Your mind is stronger than the anxiety it creates. Learn to shift your mindset.

Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal discusses a three-step process to shift your mindset when anxiety creeps in.

Your mind is stronger than the anxiety it creates. Learn to shift your mindset.
Come at anxiety like...

Fear and anxiety disorders affect 20 percent of the American population, making these disorders the most prevalent psychiatric problem in the nation. While many understand anxiety as an overstimulated response system reacting to an uncertain environment, NYU Professor Joseph Ledoux believes this evolutionary argument is misguided.


We have not inherited feelings from our animal predecessors, he says, but rather inherited “mechanisms that detect and respond to threats." Consciousness plays a decisive role in how we translate messages we receive from our environment. In Anxious he writes,

When these threat-processing mechanisms are present in a brain that can be conscious of its own activities, conscious feelings of fear or anxiety are possible; otherwise threat processing mechanisms motivate behavior but do not necessarily result in or involve feelings of fear and anxiety.

Anne Marie Albano, Professor of Medical Psychology and Director of Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders, works with anxiety, which is actually her advice as well—work with it, not against it. Sensations of anxiety evolved to protect us. This system, she says, goes awry when you perceive immediate danger that isn't really there.

An example: About a decade ago I had a severe panic attack in an East Village restaurant. I'm not certain of the trigger, but it caused me to rise from my seat to flee to the bathroom. I walked roughly ten feet and didn't wake up for nearly a minute, when I was cradled by a woman I apparently landed on.

(Turns out I walked twenty feet after blacking out, straight into a wall and then onto the poor woman. I only knew this because, unbeknownst to me, a woman I had recently met was seated nearby. Ironically, she is a neuroscience journalist who had just published a piece on the brain and anxiety.)

Two days later I had another attack at the Wall St subway station in which I nearly blacked out. Every subsequent time I entered that station an attack occurred. My workaround was walking a few blocks to City Hall and thereby increasing my commute time, which is always fun in a New York City winter. I didn't return to that restaurant for years.

As Albano phrases it, we envision an immediate danger that isn't there. We do it all the time. Research shows that roughly 50 percent of our day is spent thinking about something not in your immediate environment. Other research shows that we have thousands of daydreams every single day. How we fill that mental space can bring great pleasure to our lives, but it can also cripple us.

Albano differentiates between everyday anxiety (which we all have and is helpful as our brain evolved to cope with stress)—and chronic anxiety. That's creating a big problem, socially and economically: one study found that Americans lose 321 million work days every year due to anxiety and depression, which costs the economy $50 billion. More Americans head to the doctor for anxiety than for migraines or back pain. The World Health Organization claims anxiety disorder is the most common mental illness on the planet.

Cognitive behavioral therapy has been the most successful course of treatment, according to Albano. When combined with the right pharmaceutical treatment for anxiety she says symptoms can be alleviated. Of course, this is a challenging balancing act, given our pill overload. Cure-alls are impossible when anxiety is so individual and specific. Albano is hopeful; the cognitive and biological mechanisms behind anxiety are being discovered, which she believes will disrupt the chain between a trigger and attack. She also believes we'll soon be able to address the process in young sufferers to tamp down the process earlier in life.

While Albano is a fan of talk therapy and pharmaceutical interventions, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal discusses a three-step process to shifting your mindset when anxiety arises.

  • Acknowledge stress when you experience it
  • Welcome the stress by recognizing that it's a response to something you care about
  • Make use of the energy that stress gives you, instead of wasting that energy trying to manage your stress

Before I understood the depths of my disorder (which thankfully, I no longer suffer from) that third step was part of my arsenal. When an attack occurred I'd run around my neighborhood or jump on a treadmill. Anxiety is physiological as well as psychological; using your bodily systems to work with, instead of against, it is therapeutic.

Because anxiety can “create a state of concentrated attention," McGonigal suggests using that intense focus for something positive. Let's face it: triggers are everywhere. If one of every five people suffer from this disorder something cultural is happening. And when so many people are unwilling to talk about it, scared that it's “only in your head," as I was told for so long, we need to create supportive environments, which on a broad level we definitely are not. Given our current health care uncertainty, not everyone can afford the therapies Albano suggest, useful as they might be.

Your brain is wired for anxiety, as Albano suggests, as well as for dealing with it. Reframing your mindset is available to you at every moment. It's not easy, but it just might help you work with your mind instead of fighting it every step of the way.

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Derek's latest book, Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health, is out now. He is based in Los Angeles. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.

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Volcanoes to power bitcoin mining in El Salvador

The first nation to make bitcoin legal tender will use geothermal energy to mine it.

Credit: Aaron Thomas via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

In June 2021, El Salvador became the first nation in the world to make bitcoin legal tender. Soon after, President Nayib Bukele instructed a state-owned power company to provide bitcoin mining facilities with cheap, clean energy — harnessed from the country's volcanoes.

The challenge: Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a digital form of money and a payment system. Crypto has several advantages over physical dollars and cents — it's incredibly difficult to counterfeit, and transactions are more secure — but it also has a major downside.

Crypto transactions are recorded and new coins are added into circulation through a process called mining.

Crypto mining involves computers solving incredibly difficult mathematical puzzles. It is also incredibly energy-intensive — Cambridge University researchers estimate that bitcoin mining alone consumes more electricity every year than Argentina.

Most of that electricity is generated by carbon-emitting fossil fuels. As it stands, bitcoin mining produces an estimated 36.95 megatons of CO2 annually.

A world first: On June 9, El Salvador became the first nation to make bitcoin legal tender, meaning businesses have to accept it as payment and citizens can use it to pay taxes.

Less than a day later, Bukele tweeted that he'd instructed a state-owned geothermal electric company to put together a plan to provide bitcoin mining facilities with "very cheap, 100% clean, 100% renewable, 0 emissions energy."

Geothermal electricity is produced by capturing heat from the Earth itself. In El Salvador, that heat comes from volcanoes, and an estimated two-thirds of their energy potential is currently untapped.

Why it matters: El Salvador's decision to make bitcoin legal tender could be a win for both the crypto and the nation itself.

"(W)hat it does for bitcoin is further legitimizes its status as a potential reserve asset for sovereign and super sovereign entities," Greg King, CEO of crypto asset management firm Osprey Funds, told CBS News of the legislation.

Meanwhile, El Salvador is one of the poorest nations in North America, and bitcoin miners — the people who own and operate the computers doing the mining — receive bitcoins as a reward for their efforts.

"This is going to evolve fast!"
NAYIB BUKELE

If El Salvador begins operating bitcoin mining facilities powered by clean, cheap geothermal energy, it could become a global hub for mining — and receive a much-needed economic boost in the process.

The next steps: It remains to be seen whether Salvadorans will fully embrace bitcoin — which is notoriously volatile — or continue business-as-usual with the nation's other legal tender, the U.S. dollar.

Only time will tell if Bukele's plan for volcano-powered bitcoin mining facilities comes to fruition, too — but based on the speed of things so far, we won't have to wait long to find out.

Less than three hours after tweeting about the idea, Bukele followed up with another tweet claiming that the nation's geothermal energy company had already dug a new well and was designing a "mining hub" around it.

"This is going to evolve fast!" the president promised.

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