Many dysregulated eaters are filled with fear and anxiety, but don’t register them as major problems. Rather, they think that their problem is food or weight—or stress. If you’re often anxious and worried, it’s time to better understand these emotions.
Although “Fears 2015” (Sarasota Herald Tribune, 1/18/15, pp. 4-7) is about our big cultural fears like Ebola, terrorism and, even gluten, author Maura Rhodes advises that that too much fear is something we should be concerned about. Humans have evolved to be easily alarmed. The amygdala (our danger-sensing brain organ) gets swamped with sensory stimuli when it perceives a potential threat and goes into fight-flight mode to alert us of perceived danger. Unless our thinking organ, the pre-frontal cortex, says otherwise—“Hey, no problem here, so chill”—the amygdala becomes like a fire alarm that rings when there’s no fire or one that keeps clanging after the fire’s been put out.
The entire body experiences fear—the heart pumps more rapidly and forcefully to direct blood flow to arms and legs, sweat increases, the mouth gets dry, digestion shuts down, the immune system turns off, “short-term memory, concentration and rational thought go on hiatus,” muscle tension increases, breathing quickens, and the adrenal glands pump out get-ready chemicals. All this before your frontal lobes have time to consider if what you’re afraid of warrants these physical reactions. If you suffer from panic or anxiety disorder, regularly experiencing these automatic physical reactions may make you think there’s something wrong with you—and you then get anxious about feeling anxious.
According to scientific research “our fears often don’t match reality” and that “even when a fear is well founded, folks are often unlikely to prepare for it.” To whit, we are not the rational people we would like to think we are. However, we can become more rational about what we fear. Here’s what evidence tells us: fear flu, not Ebola; domestic violence, not serial killers/pedophiles; heart disease, not mercury in fish; insufficient fiber, not gluten; resurgence of preventable diseases, not vaccine side effects; too much sitting, not exercise-induced heart attacks; and car accidents, not plane crashes.
If you ruminate and are anxiety prone, correct the problem. Teach yourself to recognize symptoms of anxiety. Practice mindfulness, meditation, and self-soothing. Get help through therapy, especially through a cognitive approach. When you have the urge to eat mindlessly, ask yourself if you’re experiencing underlying anxiety and tend to it. You might be prone to anxiety, but you can learn how to manage it and not eat it away.