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The 2am Anxiety Attack

Updated: Aug 2, 2022

If you are walking up at 2am and your amygdala has quietly gone and switched on and activated the stress reactive circuits, and now you lighting up your sympathetic nervous system like a christmas tree, do you fight, flight, freeze or breathe?”

We are all wired from 2000 years ago to survive “eat or be eaten”. While our environment may be somewhat safer, biologically not much has changed when we are faced with something fearful, the body does not know it is 2000 years ago or now, all it knows is that it needs to get the hell out of a situation that may cause distress, play dead or fight whatever is about to attack…however this is not the sable tooth tiger at your cave, but rather the bond on the house, the family drama, the choices, the regrets, financial problems, or more recently anything associated to Covid.

So when we have a subconscious fearful thought, the part of your brain called the amygdala senses danger and activates the stress-reactive circuits in the emotional brain as a trigger of stress, these circuits are a myriad of networks, and your sympathetic nervous system lights up like a Christmas tree, it is your fight or flight system, ability to respond to the “stress/tiger” sometime maybe not in the best possible way. However now it’s 2am and you were sleeping 1 minute ago and now you are experiencing heart palpitations, your body is shaking, your feet are hot, you are having a panic attack, but wait there’s more, your body is now drenched with the chemicals (remember we about to fight off the allegorical sable tooth tiger)..and you have just managed to trigger your fight/flight/freeze network. Pretty impressive! However, we have a problem, there is no danger right at this moment, it was by thought alone, so if we did fight off the tiger or run, we would have released some of the cortisol and adrenalin that has just flooded the body, but the brain has no way of choreographing this splendid show into the automatic opposite direction to bring in the parasympathetic nervous system, which is our “rest and digest”.

To fix for the immediate scenario we going to have to override this and go back to manual mode for controlling this human beast, and it is through controlled breathing, that we manage this, which will lower the blood pressure and promote feelings of calm and relaxation. And bring the body back to peace again.

Deep inhale for a count of 4 through the nose, and exhale for a count of 6 through the mouth, repeat this as the body goes into repair.

Actively engage your thoughts in the process of the breathing. Once you have managed to get to calm, and your breathing is even, you may even want to hold the inhale breath for a period of 4 count and engage your thoughts in the process, for at least 6 – 10 rounds. You will notice that the anxiety starts to dissipate. There are various breathing techniques that we apply to either get the body in a state of relaxation or in a state of readiness, depending what the context or scenario requires.

But like most things, if you not going to actively engage your mind into the exercise you might as well just carry on breathing unconsciously.

The caveat on the above is that not all breathwork and meditative practices may be effective on people with excessive anxiety levels, and may even be counterproductive. However, there are other CBT techniques that could be applied which re-introduces cognitive practices that could be more effective. for more information on anxiety and how to calm your vagus nerve

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very nice


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