by Donna Gibbs
This blog is always designed to be relevant to the struggles of everyday life, and to the issues that come through the door of our counseling centers. So when I considered the most relevant topic of the week, I knew this week’s blog had to be about anxiety. Without a doubt, this is a season that fuels the sparks of anxiety. The news is full of domestic and international unrest, causing even those not naturally bent toward anxiety to experience some of the pangs of fear. For those who are predisposed toward anxiety, or those who are vulnerable due to some previous trauma, these concerns can potentially fuel a fear that is crippling.
If you are experiencing anxiety regarding your current circumstances, or anything else in this tumultuous world, then you are likely experiencing some physical symptoms of discomfort: shallow breathing with rapid heart rate, nausea, headache, dizziness, sweating, and/or tingling. The genuine physical cascade of symptoms creates even more angst, often landing individuals experiencing these symptoms in the ER with concern of heart-attack or some other serious condition. I am going to share a brief checklist below of steps to take if anxiety is getting the best of you:
1. See your physician to rule out potential medical issues related to your physical symptoms.
2. Having ruled out medical complications, talk truthfully to yourself about your anxiety. A panic attack will feel like it can kill you. Truth is, it cannot hurt you. Reminding yourself of this truth diminishes the power of the bully of anxiety. Your season of anxiety will pass.
3. Avoid caffeine or other stimulants (yes – skip that much-loved morning pick-me-up coffee, your afternoon sweet tea, and your favorite chocolate dessert). These will only increase your unwelcomed symptoms.
4. Breathe deeply. Be mindful of your breathing, and allow your symptoms to calm. You can gain control of your physical symptoms, vs their controlling you.
5. Exercise. Exercise positively impacts areas in the brain that channel serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine (the great mental health chemicals in the brain). Exercise works like a med! While you’re at it, take advantage of the self-induced increased heart-rate, and get some practice lowering your pulse so that you have more confidence when you encounter an elevated pulse due to anxiety or panic attack.
6. Reduce unnecessary stressors. Some stressors of life are unavoidable. But unnecessary stressors invite unnecessary suffering. You’re already suffering enough. It’s time to simplify.
7. Tell yourself the truth. Much of anxiety is a battle of the mind. Tell yourself the truth, not a minimized or exaggerated version of the truth that creates angst. If you have difficulty discerning truth, seek help. A professional counselor can help you discern and replace destructive thoughts.
8. Assertively use meditation and repetition. Anxiety is fueled by repetition and meditation on destructive and false beliefs. Recovery is found in repetition and meditation of truth. As I often tell clients, “You get out the same way you got in”. Cling to scriptural truths. Agree with God. Test your thoughts against His. And then allow Him to “transform and renew your mind” (Romans 12:2). Your brain, and your anxiety, will literally be changed through the tools of meditation and repetition of truth. Neuroplasticity is a beautiful thing!
9. Consider meds if your anxious thoughts are obsessive and crippling (if they are interfering with daily functioning). Be cautious about use of acute meds which can be addictive if overused. Ask your physician to provide information regarding a group of maintenance meds, or SSRI’s, that may assist you in managing crippling symptoms. Remember, meds are not a cure-all; you’re still going to have to do the hard work.
10. Don’t allow anxiety to bully you! It will shrink your world if you allow. In fear of the next episode of panic, you’ll avoid the people or places that you fear will leave you vulnerable. This only empowers the anxiety. Instead, embrace opposite action. Don’t believe the anxiety! Rebel against the bully.
Finally, let’s remember that a little bit of anxious concern is good. Yes, it can allow us to be more pro-active, more focused, and more detail-oriented. It can keep our care at a healthy level. But, a good thing turned too high… is still too high. So keep check on your concern, and when it turns toxic, take some of the steps above to turn it down.
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