Sitting in a coffee shop recently, I overheard a conversation in which one gentleman said to his friend, “She’s always wound so tight…she just needs to relax.” Ever heard that before? Whether you’re the anxious friend or the one who is criticizing her, the groundbreaking research of Dr. Sonia J. Bishop from the University of California, Berkeley may be of interest to you.
In her award-winning research, Dr. Bishop has linked variations in brain functioning to differences in how people experience and cope with anxiety-provoking stimuli. Essentially, her research suggests that the guy you know who would calmly continue eating his deli sandwich while watching an awful accident through the café window has a brain that works differently than his girlfriend who faints at the sight of the same accident.
The calm guy, for the sake of example, likely has a less responsive amygdala (the area of the brain that links memory and strong emotion), and a very active prefrontal cortex (PFC), the part of the brain responsible for planning and calm judgment. His girlfriend has an overactive amygdala and a less active PFC, so she reacts differently to the same situation.
Dr. Bishop’s research suggests that if you are anxious, it is not your fault. Your brain simply works in a different way than your ever-composed friend.
This, however, does not suggest that people with anxiety are doomed to live an anxious life. Similar to having straight vs. curly hair, or a diesel vs. gas engine in your car, having a more active amygdala and a less active PFC simply means that you need different tools to keep your mind healthy. Some proven methods for anxiety reduction include regular cardio exercise; daily diaphragmatic breathing & meditation/prayer; and learning through counseling to effectively confront thoughts that cause unneeded anxiety.
If you would like help with anxiety ask your doctor to recommend a therapist who can help you to conquer your anxiety, and teach you a lifestyle that will keep your overactive amygdala in check.