How to “Train” Your Brain to Reduce Anxiety

It’s no secret that our society attaches a stigma to mental health.

I can’t tell you how many times a student or attendee at one of my workshops has talked about their struggles with anxiety with a sense of shame. They’re embarrassed of their condition, and feel like something is “wrong” with them.

If this sounds familiar to you, let me tell you the same thing I tell them: Although anxiety can feel terrible, it does not mean that you are terrible. You aren’t broken, nor are you flawed.

In fact, anxiety is a sign that your brain is actually doing its job… It’s protecting you from what it considers to be a threat. It’s a natural human response that serves a purpose.

The thing is though, if you have an anxiety disorder, your brain has trouble differentiating between real and perceived threats.

The key to managing anxiety is understanding why and how it happens in the first place, and then learning how to manage it in healthy, practical ways. And that’s exactly what I’m going to share with you today.

This is your brain with anxiety

Anxiety results from constant chatter between multiple regions of the brain, with the amygdala often being the primary culprit. This almond-shaped bundle of neurons (brain cells) controls our behavioral and emotional responses—particularly how you process and interpret fear.

Think of your amygdala like a radar alert system that’s constantly scanning your world for potential threats. And when the amygdala detects one, it overrides the part of your brain that’s analytical and rational. Instead, it drives you to spring into action.

That’s why if you see a poisonous snake in the woods, you instinctively run in the opposite direction, without really having to think about it.

This reflexive reaction releases extra adrenaline and cortisol (also knowns as your “stress hormones”) in the brain and sends extra oxygen to the muscles—giving you the perception, reflexes, and speed you need to either flee or defend yourself against the threat. This is your sympathetic nervous system at work—or as its better known, your “fight or flight” response.

Ideally, these chemical reactions all go back to normal after the threat passes. But sometimes that isn’t the case.

When your body constantly perceives threats (valid or not), these stress hormones continually course through your bloodstream, exacerbating that dreaded, anxious feeling.

When your body is perpetually in fight-or-flight mode, it can also trigger a whole host of other problems including: depression, digestive issues, headaches, heart disease, sleep disorders, trouble focusing, and weight gain.

The power of vibration eases anxiety

Fortunately, there is something you can do to “de-activate” your body’s fight-or-flight response, and counteract the symptoms of anxiety. And research shows the key is found in your vagus nerve—the longest nerve in the body that runs from your brain stem to your abdomen, touching every major organ along the way.

In a 2008 study, researchers set out to study the effects of vagus nerve stimulation on a group of patients with anxiety disorders, who found little to no success with antidepressant treatments and/or cognitive therapy.

A majority of the patients experienced at least a 25 percent improvement in their symptoms, and some experienced improvements of 50 percent or greater. Furthermore, vagus nerve stimulation proved to effective in long-term treatment, with patients experiencing improvements during the follow-up period four years after the study!

The “Jedi mind trick” for anxiety

Here’s one of my favorite vagus nerve stimulating, anxiety-reducing exercises. I call it “Brain Humming.”

  1. Find a comfortable sitting position. Be sure to sit up straight.

  2. Close your eyes and your mouth. Make sure your top and bottom molars are resting on top of one another (not clenching).

  3. Focus your attention on your head and face.

  4. Next, inhale a full, deep breath through your nose.

  5. On the exhale—with your mouth closed and teeth together—hum the sound “mmm.” Do this for the complete exhalation.

    Note that the louder you do this, the better the technique works—just as long as you don’t strain your voice.

  6. Continue steps 3 and 4 for three to six cycles, or at a duration that feels comfortable to you.

    If you feel that you need to take a break or two, please do so. And if you feel dizzy, that’s a sign that you’ve had enough.

  7. Once you’ve finished, stop and breathe at your normal pace.

  8. Now take the next minute or so to take note of how you feel. Your mind should be clear. You should feel more at ease. And if you feel tired, go ahead and go to sleep—your exhausted body is trying to tell you it needs rest!

Here are a few more all-natural ways to counteract the anxiety-promoting stress chemicals in your body.

  • Move your body with any kind of exercise. This is one of the fastest ways to burn off excess stress hormones. I prefer a quick power walk around the block.
  • Listen to relaxing music. I suggest the relaxing tracks and calm-inducing exercises found in my Donovan Sound Solution.

  • Talk to a trusted friend or loved one. It’s can really help to share your struggles. And if you know someone who experiences anxiety as well, it can be extremely beneficial to hear about their experiences. Plus, sometimes knowing that you’re not alone in something is incredibly comforting.
  • Seek professional help. In some cases, talk therapy or medication can make a world of difference. Remember, there’s absolutely no shame in tending to your mental health by seeking help so that you may lead a happier, healthier life.

While anxiety may be uncomfortable at times, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s a natural human reaction… one that ultimately works to keep us out of harm’s way.

So if you’re struggling with consistent anxious feelings, your goal shouldn’t be to erase them. It should be to find healthy, effective ways to manage and ease these symptoms.

If you’d like to learn even more safe, pill-free techniques to quiet your mind, ease your anxiety, and improve your decision-making, you might get a lot of value from mySound Mind Protocol.

This online learning course contains 20 instructional video lessons, led by me, in an easy-to-use format. You can learn at your own pace, or come back and review the content whenever you’d like.

Simply click here to learn more about it or to get started in achieving a calmer, clearer mind today.


SOURCES:

Henry, A. (2019 July 9). What Anxiety Does to Your Brain and What  You Can Do About It. Lifehacker.com. Retrieved from: lifehacker.com/what-anxiety-actually-does-to-you-and-what-you-can-do-a-1468128356

George M.S. (2008). A pilot study of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) for treatment-resistant anxiety disorders. 1(2): pp.112-21. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20633378

McIntyre, C. (2018). Is there a role for vagus nerve stimulation in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder? Bioelectronics in Medicine. 1(2). Retrieved from: futuremedicine.com/doi/10.2217/bem-2018-0002

Nyberg, J. et al. (2019). Effects of exercise on symptoms of anxiety, cognitive ability and sick leave in patients with anxiety disorders in primary care: study protocol for PHYSBI, a randomized controlled trial. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 19: pp. 172. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6558952/

Young, K. (n.d.). Anxiety in Children: A Metaphor to Put You In Their Shoes (And Right Beside Them). Hey Sigmund. Retrieved from: heysigmund.com/anxiety-children-metaphor-put-shoes-right-beside/?fbclid=IwAR098bqTUU-IveXa-chp4uA3XopN06JSXbz8RADT9TOD0-muh4r8VpAoxbg

Jim Donovan image
About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.