Anxiety 2020-10-12T21:15:39+00:00

Scientific lessons for overcoming anxiety & stress

learn actionable and science backed techniques that help you manage your anxiety and calm your stress

While a moderate amount of anxiety can actually be a good thing, too much of it can make you feel overwhelmed and out of touch. High levels of anxiety can end up negatively impacting your day-to-day decision-making and thinking. Too much of it is, quite simply, toxic to the brain and body.

You want some anxiety but not too much. The lessons in this study are carefully crafted and designed to place you in that optimal anxiety zone. The easy-to-follow structure of the study offers a number of different tools, exercises, lessons, strategies, and tactics that will help you feel your best – calm, confident, and resolute in your self-assuredness.

As part of these tactical to-dos you’ll come to understand all the ins and outs of anxiety as it relates to you and your situation. We take decades of empirical research in psychology, neuroscience, endocrinology, and clinical science and translate it for the life of an entrepreneur.

Through our lessons, you’ll leverage smart life design and habit formation in order to effectively manage your anxiety and stress. But it’s more than just that. You’ll also master goal-setting, develop emotional skillsets, foster self-discipline, enhance your productivity, and much more.

What is anxiety & stress?

The psychologist, Richard Lazarus says, stress is the result of when someone perceives a discrepancy between the demands of a situation and the resources they are equipped with to deal with the situation.

He formulated this psychological theory on stress and anxiety in the 80s, which became the dominant theory. Specifically, the perception that the demands of the situation exceed the available coping-based resources (1).

For Lazarus and others, stress is a viewed as a relationship or ‘transaction’ between each individual and his/her environment. What this means, then, is that stress is highly subjective and is felt and experienced differently by each person (2). This concept helps explain how two people can experience differences in quality, intensity, and duration of an elicited emotion in a situation that is objectively the same. These differences are referred to as appraisals.

The state of anxiety (along with other negative emotion states) results from a specific set of stress-related appraisals (1). This is usually related to a person confronting an environment that is uncertain and for which they have little personal resources to cope.

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Anxiety & stress in the brain

Everyone responds differently to stressors in life. This is due to selective differences in activation of key brain regions. The most important being the amygdala. This almond shaped structure (amygdala is Latin for almond) resides in the limbic region – deep within the ancient part of the brain. Shared with all other non-human species, it acts as the biological basis of primal fear (3).

Research has consistently shown, for example, that people prone to high anxiety show hyper-sensitive activation in the amygdala region when exposed to fearful images, even when the images are shown outside of conscious awareness (4). It’s almost as if the amygdala is on hair-trigger release for anxiety prone individuals.

Because of its central location in the mid centre part of the brain, the amygdala has dense neural projections to several important coactive brain areas (5).

These projections to the surrounding midbrain and brainstem structures trigger a cascade of neural and hormonal activity, which cause the body-based fear response commonly associated with anxiety. This includes a release of cortisol from the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a dynamic circuitry that intertwines central nervous system and hormonal systems in the body.

Hence why your anxiety often leads to physiological changes in heart rate, respiration, skin sweating, narrowing eyesight, muscle tension, etc. Anxiety, in other words, is a process that unfolds both within the body and in the mind. The tactics in this module take this into account and offer solutions for both of these features.

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Debunking the myths of anxiety & stress

For dealing with anxiety effectively, knowing what NOT to do is just as important as knowing what to do. Our research and statistical gurus have sifted through the empirical and science literatures to assess the credibility and legitimacy of certain commonly-held beliefs. While many popular lay theories are scientifically accurate, many are not.

We’re happy to share with you some of these myths that have been debunked.

Myth #1:

Snap a rubber band every time you have an anxious thought.

The rubber band “trick” is (supposedly) meant to help a person control the thoughts that are causing him or her anxiety/stress. It’s touted as a nondescript fix that can “bring you back to reality” through the band’s sharp painful sensations on the skin. There’s even companies now creating these supposed anxiety-reducing bands, saying that they will help get a person suppress their unwanted thoughts and cure the anxiety forever.

But decades of research shows that telling yourself not to have certain thoughts makes it more likely that those thoughts will come back more frequently and more intensely. It’s especially true for negative thoughts. The ironic rebound effect is nicely captured in the saying: The thoughts you resist persist.

The phenomenon of thought suppression was first noted in 1863 by Russian author, Dostoevsky, when he said the following.

“Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.”

It was later confirmed in the 1980s (6) by Harvard professor, Daniel Wegner, in his research illustrating the theory of ironic processing (7). Wegner and colleagues found that when you tell yourself to not have a particular thought, there’s actually one area of the brain that succeeds in inhibiting the thought. But another part “checks in” every so often to make sure the thought isn’t arising – ironically, bringing it back to mind (8).

What works more effectively, Wegner says, is postponing the unwanted thoughts and setting aside a designated time for you to sit with them. Additionally, slowly exposing yourself to the negative thoughts (in a controlled way) will eventually cause them subside, leading to the opposite ironic effect which says: Forcing yourself to think a thought makes it eventually disappear (9).

Myth #2:

If you’re an anxious person, you should take care in avoiding stressful situations

This default behavior of some is referred to as avoidance coping. While it might be intuitive to want to avoid the thing that causes you more stress (10), doing so will inevitably make you feel worse in the long run (11).

Simply put, avoiding stress will make you more stressed. Avoidance has proven to be a highly ineffective coping strategy for this reason. Yet people’s day-to-day behaviors are often governed by these avoidance type behaviors because they’re misinformed and misled.

Consider an example. A leader who gets stressed about people management and having tough conversations with employees, will avoid any such situations at all costs. Without being remedied, any related problem will inevitably get so bad that the leader is forced to address his or her employees. And when that time comes the stress is 10x worse because the problem is 10x more complicated than it would have been had it been addressed at the beginning.

What research is showing is that those situations that are causing you anxiety are also the ones you should be actively trying to experience. It helps if a person eases their way into the stress. It may start by simply imagining a scenario that is stressful, but then eventually moving into that situation in real life. It’s called gradual exposure and is the cornerstone of many different psychotherapies (12).

Doing so builds up a sense of mental toughness and equips you with the in-the-moment coping strategies that help build defenses against possible negative events that happen later on. In time, you realize that you have all the resources at your disposal to help you cope. This then leads to lower functioning impairment and greater life satisfaction overall (13).

Myth #3:

If you eat right, exercise, and have good physical health, stress and anxiety will not come up

Yes, it is true that physical health is linked to mental wellbeing (14), and we’re certainly not saying to give up those good habits. But it’s not the case that through exercise and healthy eating that ALL your anxieties will be lifted.

Dealing with anxiety isn’t just about reducing the stressors through physical health. Let’s look at two aspects of this in particular.

First, a big part of learning how to deal with anxiety is understanding what it is and how it manifests itself in the brain, mind, and body. It requires you being knowledgeable of these internal processes and having an awareness that anxiety is actually an adaptive response that is meant to do us good (15). Many of the best therapies and skills training courses include “anxiety teaching/learning” modules, which are intended to help the person understand the basis of their anxiety (16).

And second, dealing effectively with anxiety comes from having high emotional intelligence. This means recognizing and describing emotional experiences/sensations, both in yourself and in others (17). By being “in touch” with your internal mood states, you hone the ability to pattern match and see how many, if not all, of your thoughts, evaluative assumptions, behaviors, etc. are triggered by some type of emotion (18).

The evidence

  1. Lazarus, R. S. (1991).
    Emotion and adaptation.
    New York: Oxford University Press.

  2. Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984).
    Stress, appraisal and coping.
    New York: Springer.

  3. Rosen, J. B., & Donley, M. P. (2006).
    Animal studies of amygdala function in fear and uncertainty: relevance to human research.
    Biological Psychology, 73, 49-60.

  4. Bishop, S. J., Duncan, J., & Lawrence, A. D. (2004).
    State anxiety modulation of the amygdala response to unattended threat-related stimuli.
    The Journal of Neuroscience, 24, 10364-10368.

  5. Hopkins, D. A., & Holstege, G. (1978).
    Amygdaloid projections to the mesencephalon, pons and medulla oblongata in the cat.
    Experimental Brain Research, 32, 529-547.

  6. Wegner, D. M., Schneider, D. J., Carter, D. J., White, T. L. (1987).
    Paradoxical effects of thought suppression.
    Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 5-13.

  7. Wegner, D. M. (1994).
    Ironic processes of mental control.
    Psychological Review, 101, 34-52.

  8. Mitchell, J. P., Heatherton, T. F., Kelley, W. M., et al. (2007).
    Separating sustained from transient aspects of cognitive control during thought suppression.
    Psychological Science, 18, 292-297.

  9. Bowen, S., Witkiewitz, K., Dilworth, T. M., Marlatt, G. (2007).
    The role of thought suppression in the relationship between mindfulness meditation and alcohol use.
    Addictive Behaviors, 32, 2234-2328.

  10. Tiet, Q., Rosen, C., Cavella, S. et al. (2006).
    Coping, symptoms, and functioning outcomes of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder.
    Journal of Traumatic Stress, 19, 799-811.

  11. Zeidner, M., & Endler, N. S. (1995).
    Handbook of coping theory, research, applications.
    Wiley, 514.

  12. Foa, E. B., & Kozak, M. J. (1986).
    Emotional processing of fear: Exposure to corrective information.
    Psychological Bulletin, 99, 20-35.

  13. Seery, M. D., Holman. E. A., & Cohen, R. (2010).
    Whatever does not kill us: Cumulative lifetime adversity, vulnerability, and resilience.
    Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99, 1025-1041.

  14. Salmon, P. (2001).
    Effects of physical exercise on anxiety, depression, and sensitivity to stress: A unifying theory.
    Clinical Psychology Review, 1, 33-61.

  15. Lissek, S., Pine, D. S., & Grillon, C. (2006).
    The strong situation: A potential impediment to studying the psychobiology and pharmacology of anxiety disorders.
    Biological Psychology, 72, 265-270.

  16. Saunders, T., Driskell, J. E., Johnston, J. H., & Salas, E. (1996).
    The effect of stress inoculation training on anxiety and performance.
    Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 1, 170-186.

  17. Mayer, J. D., & Geher, G. (1996).
    Emotional intelligence and the identification of emotion.
    Intelligence, 22, 89-113.

  18. Lazarus, R. S. (1982).
    Thoughts on the relations between emotion and cognition.
    American Psychologist, 37, 1019-1024.

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