Anxiety: How to Calm Your Anxious Brain

Colette Dowling, LCSW

For further information or for a free therapy consultation you can reach Colette by calling or texting 718-594-0201 or writing to

NY psychotherapist Colette Dowling, LCSW,  has written many books on psychological issues, including "You Mean I Don't Have to Feel This Way?": New Help for Depression, Anxiety and Addiction.


Anxiety, panic and social phobias plague a good twenty-five percent of the population. They are highly treatable disorders, especially now that mindfulness techniques have been developed that can actually change the way the anxious brain is wired.

  Conflict can play a role in making us feel anxious, but brain chemistry is also important

All the following types of anxiety disorder are related to neurotransmitter changes in the brain that can be re-wired.

Social phobia is a type of anxiety disorder familiar to many. Oh the horror of going to a party and having to talk with people you don't know! Will you be thought smart enough, articulate enough, funny enough? Can you tell a story so people will listen?

  • The anticipatory anxiety over having to "perform" in social situations can make us want to do anything to escape the out-and-out terror caused by social phobia.
  • Some are plagued by performance anxiety, the panic over having to give a performance of some sort--a speech, say, or playing an instrument for a show or recital.

  Difficulty in writing reports or articles is a form of performance anxiety. Ditto dread of completing a thesis.  Again, treatable!

                                                     A Hyperactive Alerting System

       Many who are chronically anxious, or phobic, or who are vulnerable to panic attacks, performance anxiety and social phobias, may be suffering from "a hyperactive alerting system," a small flaw in brain's metabolism having to do with the very delicate balance of serotonin that's required for maintaining a calm and stable mood.

                                                           Hormones Can Kick In Too

  • Women are two-and-a-half times as likely to suffer from anxiety disorders as men. Often they experience spikes in their anxiety during the week to ten days when they're pre-menstrual. Researchers believe this is related to the lowering of serotonin that occurs when estrogen levels drop. (Estrogen is required for the brain's production of the calming serotonin.)

  • Some women take very low doses of antidepressant medication ONLY premenstrually, and find that their mood stays stable during this time.
  • Today, antidepressants are considered the gold star treatment for panic disorder

  • Ideally, medication can be combined with psychotherapy, which helps people to unlearn the behaviors they developed while trying to cope with panic states.

Those who are treated for anxiety are often amazed by how quickly their conditions change. No more heart palpitations, or hyperventilation. No more obsessive list-making, or panicky hyper-alertness, or irrational fears. The good news is that treatment is effective.

You don't have to let your social life and work performance be impaired by irrational fears. Such impairment, when it goes on long enough, will undermine your self esteem and can even affect your sense of personal identity.

The newest way of treating anxiety is through mindfulness techniques wherein you learn how to continually re-focus your brain on the present moment. This re-trains the brain, allowing you to have better control over your own thought processes.

If you do it consistently it will calm you not only while you're practicing mindflness, but throughout the day.

        Dan Siegal, a neuroscientist at the University of California, says as few as five minutes a day of focusing your mind on your breathing can re-wire the brain, producing greater calm and less agitation.

Therapists trained in the use of mindfulness techniques can teach you how to do this.

For more on anxiety disorders see Colette's website: www.

NYC psychotherapist Colette Dowling, LCSW, received her masters degree from the Smith College School for Social Work and spent an additional 5 years completing advanced training at The Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy, in New York.She is a certified psychoanalyst.

Colette is also trained in mindfulness techniques and the use of EMDR for treating trauma. She has a private practice in the Flatiron neighborhood of New York.

For a free therapy consultation or further information, you may text or call Colette at 718-594-0201, or write to her at

To hear Colette speak on what it's like starting therapy with someone new, click the button.

For a description of Colette's therapy practice click here.

Copyright Colette Dowling, 2006-2010