Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dealing With Anxiety


I thought I’d write about something that is very close to my heart; mental illness, in particular anxiety disorders. It would probably be more accurate to say anxiety disorders are close to my brain, it's simply the way I'm wired. Anxiety disorders affect 12% of the population and are more common in women which means there are a lot of terrified people out there (so hurray, you're not alone!). An anxiety disorder is more than just stress, it’s more than worry and it’s more than being anally retentive. It’s constant and debilitating.

That said, anxiety attacks alone are fairly common and don’t have to be debilitating. The worst thing you can do is let panic shape who you are.
Over my long and tumultuous relationship with anxiety I have picked up a few tricks and techniques to deal with anxiety as it comes. There are so many different schools of thought when it comes to panic attacks that if one or all exercises don’t work for you there are still tons of possibilities.

Mindfulness - “Consciously bringing awareness to your here-and-now experience, with openness, interest and receptiveness.” Russ Harris

Be flexible to the thoughts. Acknowledge that you're anxious, yes, it's there, it's happening, you're panicked. Mindfulness is about knowing what you're experiencing and not beating yourself up over it. It's about developing the ability to take a step back and look at the situation logically. You are not the thought, you are a person with reason and strength, your mind is just dealing with worry the best way it knows how. Accepting the thought instead of trying to reason why it's not true can really help. Dissect the thought, be an interested observer. Carry a notebook and pen to record the thoughts and attempt to understand where they come from.

Basically, "making room for painful feelings, urges and sensations, and allowing them to come and go without a struggle."

Acknowledge Your Breathing - Anxiety attacks wreck havoc on your breathing. Anxiety is a result of a lack of oxygen in your brain (wikipedia "flight or fight response" if you're interested in why that is) and means that adrenaline rushes through your system as the heart speeds up in the attempt to get more oxygen circulating.

Your poor little heart is trying so hard to do the things your brain wants. Your brain is telling your heart to prepare for a perceived threat and then freaking out when it actually responds. It sucks, right? Try to stop for a second and catch your breath.

Inhale through your mouth and count. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4.

Exhale through your nose. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6.

Practice this. Practice breathing. It sounds a little silly but it is something you have to re-learn if you're struggling with anxiety. It's so incredibly easy to forget how to relax and reset.

Have a look at Common Sense Psychology and Chinese Holistic Health Exercises for more breathing exercises.

Distract Yourself - An oldie but a goody. If you're the kind of person that functions better if you banish the thought then do that! Don't embrace something if you can't sit in your anxiety. Generally the best distraction is something that doesn't require intense concentration ie. trying to read a book might not be the best idea. Try to do something physical, it'll help get your breathing back on track and get rid of the adrenaline coursing through your veins. It's a good idea to keep a list of the best distractions because when you're panicked the ideas may not spring to mind.

For examples of distraction techniques click here.

Self Talk - This is part of the CBT model (cognitive behavioral therapy), basically breaking down your thoughts and figuring out why they are untrue. Perhaps you are afraid of passing out. Think about how likely this is. Consider what would happen if you did pass out. How would it realistically effect you? Would people think poorly of you if you did? Would it really be so bad? Logically, if you saw a person pass out, you would be inclined to help. You're basically thinking about why your anxiety is inaccurate and unjustified. It can really work, and again, practice makes perfect.

For a great resource of information on anxiety and self talk, try goju.

Do you have any tips on managing anxiety?

Anything that has really helped you?

What are your experiences with anxiety?

Are you part of the 12%?


Caitlin said...

I just discovered your blog today and I love it! I found the link on TFS.

I have also struggled with panic disorder for years. It is a daily struggle for me. I have learned to control my panic attacks through positive dialogue but I still suffer from physical symptoms such as upset stomach and dizziness.

In the past, I allowed my anxiety to "win" and I became terribly depressed and just hopeless. I am determined not to let this happen again and am trying to keep a healthy, active lifestyle.

I find that the best thing I can do to fight anxiety is to constantly challenge myself and conquer my fears. For example, recently I started taking voice lessons and performed by myself in a recital yesterday. This was a huge fear that I had had for so long and even though I was nervous and was experiencing terrible anxiety beforehand, I succeeded by performing in front of a crowd! Now, I feel as if I have more control over my anxiety and my confidence has risen tremendously.

I wish you the best of luck with conquering your anxiety and keep up the good work with the blog!! I'll definitely be adding you to my favorites :)

Pop Culture said...

Wow, congratulations Caitlin! That's huge!
It's so hard not to let your anxiety win though, I know exactly what you mean, and it's such a dominant feeling.
Thanks so much for replying, it's so good to hear other people's stories about anxiety especially when it involves great successes!