Anxiety and Our Lives
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition known to those of us in the field as the DSM-5, basically the bible of mental health, classifies Anxiety Disorders with ten subcategories. The most basic subcategory of the Anxiety Disorders is Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Some of the criteria includes: “excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation), occurring more days than not for at least six months, about a number of events or activities and the individual finds it difficult to control the worry” (DSM-5). Also listed are physical symptoms such as, restlessness, being easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and/or sleep disturbance. There are three additional criteria listed to be met in order to qualify as an official diagnosis.
As you can see, most of us at one time or another have experienced these symptoms. We are all equipped with anxiety. If this feeling was not present in us we would not have survived as the human race. The problem is that we don’t need the same type of anxiety today that the cavemen did to survive but unfortunately there are those that are more sensitive or predisposed and anxiety can become debilitating.
One of my first experiences as a mental health therapist introduced me to such anxiety. An older gentleman came to the office in crisis so they called me, the intern at the time. I brought him back to my office and offered him a seat but all he could do was pace back and forth in my tiny office. At first sight he was a tall and intimidating man. He was irritable and he was panicking. I had no idea that what I was witnessing was a panic attack, something I had never seen. Being a newbie, I was scared. I kept it together and was able to help him calm down. Once calm his demeanor was completely different. I began working with him on a regular basis and in the end he was my favorite client while working as an intern and he became one of the most influential clients in my career.
Working with this man led me to discover and explore not only my own anxiety but continue to develop my skills in the area of anxiety disorders in order to help others. Outside of working with children and families, working with anxiety disorders became my specialty.
Related article: “THE LAW OF ATTRACTION: WHAT IS IT?”
When I look back on being a child I can remember times when I would get this feeling in the pit of my stomach when situations were uncomfortable or scary. It felt awful. I felt sick. Unfortunately, it happened often. That feeling in my stomach I now know is referred to as “butterflies”. I also now know that was a symptom of anxiety. As an adult I have learned to combat my anxiety but as a kid I was helpless. As an adult I’ve learned that anxiety, in its general form that most of us experience is just a fancy word for stress, fear, and worry or simply put being scared. And although it can be simplified in words it can become quite complicated in our lives.
Worry can be categorized as thoughts. Worry is what may keep you up late at night while being anxious describes the feeling. Because we tend to ignore or avoid our thoughts especially those of worry we only take notice there is a problem when the feeling becomes physical like nausea, shakiness, loss of appetite, and/or crying spells. I educate my clients to recognize the physical symptoms because those symptoms are you brain’s way of getting your attention.
The brain first attempts with thoughts but once ignored it needs another avenue which is where the physical symptoms come into play. The symptoms will continue to get louder or more intense the more you ignore the source. This becomes a vicious cycle, which then opens another can of worms such as, limiting beliefs that will stop you from achieving your goals. And when you are trying to achieve or attract something-love, money, a job-“worrying is using your imagination to create something you do not want”. (Hicks, 2004, p. 27)
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My study of psychology, in particular the Law of Attraction, has enabled me to better understand not only disorders like anxiety but thoughts and feelings in general and how they relate to getting what you want.
There is so much power in your thoughts and feelings. You can either strengthen that which you don’t want or that which you do want. In “Ask and it is Given” by Esther and Jerry Hicks it states, “The Law of Attraction says: That which is like unto itself is drawn.” If your thoughts are consistently focused on worry, then you will attract things that do not feel good. When I ask the question “would you rather feel good or feel bad?” most people answer “feel good”. Well, newsflash feelings and thoughts are a choice! This was a hard lesson for me to learn and even harder to teach but a true statement nonetheless.
So what to do when anxiety strikes?
Our first instinct is to avoid anything that feels uncomfortable. But the more you avoid the worse it gets. This is especially true for specific fears. You begin to avoid situations, people, places or things. Once it starts affecting your daily living then it has become a problem.
One of the best things to do when a fear holds you back is to attack it directly. I know you are saying “if I could do that I wouldn’t have the fear”, I get it. Thankfully help is available. Traditional therapy is great for addressing anxiety of any type. More and more people are also choosing to work with life coaches like myself due to the ease and flexibility. But life coaches do have their limits, since life coaching isn’t the same as therapy. If a fear or anxiety is too deeply rooted, a therapist would be your best choice.
For a full mindmap behind this article with articles, videos, and documents see #anxiety
More generalized worry on the other hand can be worked through independently if you are willing to be consistent and accountable to yourself. Keeping a journal is a great way to build awareness which is the first step. Your conscious mind has the ability to “manage 1 to 3 events at a time and the ability to process an average of 2,000 bits of information per second”. (Canfield, 2007, p. 20) Needless to say your conscious mind is busy and your unconscious mind is even busier with “the ability to process an average of 4,000,000,000 bits of information per second”. (Canfield, 2007, p. 21) So, you are not always aware of what may be lingering in your thoughts. That is, until those sleepless nights occur and your brain decides to fill you in when you are supposed to be sleeping. Journaling or writing down your thoughts literally sends your brain the message “I’ve taken care of this thought so you are free to stop thinking about it”; at least for a short time.
Additional strategies to try include: prayer, meditation, practicing gratitude, grounding or distraction, reframing or visualization.
Grounding or distraction is a quick and easy way to address anxiety. There are three categories of grounding: mental grounding, soothing grounding, and physical grounding. An example of mental grounding would be to count very slowly backward from 100, soothing grounding would be to repeat a safety statement, and physical grounding would be to run your hands under cold water. This is one of my favorite techniques to teach because of the ease and numerous ways in which to implement.
Meditation and prayer or visualization are a bit more difficult and take practice. A simple search can lead to tools, many of which are free, to help guide you through these processes.
Reframing takes effort but comes only after you have gained awareness. Reframing is taking a negative thought and changing the thought into a positive thought. The goal is to retrain your brain. Once you become proficient in reframing, your brain can help have automatic positive thoughts instead of automatic negative thoughts.
Remember: feelings and thoughts are a choice. Just because you think it doesn’t make it true!
Recommended reading: “DOCTORS MAY START TREATING CHILDHOOD ANXIETY DISORDERS WITH YOGA”
EDITOR’S NOTE: THE OPINIONS EXPRESSED HERE BY IMPAKTER.COM COLUMNISTS ARE THEIR OWN, NOT THOSE OF IMPAKTER.COM.