One of my heroes, the leading research neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux, has a new book out – Anxious: The Modern Mind in the Age of Anxiety.
He has, of course, been talking about the subject.
He says we can all learn to calm our minds ourselves, although that would be more work if you’re a born worrier. The hereditability of anxiety is estimated at between 30 and 40 per cent, although LeDoux says that the environment will regulate the degree to which a gene is expressed. In other words, it’s the usual mix of nature and nurture: if you have anxious parents, being anxious is modelled for you and you learn how to do it. The implication of this is that you can LEARN a replacement style. Replace the old behaviour.
LeDoux says that anxiety is a practice we engage in: we develop habits of mind as well as habits of behaviour. However, like most habits, it can be broken – which is the key element of the #beliefswork that I do.
Meanwhile, there is a simple way to can tackle our own anxiety, which LeDoux uses himself. “When you breathe in the proper way — something the yoga masters figured out centuries ago — it calms the conscious mind.”
When you breathe in the proper way, you naturally engage the parasympathetic nervous system which has the job of shutting down the fight-flight system. Breathing in the proper way is breathing deeply – but from the stomach, not that shallow breathing high up in the chest that is a tell-tale of anxiety. Try it – slowly.