Monthly Archives: October 2013

Love & Anxiety in a wrestling match for supremacy

Love & Anxiety – Part 2

As discussed last week, love can cause anxiety or calm anxiety, so how do we get love to consistently perform the latter miracle, rather than experiencing the former fright? To do this it helps to understand a bit about the nature of the 3 main systems of the amazing human brain. I will list them for my fellow visual learners.

1. Primitive/Reptilian-brain stem; this is responsible for avoiding any hazards or danger. It is also where the automatic processes originate including the famous fight or flight responses.

2. Mammalian/Limbic system, this is responsible for approaching rewards/goals, including relationships, career moves, long-term goals and love.

3. Cerebral Cortex; allows us to affiliate and attach to other human beings.

These 3 work nicely together, but in very different modes depending on whether we feel safe or feel threatened by any kind of danger. When we feel safe and loved, we don’t need to avoid situations, and we approach rewards and affiliate and attach (love) to others. But when we feel threatened, and especially when anxiety has a death grip on our mind & body, the Reptilian-Avoid system comes online with a vengeance and broadcasts danger messages. The danger signaling, in turn negatively impacts the Approach and Attaching systems. We are more hesitant to approach rewards or attach to others. Danger is a compelling message to our bodies; it turns on our stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline), and acts like a siren on a rescue vehicle. Until the danger is resolved, the signal stays on and we stay primarily in Avoid mode. The drawback, one of many, to being in fairly constant anxiety, is the danger signaling often is very hard to turn off, even when everything in your daily life appears to be fine.

So, to allow love to triumph over our anxiety, we must deliberately focus on turning off the danger signal in the avoid system of the brain. This facilitates movement back into approaching and, especially, attaching to others, with hope and desire. Unless you are in actual danger, a mountain lion pacing the rock above your campsite, imminent car accident, or losing a valued job, home or relationship (emotional events trigger the danger signal as well), your avoid system should be off. Tune in again to read about the tools that have been proven to calm the body down and allow the brain to exit from the dominance of the Avoid system.

Going deeper:

  1. Are you more aware of how love in your life calms anxiety, or how it causes anxiety? If the latter is more often true, journal a bit about why this might be so.
  2. Using the information above, this week try to pay close attention to your daily life and see if you can identify when your danger signal gets turned on.
  3. If you notice that your avoid system is in play most often, feel free to contact me for some free tools to help calm your body down.

To learn how to evict the anxiety in your life, join a Real Life Solutions 3-wk anxiety reduction workshop. Go to http://www.sdtraumatherapy.com for more information. Mention this blog when you sign up and receive a 10% discount! Happy Loving.

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Love & Anxiety: Part one

It is no wonder that sometimes love & anxiety can walk hand in hand, like two very different people on a bad blind date. Emotions related to early attachment (how much and well we were loved by our first caretakers), and the amygdala, that tiny group of nuclei in the brain- sometimes referred to as the brain’s smoke detector, both reside snugly in the limbic system.

Love can send us spiraling into intense anxiety (ask a teenager on a first date, or someone unlucky enough to be insecurely attached). Or love can bring us back to bliss, and the body sensations of safety and relaxation from a place of frightened fear. The following three things swing the moment-by-moment pendulum that determines whether love causes us anxiety, or whether love calms our anxiety: Where we focus our attention, our early attachment history, and any subsequent traumas we may have endured.

Love is more powerful than anxiety; watch any loving mother with a hurt and terrified child. The message of peace the mother’s touch and her love send into that child’s body, eventually triumphs over the child’s state of fragmenting fear and he calms down. However, experiencing too much anxiety, can block out the messages love sends: Like an abused child meeting a teacher who tries to be kind and care for her. The child will often be so suspicious, her anxiety becomes a fog of fear blotting out the teacher’s messages of love, the way a dense fog covers the sun.

If love causes you a lot of anxiety, you can do some research on your attachment style. Diane Poole Heller has a wonderful website to help people learn about this subject. Many well-trained therapists also understand attachment issues, and can give you some guidance. If you have trouble loving others or being loved, you may have experienced a traumatic event(s) that has twisted your previously safe worldview into a view from a funhouse mirror. Love then, feels terrifying, or insubstantial and unable to reach your heart.

So how do we use our ability to love and be loved, to blow away the messages of fear and anxiety that have been programmed in many of our brains, like messages from a crazy radio station?  Stay tuned to the next blog for some answers….

Going Deeper:

  1. How do love and anxiety interact in your own life? Are you aware of the ways your past history of love impacts your current love relationships? If so, write down what you notice.
  2. Think about some ways in which your loving relationships can help you counter or decrease anxiety when it hits.

Evict the anxiety from your life. Join one of my 3 wk Anxiety Reduction workshops. See http://www.sdtraumatherapy.com for details. Mention this blog when you sign up and receive a 10% discount.