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Anxiety: Understanding the Two Pathways and Coping Strategies

Discover pathways of anxiety and effective coping strategies while breaking the stigma around mental illness.

A pair of hand holding a paper cutout human figure of four.(image: Unsplash)

In 2022, I suffered from an anxiety disorder that led to harmful thoughts as I entered the Tech industry. However, my struggles have taught me valuable lessons that I wish to share with you. By opening up about my experiences, I hope to raise awareness about mental health and prevent you from enduring the same pain. Let my journey serve as a guide to help you recognize the signs of anxiety and build a stronger understanding of mental wellness. 🙂 

Two anxiety pathways.

Anxiety is a multifaceted mental condition that can take on diverse forms, and the factors that trigger it may vary from person to person. The amygdala-based and cortex-based pathways are two critical routes that have been pinpointed to play a major role in anxiety.

The fear response system is activated by the amygdala-based pathway, which prompts quick and automatic responses to possible threats, while the cortex-based pathway is engaged in cognitive processes and decision-making, resulting in more reasonable and intentional responses to potential threats.

Understanding the differences between these pathways can help better identify and manage anxiety symptoms.

The amygdala-based anxiety: Fight, Flight or Freeze

Anxiety that originates from the amygdala is often linked to quick and reflexive responses to possible dangers, like a sudden loud noise or an unforeseen incident. However, it can also result from traumatic experiences. For instance, if you were attacked while a certain song was playing in the background, you may feel your body tense up when you hear that song again, despite being entirely secure in your own home.

The cortex-based anxiety: Overthinking kills the opportunities.

Anxiety that originates in the cortex is typically linked to prolonged overthinking and concerns about past occurrences or future situations. This kind of anxiety can be more persistent and enduring than the type that arises from the amygdala.

Imagine this: You're deep in concentration, working on an important task, when suddenly an executive sets up a meeting with you. But there's a catch: there's no agenda provided. (Well, get better, executive!) Nonetheless, you can't help but feel a sense of unease creeping in as you wonder what this could mean. Your mind races with possibilities and potential mistakes you may have made. It becomes difficult to focus on your work, as the upcoming meeting looms over you like a dark cloud. In severe cases, these symptoms may escalate to the point where you experience physical discomfort, such as a headache.

Tips for Improving Both Types of Anxiety Pathways.

Many of us have experienced overwhelming thoughts from cortex-based anxiety, which can turn into a traumatic memory if not treated timely, and the recurring event become trigger for amygdala-based anxiety.

For instance, if a coworker books a call with us without warning or an agenda, our brain can spiral into fearful thoughts, mistaking them for reality. I can personally relate to this, as my own experiences led me to develop a severe case of social anxiety. I became scared to talk to anyone at work, fearing that I would embarrass myself and be seen as weird, and ultimately hindering my ability to work on impactful projects.

However, there is hope for improvement with dedicated effort and commitment. So let's dive into some helpful tips for improving both types of anxiety pathways.

Different coping strategies for a different kinds of anxiety

For amygdala-based anxiety, try deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization techniques. Since this type of anxiety is originated from a primal response, having a soothing body can help you signal your brain that you are not in danger. Additionally, physical exercise and engaging in calming activities such as yoga or meditation can help reduce anxiety symptoms and promote relaxation.

For cortex-based anxiety, the most helpful way to improve the situation is doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy(CBT). Its focus is on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. Since this type of anxiety is inclined to distort cognition, gaining self-awareness and breaking the thinking pattern is of utmost importance. Practicing mindfulness can also help individuals stay present and reduce rumination.

How CBT has helped me and my current fears

I opted for CBT as my choice against my social anxiety. I diligently followed the techniques outlined in the handbook and practiced alone for over a year. However, the journey was far from smooth sailing, and I vividly recall crying throughout the entire process as I confronted my fears. There were times when I stumbled and fell, sending myself spiraling into a dark abyss of negative thoughts.

Sadly, not everyone has the luxury of affording talk therapy, and I am no exception. Despite this, my unwavering desire to improve myself has served as a constant motivation to keep pushing forward and referring back to the handbook. However, if you require professional assistance, do not hesitate to seek the help of a health expert who can guide you on this journey.

Currently, I am still taking a low dose of psychiatric medication and visiting my psychiatrist regularly. My latest obstacle is to gradually reduce my dependence on the pill, as I still harbor a deep-seated fear that my anxiety may worsen if I do not take it to stabilize my serotonin level.

Breaking stigma and support each other

In conclusion, mental illness, including anxiety, is a common and treatable condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is essential to recognize the signs and symptoms and seek help if needed. There is no shame in having a mental illness, and seeking treatment is a sign of strength and self-care. 

With the right support and resources, you can learn to manage your symptoms and improve your overall well-being. It is crucial to remember that everyone's journey is unique, and what works for me may not work for you. If you are struggling with anxiety, reach out to mental health professionals, support groups, or loved ones.

Let’s work towards breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness and support each other in long term.

Useful tool

To fit into this week’s topic. I am going to recommend this meditation app – Balance. There are tons of meditation apps out there, but this one is the one that I loved the most. It’s beginner friendly with loads of science-backed practical tips. And most important of all, it provides a one-year long free trial! It’s incredibly generous and serves an important purpose to help people who are truly in need.

That’s all for this week. If you find the content helpful, would you do me a favor and forward this email to those that might be benefited from it?

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