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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

10 Steps to Managing Anxiety

A few months ago we talked about depression. There are many more people than most of us realize who are depressed. Many of us have either been there, are currently there or know someone we feel we should reach out to.

Today I would like to shift the focus to the other end of the spectrum, so to speak. Just as there are people in our lives who are debilitated by depression, there are also many who are crippled by their anxiety and panic attacks. So, that's today's topic- ANXIETY. 

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a very broad term for disorders that cause nervousness, edginess, uneasiness, fear, apprehension, and worrying. Anxiety can affect how we feel and conduct ourselves. It can produce real physical symptoms and ailments. Mild anxiety is usually kind of vague and unsettling. Severe anxiety, on the other hand, can be extremely debilitating and incapacitating, and have serious impact on people's daily lives.

Many people, myself included, often experience a general state of heightened concern or apprehension before doing certain demanding tasks. These tasks can include almost anything and are different for each of us. Some examples might include things like taking a test, preparing to testify at a trial, a performance, or a meeting. These feelings are often easily justified, meaning that we can make sense of why we are feeling the way we do. And, we consider them normal.

What's Normal?

Anxiety isn't really a problem until the symptoms begin to interfere with a person's ability to function normally. Generally speaking, severe anxiety occurs when a person’s reaction is out of proportion to what most would normally expect in a situation. 

In the case of frequent anxiety, the fearful feelings of dread are related to the things that surround the situation, or are a consequence of it, and not the actual situation itself. For instance, we get anxious about getting stuck in traffic. We are not anxious because we are afraid of having a wreck or about our driving ability. We feel the anxiety over what may happen when we are late for work, again. This is all perfectly reasonable and normal, until and unless we start to get anxious every time we are in traffic, or when we know that we aren't late.

Everyone experiences panic or anxiety in small ways.  Walking on a poorly lit street, a little anxiety and adrenaline pushing us into our "fight or flight" mode can save our lives. In new situations, we  often get a little panicky but the anxiety stops when the worst case scenario doesn't materialize. Once we start giving our speech or taking the test, the anxiety will usually fade away. It was the situation, and not the task that made us nervous. For someone with chronic anxiety, this is not the case.


The first symptoms that most of us notice are feeling sweaty (sometimes, just our palms), sensing that our heart is beating faster, rapid breathing or difficulty catching your breath. Our logical minds can usually reassure us that we are not really going to faint or have a heart attack, but that we are just having a mild anxiety attack.

The most important first step to anything is recognizing it for what it is. The second is to try to figure out the source. The third step in overcoming these "attacks" is learning to manage them.

If you suffer from anxiety attacks there are intentional steps you can take to keep your anxiety under control. 

1.  Talk it out with your spouse, close friend, spiritual adviser (pastor, rabbi, coach, guru, etc.), life coach or mentor.

2.  Get a good night’s sleep. During the sleep cycle, your body has an opportunity to repair itself. You feel more rested after several hours of restorative sleep, reaching the REM stage. Most of us need eight hours a night although this can vary within an hour or two each way. 

3.  Exercise on a consistent basis. Exercise helps you to use oxygen more efficiently.  It helps to get more oxygen to the brain.  It also increases focus which may help you see solutions to problems rather than simply worrying about them. I'm not saying that you need to run a marathon, unless you enjoy that. Exercise can be something as simple as going for a walk. 

4.  Meditate. Meditation is more than chanting mantras and staring at your navel. Yoga and T'ai Chi are exercises that involve quieting the mind and controlling your breathing.  Simple mediation such as taking 5 minute break to clear your mind everyday can work wonders in the fight against anxiety. 

5.  Manage the worry. When you feel your pulse start to quicken, start counting backwards from ten. As you count, focus clearly on the situation. What has actually happened? What is the reality of the situation? Resist the urge to read anything more into the situation.  

6.  Don’t use alcohol, street drugs or any medication that hasn't been prescribed for you specifically. You might think that your glass of wine is relaxing your tension but alcohol is a depressant. In anxious situations, it is a simple step to begin to rely too heavily on it and end up with another problem in the process. 

7.  Find a few relaxing activities. Stress can rob you of your energy. On a regular basis, you should do something you like such as gardening, painting, reading or listening to music.  

8.  Pray. Prayer is the answer to many problems. It gives you a chance to slow down and think clearly, while seeking answers from a higher power. Most people pray just to ask for things. It is an important time to listen as well. 

9. Paper bag. I know this sounds like a joke, but its not. Usually during anxious times our breathing becomes rapid. Sometimes people hyperventilate. One of the surest ways to help slow your breathing down is to breath into a paper bag, slowly. 

10.  See a professional. If the anxiety is frequent and difficult to manage. this is always a good first step. Self-diagnosis of any type of physical or mental condition can be unwise and even dangerous.  Your primary care physician (Family Physician of Internist) or a professional psychologist can help you understand the anxiety and prescribe medication or other effective techniques. 

Anxiety can come into our lives life at any time.  It’s perfectly normal, most of the time. If the anxiety starts to become frequent it could indicate a much more serious problem. If you feel your anxiety is starting to take over your life or increasingly causing you problems, seek professional help immediately.  There is no need to suffer this terrible condition in silence.

What other things would you add to this list?

photo credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/meredithfarmer/343623215/sizes/z/in/photostream/

This article does NOT take the place of medical advice.

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