Even though anxiety, fear and apprehension are a reality most Americans live with, in varying degrees, we do not have to let these feelings control, manipulate or ruin our lives.
Pain and loss or the thought of future pain and loss, can at times feel like an unbearable burden. Waiting for the next shoe to drop or wondering when the shoe that already dropped will ever go away, is a normal human reaction to the discomfort and weight of anxiety. Questioning whether such intense apprehension and fear will subside can keep our bodies and minds on ever-vigilant overload and cause numerous physical, emotional and mental difficulties.
There are numerous factors that can contribute too or create anxiety. Some are obvious – the sudden or expected death of a loved one, friend or colleague; the loss of a relationship; an act or threat of terrorism; divorce or separation; sexual and/or physical abuse; combat; changing, losing or starting a new job; and moving to a different part of town, the nation or another country. Less blatant, but potentially as nerve-racking are – the pace of our society, constantly moving faster, faster and faster; our diet and the foods we eat and how quickly we eat them; and the sadness and helplessness that can arise when we acknowledge the inequality and suffering in the world and the possibility that all life on earth is in jeopardy.
I remember jumping at loud noises for several months after my friend died in a car wreck. I also found myself excessively worrying about something happening to members of my family and thinking that I could be next every time I got behind the wheel. I had difficulty sleeping, which decreased the amount of energy and awareness I had the rest of the day and made me irritable and bossy with others in order to have some sense of control and stability.
What a relief when I recognized what was happening and that I wasn’t alone. According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, “anxiety is now the most commonly diagnosed mental illness in the country” and one of the least treated. It is estimated that only about 25% of adults experiencing mild to severe forms of anxiety seek or receive any treatment for it. Luckily, there are means and ways to decrease, relieve or transform anxiety, panic and fear.
The first step and perhaps most important, is to acknowledge, admit or identify when or if you are anxious, scared or fearful, though this isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Sometimes we have been anxious for so long we can’t see it for what it is and point the finger at someone or something outside ourselves. It can also be clumped together with depression, anger, sadness, guilt, etc. Once we can see it for what it is, we can then choose to take some constructive action.
One of the first actions we can make is to consciously “take a deep breath”. Yes, it’s an old cliche, but it turns out to have some merit, especially in relation to anxiety. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that slow diaphragmatic breathing (similar to Yoga breathing practices) was just as effective in reducing anxiety as an antidepressant drug.
Some people find that medication, carefully monitored for side effects with their doctor, is a valuable and efficient tool to eliminate panic attacks and chronic anxiety. They can be helpful for months or years, depending on each individual’s tolerance and reactions.
Cognitive or Talk Therapy (in which triggers that create anxiety are identified, reduced or re-directed) has helped some people reduce, if not eliminate, many of their fears and phobias.
There is also a techniques such as TFT (Thought Field Therapy) that involves identifying what it is that one is fearful or anxious about, either remembering the feeling from a previous event or at the time it is happening and tapping five times, in succession, on specific points. These points correspond with meridians used in Acupressure. Like deep breathing this seems very simple, yet research and clinical practice have consistently found it to be effective in eliminating anxiety and nightmares.
A number of studies, including one in The American Journal of Psychiatry, have concluded that mindfulness meditation effectively reduces panic and anxiety symptoms. Mindfulness meditation combines breath and awareness to notice what we are experiencing moment to moment and learning how to neither push our thoughts, feelings and sensations away or hold on to them.
The famous presidential quote from the 1930’s that, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”, doesn’t adequately portray all of life’s realities. There are countless things to fear besides fear itself, but when anxiety, apprehension and fear control our lives it can seem like it is all that exists.
I urge you not to run away from your fear and anxiety, but to see it eye to eye and find what works best to put it in context with the rest of your life and experience some peace, serenity, joy and hope.