety stems from many things that are not as important as they might feel. Simply naming your feelings can help to gain a more accurate perspective.

Never ignore your anxiety; it always has something to tell you It is how you deal with the stress that matters.

Avoid soothing your anxiety by self-medicating; it might ease the moment, but the long-term issues are still present the next day.

Remind yourself that every day presents its issues, and you can learn how to manage your life more effectively. The most effective way to begin is to develop a new relationship with old thoughts.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
London W6 & E14
Written by David Pender, MBACP, Integrative Psychotherapy | Anxiety Specialist
London W6 & E14

David Pender is a good mental health advocate and qualified integrative counsellor registered as a member with the BACP. David has extensive knowledge of anxiety, depression, and trauma. As a coach David has a range of tools to keep you engaged with promoting your best life. Unsure try a free discovery call from this site.

Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Anxiety

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals