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The problem with resisting relaxation to avoid spikes in anxiety
Your fear of anxiety could be preventing you from treating your anxiety, according to new Penn State research.
- The results of a 2019 Penn State University study explain the effect (and negative impacts) of "relaxation-induced anxiety."
- Experiencing the shifts from relatively calm to high-anxiety can be extremely difficult. In trying to avoid that shift, we allow ourselves to stay in a state of anxiety and relaxation techniques become ineffective.
- New research is finding possible connections between chronic stress and anxiety and structural degeneration of the hippocampus, which leads to impaired functioning of the prefrontal cortex.
Your brain on anxiety
Anxiety directly impacts the amygdala and hippocampus areas of your brain.
Image by GrAl on Shutterstock
Oftentimes "stress" and "anxiety" are used interchangeably, but it's important to note they are two very distinct functions and feelings. Stress is caused by a known source, for example, like when your car breaks down. It can trigger feelings of anger, sadness, or irritability.
Anxiety on the other hand is a feeling of fear, panic, or dread that could very well not have a known trigger. For example, you get in your car on the way to an important meeting and feel on-edge the entire drive. You think you may get into an accident or that your car will break down, when there is no apparent reason why you should be worrying about those things.
Where the confusion happens is that stress oftentimes can trigger anxiety — someone whose body experiences consistent surges of stress hormones is at higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder.
What happens in the brain when you're anxious?
The amygdala: an almond-shaped structure located deep in the brain. It is essentially a "communications hub" between the parts of the brain that process incoming sensory signals and the parts that interpret those signals.
The hippocampus: the part of the brain that encodes threatening events into long-term memories.
Once there is a threat or a perceived threat, your brain releases a surge of chemicals such as cortisol and norepinephrine that give you a natural boost in reflex time, perception and speed. This hormone surge also makes your heart beat faster in order to get more blood and oxygen throughout your body. This is described as "survival mode."
According to Neuroscience Center, this survival mode can be helpful (and is often vital to our survival) but if your body experiences it over and over again, the effects of that chronic stress can take a toll on your physical and mental health: a weakened immune system, weight gain, heart disease, and anxiety disorders, to name a few.
New research (such as the study mentioned above) is finding possible connections between chronic stress and anxiety and structural degeneration of the hippocampus, which leads to impaired functioning of the prefrontal cortex.
The best way to avoid this deterioration is to protect your brain and body from the effects of chronic stress that induces anxiety.
Fear of anxiety can raise anxiety levels, making relaxation techniques ineffective
Experiencing the shifts from relatively calm to high-anxiety can be extremely difficult, but in trying to avoid that shift, many people stop themselves from being able to relax at all.
The results of a 2019 Penn State University study explain the negative impact of "relaxation-induced anxiety," a phenomenon that occurs when people become more anxious during various relaxation exercises.
- Of the 96 participants, 32 people were diagnosed with a general anxiety disorder, 34 were diagnosed with major depressive disorder, and there was a test group of 30 who had neither disorder.
- Researchers led the participants through various relaxation exercises before having them watch videos that could elicit feelings of fear or sadness.
- Participants then answered a list of questions designed to measure how sensitive they were to changes in their mental state.
- This was repeated, and the next survey was designed to measure the participants' anxiety levels through the second relaxation session.
Data from this study shows people with a generalized anxiety disorder were more likely to be sensitive to sharp spikes in emotion. This kind of sensitivity ultimately made them feel anxious during relaxation sessions.
People who struggled with major depressive disorder showed similar results but the effect wasn't as strong, and people without a diagnosis did not show these results.
How to manage anxiety without resisting relaxation
MBIs (mindfulness-based interventions) can be used in combination to combat anxiety.
Photo by file404 on Shutterstock
Being aware of your anxiety is step one.
According to therapist Roger S. Gil, many people have lived in an anxious state for so long that they aren't aware of any other state of being anymore.
"For some people, anxiety is situational. It's normal to feel nervous at the prospect of having to speak in public."
He goes on to explain: "Situational anxiety is one of those things we can only overcome by confronting it. Generalized anxiety is something that can only be coped with by trying to rewrite the pattern of thinking that elicits it."
Regardless of what form your anxiety takes on, there will be ways to cope with it if you understand what effect anxiety is having on you.
Combining various mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) is far more effective than trying one relaxation technique at a time.
According to new research, participants who tailored various self-help practices to suit their individual circumstances and anxieties found them much more beneficial after as little as 5 minutes per day.
Some examples of MBIs include things such as yoga, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery practices. all of which are more powerful when used in combination with breathing exercises.
Experts explain that in order for these mindfulness techniques to be most beneficial to you, they should be practiced at least once per day.
- Stanford Scientists Classify 5 Subtypes of Anxiety and Depression ... ›
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- Scientists have discovered where anxiety comes from - Big Think ›
Join multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Judith Light live on Big Think at 2 pm ET on Monday.
From "if-by-whiskey" to the McNamara fallacy, being able to spot logical missteps is an invaluable skill.
- A fallacy is the use of invalid or faulty reasoning in an argument.
- There are two broad types of logical fallacies: formal and informal.
- A formal fallacy describes a flaw in the construction of a deductive argument, while an informal fallacy describes an error in reasoning.
Appeal to privacy<p>When someone behaves in a way that negatively affects (or could affect) others, but then gets upset when others criticize their behavior, they're likely engaging in the appeal to privacy — or "mind your own business" — fallacy. Examples:<br></p><ul><li>Someone who speeds excessively on the highway, considering his driving to be his own business.</li><li>Someone who doesn't see a reason to bathe or wear deodorant, but then boards a packed 10-hour flight.</li></ul><p>Language to watch out for: "You're not the boss of me." "Worry about yourself."</p>
Sunk cost fallacy<p>When someone argues for continuing a course of action despite evidence showing it's a mistake, it's often a sunk cost fallacy. The flawed logic here is something like: "We've already invested so much in this plan, we can't give up now." Examples:<br></p><ul><li>Someone who intentionally overeats at an all-you-can-eat buffet just to get their "money's worth"</li><li>A scientist who won't admit his theory is incorrect because it would be too painful or costly</li></ul><p>Language to watch out for: "We must stay the course." "I've already invested so much...." "We've always done it this way, so we'll keep doing it this way."</p>
If-by-whiskey<p>This fallacy is named after a speech given in 1952 by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah_S._Sweat" target="_blank">Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr.</a>, a state representative for <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi" target="_blank">Mississippi</a>, on the subject of whether the state should legalize alcohol. Sweat's argument on prohibition was (to paraphrase):<br></p><p><em>If, by whiskey, you mean the devil's brew that causes so many problems in society, then I'm against it. But if whiskey means the oil of conversation, the philosopher's wine, "</em><em>the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning;" then I am certainly for it.</em></p>
Slippery slope<p>This fallacy involves arguing against a position because you think choosing it would start a chain reaction of bad things, even though there's little evidence to support your claim. Example:<br></p><ul><li>"We can't allow abortion because then society will lose its general respect for life, and it'll become harder to punish people for committing violent acts like murder."</li><li>"We can't legalize gay marriage. If we do, what's next? Allowing people to marry cats and dogs?" (Some people actually made this <a href="https://www.daytondailynews.com/news/national/cats-marrying-dogs-and-five-other-things-same-sex-marriage-won-mean/dLV9jKqkJOWUFZrSBETWkK/" target="_blank">argument</a> before same-sex marriage was legalized in the U.S.)</li></ul><p>Of course, sometimes decisions <em>do </em>start a chain reaction, which could be bad. The slippery slope device only becomes a fallacy when there's no evidence to suggest that chain reaction would actually occur.</p><p>Language to watch out for: "If we do that, then what's next?"</p>
"There is no alternative"<p><span style="background-color: initial;">A modification of the </span><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma" target="_blank" style="background-color: initial;">false dilemma</a><span style="background-color: initial;">, this fallacy (often abbreviated to TINA) argues for a specific position because there are no realistic alternatives. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used this exact line as a slogan to defend capitalism, and it's still used today to that same end: Sure, capitalism has its problems, but we've seen the horrors that occur when we try anything else, so there is no alternative.</span><br></p><p>Language to watch out for: "If I had a magic wand…" "What <em>else</em> are we going to do?!"</p>
Ad hoc arguments<p>An ad hoc argument isn't really a logical fallacy, but it is a fallacious rhetorical strategy that's common and often hard to spot. It occurs when someone's claim is threatened with counterevidence, so they come up with a rationale to dismiss the counterevidence, hoping to protect their original claim. Ad hoc claims aren't designed to be generalizable. Instead, they're typically invented in the moment. <a href="https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Ad_hoc" target="_blank">RationalWiki</a> provides an example:<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Alice: "It is clearly said in the Bible that the Ark was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Bob: "A purely wooden vessel of that size could not be constructed; the largest real wooden vessels were Chinese treasure ships which required iron hoops to build their keels. Even the <em>Wyoming</em> which was built in 1909 and had iron braces had problems with her hull flexing and opening up and needed constant mechanical pumping to stop her hold flooding."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Alice: "It's possible that God intervened and allowed the Ark to float, and since we don't know what gopher wood is, it is possible that it is a much stronger form of wood than any that comes from a modern tree."</p>
Snow job<p><span style="background-color: initial;">This fallacy occurs when someone doesn't really have a strong argument, so they just throw a bunch of irrelevant facts, numbers, anecdotes and other information at the audience to confuse the issue, making it harder to refute the original claim. Example:</span><br></p><ul><li>A tobacco company spokesperson who is confronted about the health risks of smoking, but then proceeds to show graph after graph depicting many of the other ways people develop cancer, and how cancer metastasizes in the body, etc.</li></ul><p>Watch out for long-winded, data-heavy arguments that seem confusing by design.</p>
McNamara fallacy<p>Named after <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_McNamara" target="_blank">Robert McNamara</a>, the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Secretary_of_Defense" target="_blank">U.S. secretary of defense</a> from 1961 to 1968, this fallacy occurs when decisions are made based solely on <em>quantitative metrics or observations,</em> ignoring other factors. It stems from the Vietnam War, in which McNamara sought to develop a formula to measure progress in the war. He decided on bodycount. But this "objective" formula didn't account for other important factors, such as the possibility that the Vietnamese people would never surrender.<br></p><p>You could also imagine this fallacy playing out in a medical situation. Imagine a terminal cancer patient has a tumor, and a certain procedure helps to reduce the size of the tumor, but also causes a lot of pain. Ignoring quality of life would be an example of the McNamara fallacy.</p><p>Language to watch out for: "You can't measure that, so it's not important."</p>
A new study looks at what would happen to human language on a long journey to other star systems.
- A new study proposes that language could change dramatically on long space voyages.
- Spacefaring people might lose the ability to understand the people of Earth.
- This scenario is of particular concern for potential "generation ships".
Generation Ships<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a1e6445c7168d293a6da3f9600f534a2"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/H2f0Wd3zNj0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
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