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Archive for Monday, September 3, 2012

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Mind Matters: Behaviors for managing anxiety

September 3, 2012

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Michael Brown points out in his book “The Presence Process” that you can rearrange the letters in the word “anxiety” and create the words “any exit.”

That is a good representation of how someone with severe anxiety often feels — trapped in his/her body or situation.

Anxiety is typically viewed as a fear-based experience. Someone struggling with anxiety would probably support that view.

Anxiety is a normal response to perceived threats in the environment and can be useful in helping an individual monitor the environment and his/her response to it.

The initial feeling of anxiety is a helpful warning mechanism to assist in managing a situation in a healthy manner before it gets out of hand. An example of this is when a parent feels anxiety related to a potentially harmful situation for a child. Helping the child avoid a dangerous situation is a healthy response to anxiety.

Our life experiences in concert with our genetics accumulate as stuck emotional energy that can be triggered by stress in our environment. When anxiety is accompanied by excessive underlying emotion, it can quickly become unmanageable, and the individual moves from being responsive to being reactive.

These reactive states can often make a situation worse. An anxiety disorder occurs when these reactive states become chronic and/or severe.

There are several means to help assist with anxiety problems. It is widely recognized that exercise, maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and getting plenty of sleep can help reduce anxiety.

There are medications that are useful in treating moderate to severe anxiety. Supplements such as valerian root and GABA may be helpful. Before taking supplements for anxiety, please consult with a physician.

Interventions utilizing technological advances, such as brainwave optimization, are helping many individuals.

There are several behavioral techniques that can be very helpful.

  • Mindfulness meditation: Spotify.com and YouTube.com offer free downloads of guided meditations.
  • You can try to set aside times each day to focus on those things that worry you. An example of this is to journal for 30 minutes a day on worries (you can break these sessions up into morning and night if you like). Then instruct yourself to ignore these worries until your next journaling time. It may be helpful to incorporate breathing techniques that calm you during these sessions.
  • Because anxiety is triggered in part by fear of being out of control, try focusing on those things you can control.
  • Anxiety incorporates feelings of the past and fear of the future. Therefore staying in the present moment is helpful. You can wear a rubber band and snap it whenever you find yourself in a constant state of worrying.
  • Challenge yourself by asking, “What is the worst that can happen?” Typically those things that trigger anxiety are not anywhere near as serious as our reaction may suggest.
  • Distracting yourself is helpful to stay out of ruminating and over-focusing on anxiety-producing thoughts or situation. However, distraction should not be confused with avoidance, which is not helpful in the long term. You must face your fear.
  • It is important to remind yourself that anxiety will not kill you. In fact, some people are able to use paradoxical intention to slow down or stop an anxiety attack: “If I’m going to have an anxiety attack, then I am going to have a really good one.” Trying to have an anxiety attack may actually, paradoxically, help you avoid one.

It is important to manage anxiety because it can have a dramatic effect on our ability to live our lives as we would want to. We may even act out in opposition to our values.

Fear-based anxiety can produce reactions in us that are virtually unconscious and potentially hurtful to ourselves or others. We may avoid situations that are important to us, such as social situations or an opportunity to talk to a key supervisor about a promotion.

Today’s world is more stressful than human kind has ever had to deal with, yet we have developed expectations of ourselves and others that we “should” be able to handle it.

The fact is we have yet to evolve to a place where modern stressors are “normal” to our body and mind. This evolutionary adjustment will take hundreds or thousands of years. Until then, we must stay conscious and do what we can to find a calm space inside.

— Jena and Ed Bloch can be reached at go@ljworld.com.

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