Welcome back! In our first post of the series, we looked at the clear connection between anxiety and overachievement. In this post, we are going to identify two ways anxiety actually shows up: your thinking and your physical symptoms.
I am not going to go all Grey’s Anatomy and overwhelm you with too much neuropsychology, but I must touch on the few things so you can understand how these two areas of your brain correlate with your anxiety and are primarily responsible for two types of anxiety symptoms, the physical ones and the cognitive ones (thoughts & images).
We talked about the amygdala, which is a small but powerful part of the brain, made up of thousands of circuits. This tiny piece affects so many areas: love and connection, sex drive, anger, aggression, and fear, which lead to the flight-or-fight response. It gives emotional meaning to situations, objects, and people, and forms emotional memories, both positive & negative. When the anxiety is formed through the amygdala pathway, it often manifests as this long list of physical symptoms and it often creeps up on you out of nowhere. Usually, there’s most likely a reason but you just don’t know it or really remember it, or connect the dots from your past experience to your current ones.
Take a look, feeling any of these lately?
- Light-headedness or dizziness
- Dry mouth
- Choking sensation
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pains
- Pounding or racing heart
- Stomach pains
- Pins & needles
- Jelly legs
- Feelings of paralysis (can’t move)
- An urge to run away (flee)
- An urge to attack
Generally, most of the anti-anxiety medication helps soothe the amygdala and take the edge off these symptoms. Overachievers can experience these symptoms, but it’s generally when they approach or surpass their customary threshold of stress, which can be pretty high since they’ve conditioned themselves to constantly add more to their plate. So, if you get to this point, you truly need to slow down, focus on practicing some self-care and simplify and de-clutter your life.
The other part of the brain that’s really important when talking about overachievers is the cortex. The cortex is the biggest portion of the brain and is in charge of thoughts, logic, analysis, interpretations, anticipation, planning, imagination, and a few other executive functions. When the anxiety is cortex-based, distorted thoughts and images can lead to some really unhealthy and unproductive thoughts and interpretations.
Some of these patterns of distorted thinking are:
- all-or-nothing (black or white, no grey)
- jumping to conclusions
- ignoring positive data and focusing on the negative
- creating a life full of strict rules (should & musts) for yourself and others around you
Yes, I know that if you are still reading this, you can relate to it, because overachievers are all about their cortex. You’re likely ruminating, analyzing, making checklists, longer and longer checklists, getting antsy and grumpy when you don’t accomplish everything on your checklists, not able to relax, and get mad at everyone else that is too slow, or not motivated or driven enough to match your level of concentration. Having an overactive cortex is a blessing and a curse. You get a lot of crap done, but there are feelings of loneliness and a lack of peace that comes with that island of intensity and perfection.
In the next and last post of the series, we’ll talk about what you can actually do. I’m adamant that if you are an overachiever and can relate to some of this information, you should become an expert at anxiety and stress management. I’m sure medication has been considered; millions are on anti-anxiety medication. It works for some, but not for others, and here is one possible reason: medication will generally address amygdala-based anxiety, which is more subconscious and has physical symptoms; in short, it takes the edge off, but it will not change your thinking patterns, the uncomfortable images in your mind, the obsessive-compulsive behaviors, the avoidance, and all the other unhealthy coping mechanisms that you may have developed over time. That’s where psychoeducation, therapy, and trying new behaviors really come in handy.
The most powerful message is that although you can’t change the past, with the right information, guidance, and your willingness to make a change, you can start changing your future. I know it sounds too good to be true and I truly understand your hesitancy, because I used to be right where you are! It’s not until I learned how I could effectively manage my anxiety, that things started to shift in my life. I want you to experience how true freedom from anxiety can change everything, and with my newly released anxiety course, you can! Once and for all, you can shift the course of your future, and start to enjoy your life again! Are you ready to try something different?
Check out the Overthinker’s Guide To Managing Anxiety mini-training. Click HERE to learn more.
ABOUT: Dr. Ruxandra LeMay is a private practice psychologist in Litchfield Park, Arizona with experience in family therapy, ADHD, stress and anxiety management, and executive coaching. She is the author of My Spouse Wants More Sex Than Me: The 2-Minute Solution For a Happier Marriage. Click HERE to check out her free resources on effective communication, emotional unavailability, intimacy, and anxiety management or join her at www.ruxandralemay.com for monthly blogs posts.