We all know that anxiety and chronic stress are on the rise, especially with young adults, older adults, and even children. This is why it is really important to understand this powerful concept that can be possibly life-changing for someone — beat anxiety with curiosity.
When we are in a stressed state, our limbic system, our brain’s emotional center is going to detect a threat, specifically the amygdala in the brain. When this happens, we activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis). Once this axis, i.e. stress pathway is activated, it induces the pituitary gland (located in the brain) and the adrenal gland (located above the kidney). This signals a cascade of stress hormones. A little of this here and there is normal, however, it is commonly overactivated in many people.
When we are in this stressed state or potentially anxious state, then we cannot be curious, or be empathetic at the same time. In addition to not being able to be empathetic or curious, we are also not able to break the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive function, communicating, guiding, and coordinating the functions of the different parts of the brain, back online. This essentially means that we are not able to regulate our attention and focus. Sound familiar?
How can you beat anxiety with curiosity?
So, how can we use curiosity to help decrease anxiety?
When we are curious that means we are also able to be empathetic, turn the prefrontal cortex back online, and able to regulate our attention. We can accomplish this in a few different ways:
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1) Be curious about your anxiety
Ask yourself what sensations you feel in your body? Tension, warmth, coolness? Explore what you are feeling. You can totally flip the script by exploring how it feels in your body.
2) Seek out new knowledge
Become curious about something new. It can be finding a completely new skill, hobby, information, that can make you curious about learning.
This is one of the best ways to regulate attention, be aware, attentive, and present. Check out Three Informal Mindfulness Practices. Also, if you are already meditating, check out Three Tips to Improve your Meditation Practice. It’s a practice that needs to be cultivated, but that practice of being aware and being attentive can assist you in exploring your own body and your own needs. Practicing this on a regular basis can be profound in once again regulating attention, which means that you’re being curious, and you cannot be anxious.
4) Improve interoception, otherwise known as self-awareness
Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs? The bottom of the pyramid is our basic physiological needs. For example, are you hungry or are you full? Do you need to go to the bathroom or did you hold it for too long? Do you need to rest today or can you push it a little harder in your workout? Tune in to what’s happening from an internal standpoint, not necessarily just external. We want to think about what are we feeling on the inside.
Bonus! Curiosity can significantly enhance learning and retention of information over time!
Seeking out new knowledge, cultivating mindfulness, and tuning into to what is going on in your own body can have profound impact on decreasing anxiety and also preventing anxiety, and potential undue stress.
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