Fretting and worrying? Managing your anxiety

Getting anxiety managed rather than under control is the topic of today’s post. Anxiety can stem from the good intentions of wanting to do everything right, for things to go smoothly or the way we imagined them, and life just does not operate that way. Throw in some hormones ladies and gentleman, and it is the recipe for feeling like a fantastic bundle-​of-​nerves. Learning to manage anxiety is our goal, as controlling it puts us in the wrong frame of mind.

Anxiety is both behavioural change, mental change, and physical change

By now, I hope you know that I am the kind of doctor who believes in mind-​body medicine (even if I myself still experience difficulty managing the two in my own life!). We cannot simply deal with feelings of anxiety without considering the way we think, how our body encourages that feeling, and how are behaviour carries it out.

Changing anxious thought patterns (Mental)

1. Identifying themes. When you feel anxious, what are the triggers? Do you hate your job because your boss is a bully or do you not enjoy your commute? Is it talking to your sister about her huge wedding? There is always a thought behind the stimulating emotion that arises. Identifying the thoughts behind the anxiety can help with.…

2. Brainstorming some solutions. Once you know what is wrong, identifying ways to improve a situation or manage it will make you feel like you are doing something about it, which gives some control. For example, you may get very nervous around your sister’s maid of honour in her wedding, but you don’t have to be get involved in planning the shower with her if you know it will make you feel uncomfortable. You can choose to minimize your anxiety by reducing exposure to your triggers.

3. Predicting outcomes. Everyone is guilty of this. We anticipate the worst-​case scenario, when if we had remained neutral, it may not have gone that way anyway and we have wasted energy in being anxious. Even if there are detrimental outcomes (i.e. living though a natural disaster, as so many have in the last few days with Hurricane Irene), you may surprise yourself in your capacity to be resilient. Losing that horrible job can be a blessing down the road. 

Changing an “anxious” body

When we are used to feeling anxious, our nervous system responds in kind. Sometimes this involves suppression of the parasympathetic nervous system (the more “calm” part of our nervous system) or it can involve increased activity in the sympathetic nervous system (the more excitable, energy-​associated part of our nervous system). The end result is generally feeling a bit wired. To calm our bodies, we need to encourage the parasympathetic nervous system through behaviour and also herbal medicine which is fantastic for the support of anxiety. Passionflower, motherwort, St. John’s wort, and chamomile are but a few herbal interventions very useful for anxiety. Over the next few months, I will try to give each herb a bit of attention so you can see the differences. Of course, if you are currently taking medication for anxiety, some of these herbs can have additive effects and thus you would need to consult a doctor for advice.

Changing behaviour to reduce anxiety

Relaxation training and activities like meditation, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, and even hypnosis have proven to help with the management of anxiety.

Finally, it can be difficult to attempt all of these changes on your own. The support of a qualified mental health professional (psychologist, psychotherapist, or psychiatrist) may be required and a huge asset to your progress.

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