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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 ... ›
- Surprising ways to beat anxiety and become mentally strong ... ›
- Scientists have discovered where anxiety comes from - Big Think ›
- Try these four breathing techniques to calm your mind - Big Think ›
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.
- A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
- This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
- The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
The process for measuring the fine-structure constant involved a beam of light from a laser that caused an atom to recoil. The red and blue colors indicate the light wave's peaks and troughs, respectively.
Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.
- Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
- Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
- The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.