Your mind can torture you.
It can whizz around at dizzying speeds jumping from one thought to the next before you’ve even had time to worry about the first one. Sometimes, the thoughts that pop into your head are random and maybe a little humorous. At other times, they can get your heart racing and send you straight into a panic. Most of the time, they’re negative and not very supportive of you.
“I haven’t gotten a reply to my text. They must be mad at me. What did I do now?”
“I forgot to give Charlie his meds. If he has a bad day at school, it’ll totally be my fault.”
“I need to fix a healthy dinner tonight because we ordered pizza last night. I’m such a slacker.”
“I’ll probably get fired if I don’t finish this project on time.”
You know how it goes. I’m sure you have your own version of this unfriendly chatter that routinely plays in your head.
Your Brain Has a Negativity Bias
To keep you safe and alive, your brain is naturally negative and cautious. Its number one job is to look out for and predict all the possible dangers you could encounter as you go about your day. Back when you might have been some predator’s dinner, this was an evolutionary advantage that helped humans survive lethal threats. And even though you don’t find yourself in mortal danger often these days, this anxious negativity bias still exists in your brain.
Sometimes, the fear response is warranted and is still a good thing — in situations where you need to react quickly. However, most of the time, your brain sounds the fear alarm too often over neutral incidents. When you know what’s happening in your brain, you can turn down its fear alarm and calm your mind and body. Here’s what you need to know.
When You’re Overthinking, Your Amygdala Is In Control
When you find yourself tense with anxiety and your mind churning with fearful thoughts, your amygdala is running the show. Your amygdala is a small almond-shaped mass located deep within the temporal lobe of your brain. It’s part of your primitive brain’s limbic system, which is primarily responsible for processing memory, decision-making, motivation, and emotional reactions — most significantly, those related to survival.
The amygdala acts as your brain’s threat radar detector. When the amygdala sounds the alarm, your body responds with an almost instantaneous sequence of hormonal and physiological changes preparing you to fight or flee. When this happens, your amygdala hijacks your brain, and most of your physical and mental resources get allocated to making sure you can survive a lethal threat. Your brain and body are on high alert, and your intelligent, thinking brain shuts down.