by Joan Wester Anderson and Eugenie G. Wheeler
It’s a lump in your throat, a knot in your stomach, a runaway heartbeat, adrenaline overkill. It’s waking up at 3 a.m. and worrying about what you have to do that day, or going to great lengths to avoid facing some situation that you absolutely dread.
Anxiety threatens our peace of mind, spontaneity, enjoyment, and health. In its most destructive forms, it can severely limit our lifestyle and interfere with work and
Believe it or not, there is such a thing as healthy anxiety. Anxiety is a very natural and even necessary feeling. It is part of our human evolutionary programming that helps us explore our environment and be alert and responsive to danger. Anxiety is rational, useful, and healthy when it’s in proportion to the situation and used to trigger appropriate action. But when anxiety is unfocused, excessive, lasts for several weeks or longer, or begins to control our choices, then it is not healthy.
Working your way through
Whatever the depth of your anxiety, you can learn to manage it, even overcome it. This CareNote offers some “anxiety-busters” to help you to get control of your anxiety rather than to feel controlled by it.
Develop a “relaxation response.” The key strategy for combating anxiety is to learn to relax. This sounds obvious but is far from simple for people who suffer from anxiety. You can develop a relaxation response by arming yourself with a number of coping tools:
• Relaxation exercises
• Positive self-talk
Take charge of the situation. No matter how your anxiety began, you may now be so afraid of the way it makes you feel that you allow it to control your life. Work on the idea that feelings can be uncomfortable, but they can never hurt you.
Although you cannot control your emotions, you can control the actions that flow from them. When you face a scary situation, take time to gain control, assess the situation, and take charge of your reaction. Tell yourself that your scary feelings will pass, and use your fear to trigger a relaxation response.
Remind yourself mentally of all the difficult situations you’ve handled in the past. Remember that you may have been terribly upset then, but you were still able to act with reason and intelligence.
Avoid “awfulizing.” Playing the “what if” game is a sure way to intensify your fears. “What if this bridge collapses and we all drown?” “What if I blank out on the test and get an F?” Letting your fears run away with you like this is called catastrophizing or awfulizing—anticipating the worst.
Actively stop such thoughts and substitute other thoughts to fill the vacuum. One woman learned to retort to herself, “Statistically, that’s dumb, borrowing trouble, and needlessly feeding my fears.”
Remember, internal doom dialogue only feeds panic.
Take care of yourself. Too much pressure and stress, combined with too little emotional support, sets the stage for a low tolerance for anxiety.
Think seriously about whether you need to lighten your load or gain more balance in your life. Are you overcommitted? Are you having enough fun? What can you eliminate, delegate, or modify to minimize the frustration and maximize the satisfaction you’re getting out of life?
Strengthening yourself physically by eating nutritiously and getting enough sleep and exercise can also make you more resistant to anxiety.
Be aware of your vulnerable areas. What makes you feel nervous or inadequate? Select an area where improving your performance, and consequently your self-image, might make you less vulnerable to anxiety.
For example, if you feel very anxious about entertaining, you could work on managing your housekeeping better, organizing your recipes, practicing simple, foolproof menus. If you worry about your job, you might request some feedback and set goals to help you overcome weaknesses.
This kind of preparation provides you with emotional shock-absorbers so that you are well equipped to handle the stresses that inevitably arise.
Seek help for extreme anxiety. Sometimes anxiety can be completely out of proportion to the situation and may persist long after the perceived danger has passed. The person may begin to develop extreme behavior to avoid the anxiety-producing situation. The term anxiety disorders characterizes such problem anxiety. There are several different types of anxiety disorders:
• Panic disorder
• Obsessive-compulsive disorder
• Generalized anxiety disorder
• Post-traumatic stress disorder
If you suspect that you suffer from one of these disorders, consult your physician immediately. These are illnesses just as real as appendicitis or ulcers, and you need help to heal. Anxiety disorders are among the most treatable conditions, usually responding well to some combination of medication, behavioral techniques, and psychotherapy. Treatment usually involves learning about coping strategies, and changing behavior through setting goals and taking gradual steps to confront fears.
Take heart. The pathway to freedom from fear starts with living in the present. Focus on the abundant blessings of this moment, and trust that God will give you the strength and courage to face whatever the future brings. With the coping strategies described in this CareNote and bolstered by your trust in God’s help, you can walk through the veil of fear. Anxiety does not have to limit your living life to the fullest!
Excerpt taken from Overcoming Everyday Anxiety CareNote.