25 July 2014

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Today was a wrapping-things-up and sorting-things-out kind of day. I got a lot of thinking done. I tidied the bits of the flat that have been messy for too long. I sorted out the laundry and did some work I owed a friend for her dissertation. I completed workout 13 with a swim (although my Achilles really does seem royally busted and I don’t think I’ll be running this weekend.

I also finished this book today! It’s taken me about three weeks but I don’t think I’ve EVER hung on each word like that with a non-fiction book before! It’s a biological account of emotion and all the processes in the body and brain that make it possible for us to feel what we feel – thoroughly fascinating and much recommended for anyone with any kind of anxiety disorder, as the structures for fear are the ones used throughout as a sample emotional system.

I’ve learned a couple of stand-out things about myself from reading this: one is that with instinctive/survival-serving fear pathways in the brain being faster than reasoned, conscious cognitive ones, I react too quickly to triggers and feel panic before it’s necessary. If I stop, take a couple of breaths, assess my surroundings and ascertain (and then reassure myself) that I’m not in any actual danger, the anxiety episode usually fades. That’s been working brilliantly for me about 80% of the time and I’m much calmer. Who would have ever been able to tell me that all I needed to do was reassure myself that I’m not going to die?!!

Two, there is quite a lot in the book on how memories are formed; how in traumatic episodes everything in the surrounding context can be absorbed into unconscious memory as a trigger for further episodes of fear (and conscious memories of these episodes can be formed that are even stronger than the original). It’s completely possible to be triggered into anxiety without having any idea why.

Three, I spend quite a lot of my time in a stare of “emotional arousal” – where all the different brain and body systems are activated and focused on a single emotional state – much more time than I spend working out what’s caused them! I actually like living this way – although obviously wish some of the emotions were more positive – but I enjoy the intensity of it and I think it’s part of what makes me me. I just need to learn that I can choose to exert conscious control if I need/want to, and this is key to chilling out. It’s been a long time since I’ve looked forward to coming home and just curling up on the sofa quietly with a book, or had the internal peace to concentrate on one.

Understanding this kind of information is really useful to me as part of the bigger picture.

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