April 26, 2024

Why are we so anxious?

We live in a fast-paced society, and most of us are expected to juggle many different responsibilities in our homes, workplaces, and friendships. Added stressors at work, difficulties at home, or trouble with the kids can contribute to occasional feelings of stress and symptoms of anxiety such as restlessness, or difficulty sleeping. What happens when anxiety symptoms become a normal part of daily life? Sometimes it can feel difficult to just “calm down” or “relax” and we may feel confused about the source of these issues. In many cases, anxiety begins in the brain.

Biological Sources

A key player in anxiety is the basal ganglia. Located in the mid-brain, this computer-mouse shaped area is responsible for some of your fine motor skills, executive functioning, and emotions. When the basal ganglia are hyperactive, a person may experience restlessness, excessive worry about outcomes to various situations, and more frequent headaches. On the other hand, when the basal ganglia are under active, people may shut down or “freeze up” when faced with stressful situations. The cingulate gyrus sits above the basal ganglia and can be thought of as the “gear shifter” of the brain.  Anxious thoughts that seem to spin continuously in the mind like a broken record often have to do with a cingulate gyrus that is not functioning well. Thankfully, there are many things that can help calm the brain and reduce the frequency of ruminating thoughts, restlessness, and worries about the future.


Breathing Exercises

When we are anxious, we often begin taking shallower breaths, which lowers oxygen to the brain. Anytime oxygen in the brain is reduced, panic and anxiety symptoms worsen. Taking long and slow breaths helps bring more oxygen to the brain and can help you return to a more relaxed state. One diaphragmatic breathing exercise taught at Access is “box breathing”. Breathe in for four seconds, hold the breath in your lungs for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and wait another four seconds before taking your next inhale. While this solution seems simple, it is often helpful!

Mind Dump

When a person is anxious, most of the time there are so many thoughts going through their mind it can be difficult to think clearly. One way to manage this issue is to write these thoughts down on paper. You can throw it away afterwards, but putting tomorrow’s to-do list on paper removes the pressure to remember all of it. A bonus is that seeing our worries written out can show us how unrealistic they are at times.  


Meals that incorporate more complex carbs such as whole grains, fruits, leafy greens, and beans can be helpful in reducing anxiety. It is also important that individuals with anxiety limit their protein intake.

Regular Exercise

 Exercise is critical to our health. It’s also helpful to our mood states. Exercise releases endorphins, which improves our sense of well-being, and provides a sense of stress relief. It is important to find a means of exercising you enjoy, as this will help you maintain the habit.

Written by: Madison Smith – 04/2024

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