Why worry can be so hard to overcome (+ how to do it anyway)

head in hands.jpg

The truth is that there’s probably a million answers to this question. I’ve found so many ‘reasons’ for why it’s so hard for many of us to chill out. Why do ‘chill pills’ work for some, but not us?

Some of us are born with highly sensitive nervous systems, which makes them quick to set off the ‘alarm system’ in response to possible stressors.

The relatively new science called Neuroscience offers us a lot of insight (and hope) as to why it can be so hard for some people to feel calm.

Neuroscience has discovered that just like we can strengthen our bodies through exercise, we can also create change in our brains based on the same concept.

The old adage 'use it or lose it' is true for the brain also, because our brains are efficient, they only maintain the neural pathways that we use and allow the others to 'drop off' or weaken. Our brains naturally strengthen the neural pathways we use regularly, in the same way that repetitive physical exercise strengthens the body.

This goes a long way to explain why some of us who think and feel deeply have developed a tendency for worry, and that worry literally strengthens our brains capacity to, well, worry. Once we develop a neural pathway and use it regularly, it can become an autopilot path for the brain to use.

This goes some way to explaining how anxiety disorders develop, the repetitive use of neural pathways which are related to concerns about safety and survival actually strengthen them and they become the brain’s ‘default’ setting.

This means that even when everything is going well, the brain is so accustomed to looking out for danger and predicting anything that could go wrong, it does so without being asked. This explains why anxiety doesn’t necessarily only occur in situations we’re worried about. It can happen anytime and any place, because our brains have developed the ability to use the ‘worry muscle’ even when there’s nothing much to worry about.  

The good news is that the brain is changeable, we just need to slow down the use of the neural pathways used for worry and strengthen new ones that help us to feel calm. It is this understanding that this guide has been founded upon.

Remember that our brains change according to what we do. If your brain is good at worry or doing stress, then you’re going to need to do lots of practice of new things that help it to change.

Coming soon: practical ways to do calm. To get started immediately, download the app 'Headspace' or 'Smiling Mind' and invite your mind to find a healthy focus for 5 or more minutes each day. Remember, we are what we repeatedly do.