Neurobiology of Anxiety Attacks

We suggest that you take a closer look at the neurobiological mechanism underlying the phenomenon of obsessive thoughts. There is a perfectly understandable reason why your brain claims that these thoughts are dangerous, and why sometimes thoughts are so similar to impulses.

Unfortunately, until recently, people with obsessive thoughts were called weak, crazy or unable to control themselves, and sometimes they were told that they did not have enough willpower. Today it is established that all this does not correspond to reality and the fact is that your brain was programmed to repeat certain thoughts. The good news is that we know how to correct the work of the brain and stop suffering.

The part of your mind that was originally intended to provide security in the event of a threat may be confused and misled. She may be so puzzled that she will begin to mistakenly perceive safe circumstances as dangerous. This condition is called an anxiety disorder: in this case, although there is no danger, you are worried and anxious, as if the threat to you was the most real. When your brain mistakenly reacts to thoughts, as if they were fraught with some kind of danger, thereby creating favorable conditions for the appearance of obsessive thoughts. As already mentioned in the previous chapters, thoughts themselves are never dangerous – they are just thoughts. Despite this, the brain may be programmed to fear thoughts. This can happen to anyone.

We know that the brain learns by assimilating new experiences and information. The experience of experiencing fear is stored in the form of particularly vivid memories. If the fear reaction is activated frequently, it becomes automatic. (Many neuroscientists say that nerves that react simultaneously seem to be soldered together.) Just as we have a tendency to create associations like “up – down” and “left – right”, a well – trodden path in consciousness is an association between two events following one another, and so they become connected with each other (what psychologists call conditioning). If the thought is followed by an anxious experience, the “path” from thought to fear becomes more and more distinct. When this happens all the time, your brain develops a conditioned automatic alarm response to such a thought. As a result, a condition is created for the appearance of an obsessive thought.

The good news, however, is that scientists have recently found that it is much easier for the brain to lay new “paths” than was commonly believed, and new reactions can overpower the old ones. In other words, do not believe that “teaching the old is like treating the dead”! Age does not matter at all – the brain of any person is able to learn. Overcoming obsessive thoughts involves creating new associations that exclude fear. This chapter lays the foundation for understanding exactly how to do this.

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