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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