STRESSED OUT, ZONED OUT, FREAKED OUT
The number of people seeking help for anxiety is rising rapidly! According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.”
Now if you think about it, isn’t it amazing that there even IS such an association? This, and the fact that I see through referrals the numbers of people affected, convinces me that it’s a very real problem.
Anxiety is basically a fear of the future or of the unknown. The human brain is wired to scan the environment for danger all the time, and the anxiety response is like having this brain center on overload, which hampers the ability to reason. Such people are prisoners of their own survival instincts and of the subsequent faulty thinking processes. But it need not be this way.
Since anxiety is a fear response, it’s important to consider that this may be happening:
Granted, these fears are usually based on a counselee’s past experiences in life. Much like in PTSD, symptoms occur in response to a stimulus that resembles a previous experience. Therefore, it is important to help the person accurately evaluate both the current and past situations.
If you suffer from anxiety, there are some steps you can take to help yourself:
- If you are a person of faith, you simply must tap into the strength it provides. Believing in an ordered universe and a benevolent Creator will take much of the fear factor out of life.
- Evaluate the pace at which you are living.
- If you are zooming from one activity to the next and constantly under pressure, you need to get that under control. Some things you simply must say “no” to. Set your boundaries so that you can attend to your own needs. It doesn’t do any good to wear yourself down to the point that you become dysfunctional. See a Temperament Counselor (like me!) to help you strategize.
- On the other hand, if you are so frozen that you are hyperreflective (that is, you are constantly inside your own head rehearsing your fears over and over), you need to take action to get outside your head by engaging in another activity to occupy your mind.
- Try a 5-minute breathing meditation, which can be done anytime anxiety begins to rise. Sit comfortably in a chair and focus your mind on your breathing. In, out, slowly; in, out, in, out. If your mind wanders, refocus on the breathing, feeling your abdomen rise and fall. Slowly, please. Yoga is one of the best anti-anxiety activities you can do because it forces you to concentrate on your body, rather than engaging in hyperreflection.
- Avoid stimulants, like caffeine. You may have a longstanding habit and think it doesn’t affect you, but you’ll be amazed how much calmer you will feel after several days without it. Drink more plain water while you are weaning off caffeine.
- Avoid sugar, as this causes an inflammatory response in the body which leads to more stress and makes it hard to sleep.
- Take long walks with a friend, and concentrate on the friend, rather than yourself. This will also get you outside your own head.
- Evaluate your thinking, and you must be brutally honest with yourself. Make a list of the “what ifs” and then ask yourself how likely it is that any of your fears will actually Remember, anxiety is an automatic response to perceived dangerto life, status, or ego. If your life itself is not bodily in danger, then you must evaluate what the perceived threat would mean to your life if it came true. There is this thing called “general anxiety disorder,” but I don’t buy it. Fear is based on something. You must figure out what and why.
- Consider carefully before you begin taking anti-anxiety medications. Do you really want to be hooked on them, or would you rather find a natural means for managing your own stress? It’s easier to take a pill than to take responsibility for your own thinking, but you will not resolve anything if taking the pill is all you do.
- See a counselor, who will help you through this whole process.
Anxiety will steal your life and relationships if you don’t take action to conquer it. Don’t let it take you prisoner.
Dr. Susan Haberkorn, NCCA Licensed Clinical Pastoral Counselor