On January 19, psychotherapist, bestselling author, and speaker Lynn Lyons addressed the Nobles community. She explained that there is a difference between worry and anxiety. “The prefrontal cortex [of the brain], that’s where worry hangs out,” she said. She then compared anxiety to a cult leader. “If you listen, things go fairly smoothly,” she said. “Anxiety is a normal part of being human. You are going to experience it,” she said. “It’s what we do with those feelings when they show up.” She aknowledged that we can’t always know what will happen. “The goal is to be able to handle life [anyway}.”
Lyons, who is an internationally known expert in the treatment of anxiety disorders in adults and children, explained the “fight or flight” response when the brain senses danger, noting that the amygdala can’t differentiate between a bear approaching in the woods and an imminent PowerPoint presentation. She noted that, reasonably, the intense reaction to anxiety in the brain deactivates systems, such as the digestive system, that aren’t essential for survival in the moment.
“We are not going to get rid of physical responses,” she said, suggesting that finding ways to manage them is more productive than trying to eliminate them. “Worry is a storyteller [and] we are social creatures so things happen to us socially so how do we better manage this thing?”
Lyons suggested that how we react to challenging or difficult events is what matters. “You have to become an observer of your own anxiety,” she said. She discussed the value of exercising flexibility versus rigidity; understanding perfectionism versus developing an understanding of when to cut corners; thinking about ideas or challenges globally versus breaking them down into parts. She also illustrated how catastrophic thinking or persistent rumination–focusing on the worst case, as in, “Well, the plane might crash”–might feel like problem-solving but isn’t.
Lyons also discussed ideas around temporary rather than permanent situations and the power of positive expectancy, emphasizing the importance of the belief that things can change.
Among the tactics for managing anxiety and worry, Lyons noted that people who are connected in their communities do better. “You are hardwired for external connection,” she said “[and] helping other people should be a part of what we do.
“What do you do that helps to brighten somebody else day? What are you proud of? What do you need to take action on? Small things add up,” she said. “This is a message of optimism from me to you. Look for it, appreciate it. spread it. feel it.”
Lyons is the author of several books, including Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents: 7 Ways to Stop the Worry Cycle and Raise Courageous and Independent Children. She lives in Concord, New Hampshire.