How to uncouple unhelpful pattern matches.
If you spend a lot of time in a state of anxiety, your amygdala (that tiny structure in the brain that acts as an alarm system) is working overtime. The more hyper-aroused you are about all sorts of things, the more it registers them as life-threatening events and sets the panic button off whenever it thinks that something similar is happening again.
But, as we know, the amygdala is not a sophisticated organ. It often does the equivalent of 'cry wolf' but you never get to know that. You behave as though it is a real wolf every time and, to your emotional brain, it is. But you also have access to the higher brain power of the rational mind, so it is important you use it to supply the amygdala with better information.
This means that, if you find yourself beginning to react in a panicky way that is completely out of proportion to the situation you are in, immediately set about calming yourself down with 7/11 breathing and see if you can identify what your amygdala might be pattern matching to. Perhaps you are on a train and suddenly you feel an inexplicable need to get off it. Why? Is it, perhaps, because three new passengers have just got on and, by chance, one of them looks somewhat similar to a former employer who used to bully you? If you are able to calm yourself in time, you may be able to focus on the fact that this is not the same person, that they are not even paying you the remotest attention and that they intend you no harm. You might remind yourself too that the abusive relationship is in the past and cannot inflict further harm on you either. You are perfectly safe on the train and have no need to panic.
It isn't always possible to identify pattern matches because, when they arise from a highly traumatic experience, elements of the pattern match may be unconscious, as described earlier. In such cases, detraumatisation through the rewind technique can deal with the problem.
Commonly, many anxious people pattern match to failure. So, when a new challenge must be faced, if anything remotely similar was ever attempted unsuccessfully in the past, that is what the amygdala will latch onto. This is another good reason for listing your resources. There will no doubt be many forgotten occasions when you faced challenging situations successfully, and recalling these will bring them to the fore and make them more likely to become positive pattern matches in future. Other ways to achieve the same effect are to challenge negative thinking, as described earlier, and rehearse success through visualisation.
Read more: next article: