Sunday 2 July 2017

What anxiety means to me and why my old brain is to blame!

Did you know that globally, 1 in 13 people suffer from an anxiety related illness? That is a ginormous proportion of the world's population.

Anxiety is going to mean different things to different people and it is also going to present differently from individual to individual. As with ASD, no two people with anxiety are alike.

My anxiety, well it can look and feel like a number of things.....

At times, anxiety causes me to be utterly exhausted and totally bewildered by what is happening around me. I'm unable to make sense of what is occurring or how I should be responding.

At times I appear to be calm but under the surface I am a bundle of whirling anxious thoughts. My feelings and emotions will snowball until they become bigger and more difficult to manage. It feels like I am tangled in a very intricate spider web and the more I move around to find a way out, the more I become tangled.

My anxiety is not rational in any way shape or form. And at times I can sense that I'm not thinking rationally but I just can not seem to make my way out of the anxiety fog.

Anxiety can and has deeply affected my self confidence - I've always been shy and had a tonne load of self confidence issues. I have always, until very recently, found compliments incredibly difficult to take on board. I've always been quite critical of myself and I tend to over analyse almost everything. I have always had to force myself to step outside of my comfort zone.

The other thing about my anxiety is that it is a never ending continuous loop - I want to escape from what is making me anxious. But thinking about escaping makes me anxious so then I become anxious about being anxious. It is rather ridiculous when you start thinking about it and then wouldn't you know, the anxiety races again!

My anxiety has been and can be a very lonely and very private experience.

I've come to realise that for as long as I can remember, anxiety has been in my bones and these days I blame my old brain for my seemingly constant anxious state.

And I can now hear you thinking, what the hell is she on about? Old brain, you are cuckoo!!

I read somewhere but unfortunately I just can't remember where, that we all have an "old brain" and a "new brain." The old brain is the hindbrain and the new brain is the neocortex. There is also a midbrain that connects the old and the new. Now all three sections perform very different functions, they are independent of each other but they do pass information back and forth to try, and I emphasise TRY, to cooperate with and support each other.

Now the thing about the old brain is that it is incredibly stubborn and will only pass information to the new brain when it is unable to make a decision on its own. The old brain wants to make all the decisions as it is able to process information at a very quick rate. It takes in information that is drawn from all of our senses and when it perceives that danger is present, the old brain stimulates an extremely old part of the brain called the amygdala.

Now the amygdala is an almond shaped section of nervous tissue and is thought that it is part of the limbic system which is responsible for our emotions, our survival instincts and our memory! The amygdala activates the stress response which releases stress hormones which then causes our flight, fight or freeze response to jump into action.

The new brain on the other hand is the rational sllowww thinking brain. The new brain is the conscious part of the brain that can rationally evaluate situations and it is the part of the brain that can make the better decisions. Unfortunately, in my case, it is at a never ending tug of war with the old brain who wants to protect me from the perceived danger!

My anxiety isn't provoked into action by anything that is particularly fear inducing, well not to the non-anxious new brain anyway. To the old "I-jump-to-conclusions-too-quickly" brain almost any situation can be a minefield waiting to explode. And in the past my old brain just has not wanted to let the my new brain in!

Now a days, well it's a different story.

Several years ago, my GP suggested that it may be beneficial for me to take happy pills, aka, a low dose antidepressant.

Initially I was quite embarrassed and felt weak, but now I have embraced this side of me. I have come to the realisation that I need my happy pills to help me think logically and rationally. I need my happy pills for my new brain to take charge of my old brain.

Sure, at times, my old brain breaks through and causes me to become anxious but not nearly as often I used to. And there are times that I have to consciously remind myself to breathe, relax and think logically. I have to consciously allow my new brain to take over!

I have also come to realise that medication doesn't equate to weakness.

I am able to recognise that I need assistance in the form of my happy pills so therefore this makes me strong.

But if you ever come across me when I am in an anxious state, there are a number of things that you can do to assist me. You can take charge, tell me that I need to take a break to escape from the environment that is causing me to become anxious. You can try to remain as calm as possible, this will assist me to come back down to a calm state. You can just be there, be that reassuring person that everything is going to be okay.

But whatever you do, please do not tell me to stay calm, it isn't going to help in the slightest!

Just a few random facts to finish with!!

Apparently the old brain developed the watching for danger skill millions of years ago when we were walking around with a club looking for food! Back then it was a case of needing to be on the constant look out for danger! While we have obviously evolved, our old brain finds old habits hard to break so it still tries to apply the same "watching for danger" skills to modern day life!

Have you ever wondered why a smell can trigger anxiety? Well it all has to do with the fact that the amygdala evolved from our olfactory bulb. The amygdala which triggers anxiety is intertwined with our olfactory processing system. The olfactory system also has direct access to the hippocampus which is responsible for associated learning! So as amygdala which triggers anxiety is intertwined with our sense of smell receptors and our sense of smell receptors are intertwined with the hippocampus which is thought to be responsible for memory, when you initially smell something that makes you anxious, your little old brain remembers!!


  1. The quote on the first photo really describes what anxiety do to us. I also experience anxiety then. We can find ways to face anxieties one is by talking to the people involved. Just like what you said "a smell can trigger anxiety" you must also look for things that trigger possitivity as an antidote.

  2. Yup, definitely agree it is the old brain that causes anxiety... the science behind it fascinates me. Anxiety is horrible to live with, good tips to help someone who is having high anxiety though.

  3. Very refreshing article, thank you !!

  4. I suffer hard with anxiety and can totally relate to this

  5.'s interesting. I've never heard of this old brain/new brain stuff before, but I am familiar with the amygdala. I started suffering from postpartum anxiety after my son was born, and I still deal with the sense of panic at certain situations. It's awful, but there's definitely absolutely nothing wrong with taking medication to help with anxiety. I think sometimes we all need a boost, and if that boost comes from medication, then that's just what we need. Good for you for sharing your story!

  6. As a nurse, we deal with a lot of people with many different levels of anxiety. Working in a trauma ICU, those levels of anxiety are difficult to deal with, especially if medications are contraindicated due to head trauma. It's difficult to watch when nothing will work to help.

  7. I so agree with you on anxiety it is so hard to realize what it is because of the way we grew up
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  8. Anxiety is tough to live with and I can only applaud you. I myself don't have a problem with it, but I do occasionally with depression.

  9. Great post. What a good article to start my week with :-) .

  10. I suffer from anxiety so I know the feeling. It's not nice when people don't understand it. Great post. I also wrote some anxiety related posts on my blog for anyone who needs it.

  11. I like this blog; thanks for sharing this. Every person should know about Major types of anxiety disorders and this blog help to know about this. once again thanks.


  12. Anxiety is tough to live with and I can only applaud you. I myself don't have a problem with it, but I do occasionally with depression.. I always love to reach out to people who are going through similar experiences. I've recently started a blog and have been writing about my anxiety. We should know the methods to control anxiety without medication . I like this blog; thanks for sharing this. Every person should know about Major types of anxiety disorders and this blog help to know about this. once again thanks.


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