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The Biology of Anxiety || Catholic Counseling for Anxiety with Catherine DiNuzzo

Video Interview with Catholic-Link.Org

January 27, 2022

Katie: Why does God allow anxiety? Well today we're gonna sit down with a licensed professional to talk this through so stayed tuned.

Drew: Hey everyone welcome to Catholic-Link, we're Drew and Katie Taylor joined here by Catherine DiNuzzo who's a licensed counselor here to talk about the biology of anxiety. If you're new here please subscribe it really helps get the word out about the channel and share this video with someone who could really use some help.

Katie: And some peace with this natural struggle of anxiety, of stress in our life because we all have stress and so I think that this applies to every single person and whether you want to term it anxiety or whether you want to just say that like I have life stressors that sometimes freak me out ah so Catherine can you talk a little bit about what is anxiety.

Catherine: Anxiety is a feeling that I like to say is kinda abstract, I was describe it as kinda out here because we can't really put our fingers on it. Ah...the Institute of Anxiety says it's when we worry too much about the future or the past but we're not in the present, it's that abstract feeling. And one of the things that I've learned about anxiety is that there is a natural reason we feel the way we do when we're anxious, and people don't understand that. They want to believe that they have control over it and they can just stop it. Like I'm a smart person, I'm a strong person I can stop this anxiety from happening but you're wrong. {laughter} So today I'm going to help you to know why you are absolutely perfectly, amazingly created in God's image and this beautiful thing...and I'm gonna teach you how we're gonna say thank you to God for our anxiety because I think its important to understand why we feel the way that we do and then we can just love ourselves and give ourselves grace to work through it. But people don't know the why, and as Catholics we are so blessed because I think we're always striving for the why as Catholics, why not do that with anxiety. So today I want to talk about the why.

Katie: I think that thats so beautiful and this idea that we might actually be able to say thank you to God for giving us this biological response that occurs. And so can you talk a little bit about why God would allow something like that.

Catherine: Okay so, God loves us and He wants us to stay alive. So He creates this thing inside of us called the fight or flight response. Now I'm going to go into a very basic part of the neural biology because there's no video long enough and nobody would stay long enough to learn all about it so we're going to go very very basic. {laughing} Okay, so we're going to talk about two main parts of your brain. So one is your animal brain, or the scientific name would be your limbic system and its right in the middle of your brain. So if you imagine this is your brain and this is your spinal cord right at the top in the middle is where it is. Okay. And its job is to keep you alive. It controls all of the things you don't think about. Hormone regulation, respiration, heart rate...all of those things. But we have no cognitive control over it, that's why we call it the animal just responds.

Drew: Yeah

Catherine: But then we also have this part of our brain which is our frontal cortex or what I call your thinking brain. This is where all of our higher level thinking happens...and you have toddlers so this might help you to make sense of that. Our brains develop from our animal brain to our thinking brain.

Katie: We're not at the thinking brain quite yet. {laughing}

Catherine: And it normally takes until you're like in your twenties for this to be fully developed in this cognitive brain. So when you think about that animal brain you imagine a toddler, how they see the world in that very animalistic understand the animal brain. Okay, so what the animal brain does is that when you see something that might be dangerous, when you smell something that is imagine you are walking on a path and you see a big hairy animal, and you smell the animal, and you hear the roar, and you see the teeth all of those senses go up through your spinal cord into your animal brain and your animal brain goes, "BEAR BEAR...WE'RE GONNA DIE...WE'RE GONNA DIE," right...and it starts pumping out all these stress hormones that are gonna cause your belly to get nauseous because I can't be digesting my burrito if I'm your know...

Katie: Gonna be eaten by a bear

Catherine: And my heart beats really fast because if I have to run from a bear I have to have as much oxygen as I can. I can have a cognitive fog because if I had to run from the bear I don't want to have to be thinking about my odds because lets be honest right...{laughing} so like...

Drew: Not good {laughing}

Catherine: Not good right. And God knows this so he creates in our brain like this little fog. Right. But if we think about it, isn't that how anxiety feels. Aren't those the same symptoms. So what I describe anxiety as is this place where our animal brain senses something and it like, "we're gonna die" and our cognitive brain is like, "no we're not, we're fine...we're just meeting the in's just a camera, how's a camera gonna hurt you."

Katie: It's a little scary to sit down like this.

Catherine: Okay, right. But our animal brain is like it's dangerous. And so the reason I say that you can thank God for it is because someday there's gonna be a bear. And when there's a bear I don't want you to deep breathing {laughing}...and you know I don't want you to take that break right? I want you to fight the bear and so literally if we can see this as a God gift to protect us, and we can say thank you then we can start working on what we do. that's why I say you can say thank you.

Katie: I think that's such a beautiful reflection and just such truth, and hilarious at the same time, that just this idea that one...when you were talking I thought about the idea that the animal brain develops first and then that cognitive brain form second the idea that we need to be able to give ourselves mercy for also those decisions we made in our youth and to not like, look through that lens of development and know you talked a lot about anxiety being this idea of you know we're either suck in the past or we're stuck in the future and we're not here in the present. And I think that to give that mercy to our past, where potentially there was more animal brain, especially in our youth, and then give ourselves and acknowledge that we don't have the grace yet from God to handle whatever we think is going to happen. And so to be right here in that presence and to experience that grace, to move from some of the shame of those feelings to how do I look at this and go God really just wants to protect me, He wants to love me, He wants me to experience the best in life and not things that will hurt me and so I'm given this level of protection that is good and comes from a good place.

Drew: Well I think it's easy not thank God for some of the things he has given. It's like, "God why did you give me these passions right, why did you give me these hormones {laughing} why did you make me the way I am?"

Katie" Oh {laughing}

Catherine: Well and I think what is beautiful about that is that God doesn't ask to be with those passions and those things, he asks us to work with Him in those.

Drew & Kate: Yeah...yep

Catherine: So when it comes to anxiety, when we can stop and say thank you God, and I stop trying to control it because see that's where anxiety really becomes the problem is that it's not the fact that I have what I call the anxious response, its this very natural thing that I have no control over. Where it becomes the problem is where I'm like ugh why can't I stop it, I don't want to feel this way.

Drew: You're anxious about being anxious

Katie: Yes, yep

Catherine: You're anxious about being anxious, which makes you more anxious right. So I want to do a quick experiment with you both just to see if you have the ability to control your animal brain.

Katie: Okay

Drew: I think I do {laughing}

Catherine: Now we all know Drew, Mr. Fighter Pilot is very impressed probably with his intellectual ability and we have a lot of clients who are the same way. They are very intellectual, very successful in business or they've gone through a lot and their strong. Katie is one of those...I love her, but she's always like..."I...I can do anything. I too can control my animal brain".

Katie: Definitely

Catherine: She doesn't say that, but that's what I hear as a counselor. And so right here publicly we're gonna do an experiment to see if either of you can control your animal brain. Are you ready?

Drew: I'm in

Katie: Yeah

Catherine: Okay, so I want you to close your eyes and with all of your mental ability I want you to stop your heart from beating.


Catherine: Did it work?

Katie: {laughing) no

Drew: I think I'm doing it.

Katie: You're soooo good

Catherine: Of course you do Drew, of course you do. {laughing} Right, and honestly to all our viewers do this, do this experiment. Take a moment and I promise that you are going to giggle too and that's because there's this moment where we're like oh wait, I actually don't have control of this. And when you hold onto that giggle it actually gives you that little bit of encouragement to give yourself the grace you were talking about. To be able to say, wait this anxious response is not bad I just have to manage it.

Drew: Yeah

Catherine: And I kinda want to use that also to invite you to our next video about how do you do this? Like okay now Catherine...fine I agree I might not have control over my animal brain but Drews gonna practice a couple time more {laughing}

Drew: I'm gonna..I'm gonna get good at this


Katie: I'm gonna shut down that hear all by myself...{laughing}..

Drew: Just you wait

Katie: It's just a little scary...{laughing}...could you not turn off your heart, thanks

Catherine: But once you become at peace with the fact that this is a biological response that is good its just to the wrong stimulus then we can start talking about how do you get off that hamster wheel.

Katie: Yeah...and so stay tuned for our next episode that we'll make sure to link above right now and then the...check that out because we are so blessed to have Catherine kinda walk us through why God allows anxiety and now we're gonna talk about how we deal with that. So if you found value in this value make sure to subscribe so you can check out the next one. Ah like this video, share it with a friend who needs to hear it as well because they also can not control their animal brain...{laughing}...even if they look super put together on the outside, shocking fact {laughing} and go ahead and leave a comment with questions you have for Catherine about topics like this. Thanks for watching. We'll be praying for you until next time.

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