Anxiety doesn’t feel good. Nobody wants it. Everyone wants to get rid of it and get rid of it NOW. I certainly did.
And that’s fair enough.
If you’ve suffered extreme or continuous anxiety for any length of time you’ve got every right to want to see the back of it. The problem is that we frequently tackle recovery with such a sense of urgency that we miss vital ‘bits’ of information and wind up back where we started. In western culture, it’s not unusual to panic about panic, or get anxious about anxiety – most of us are taught from an early age to view experiences as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and do whatever we have to do to eradicate or switch off the ‘bad’. With this in mind, it makes sense that we would look for the quickest route out of struggle town.
No one can tell you how long it will take to work your way through and out of an anxiety disorder, but I can tell you that the sooner you widen your focus, the sooner you’ll get to the bottom of it. Anxiety disorders take time to develop and they’re most often the result of a very complex interplay of factors. Addressing one factor or another is fine – and it may alleviate anxiety for some time – however, it’s unlikely to serve as a sustainable solution. At some point our approach needs to change from essentially putting out ‘spot fires’ to considering the whole picture. For any sort of permanent shift to occur, we need to start from the ground up and pay attention to what anxiety is telling us.
Starting from the ground up might look a bit like this….
Investigate any physical contributors with your GP and arrange treatment.
Identify any vitamin or mineral deficiencies. A lack of certain nutrients may contribute to increased levels of anxiety or depression, so it’s well worth taking stock of what you may be missing. Examples include B or D group vitamins, magnesium, zinc, potassium, selenium, Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids and amino acids such as GABA (Gamma Aminobutyric Acid) and L-theanine.
Identify any genetic or metabolic abnormalities that may impact your ability to process certain essential nutrients.
Identify any hormonal issues eg. over or underactive thyroid, hormonal imbalance.
Rule out other conditions that may contribute to or mimic the symptoms of anxiety such as diabetes, asthma and heart disease.
Ensure that your body and brain are receiving the nutrients they need on a daily basis.
If medication is necessary in conjunction with therapy, develop a plan of attack with your GP or psychiatrist.
Get informed about your options. Remember that your health professional works for you and should work with you to find a solution that you are comfortable with.
Arrange for your GP/Psychiatrist to review any existing medication
Arrange for your GP/Psychiatrist to monitor new medication
Seek referral to a mental health professional – psychologist, psychiatrist, counsellor etc with expertise in working with anxiety disorders.
Develop an understanding of what is happening within your body when you experience anxiety (Fight, flight, freeze)
Access information and resources from reputable websites and publications to better understand the type of anxiety you are experiencing and treatment options available. You could start here, or try the Beyond Blue resources page a http://www.beyondblue.org.au/resources
Understand the recovery process. There will be ups and downs, setbacks and successes. This is normal.
Share information about how to best assist you with people who are willing to support you through the recovery process.
Consider Lifestyle Factors
Address workplace stressors - Consider the type of work you are doing – Is the workload reasonable? Are the hours suitable? What is expected of you? What do you expect of yourself? Is this realistic? There may be some wiggle room that would help to ease the pressure, or you may come to realize that you’re a square peg in a round hole and it’s time to try something that better suits you as a person.
If study is overwhelming, consider reducing your study load temporarily.
Work to resolve major conflicts and interpersonal issues. Unresolved issues or ongoing tension will only fuel your anxiety.
Get out and about – Anxiety thrives when you’re isolated and silent, so make sure you stay connected with friends and family where possible. Joining a support group or linking into a social group via a site like Meetup is a great way to keep interacting with others with similar interests or challenges.
Remember to have fun - Discover what makes you tick and make time to engage in it. Creativity is the natural enemy of fear and anxiety.
Get active – Any form of cardiovascular exercise will provide you with a healthy dose of feel-good endorphins, burn up excess adrenalin and lower your anxiety in general. No need to sweat it out at the gym, a simple walk will do the trick.
Put the right fuel in the tank – Again, eat what your body needs nutritionally & stay away from stimulants eg excess sugar or caffeine.
Get an adequate amount of sleep – 7 or 8 hours is the ideal and helps keep anxiety from escalating. If you’re having trouble sleeping, consider speaking with your GP and learn more about sleep hygiene.
Limit the use of alcohol and avoid illicit drugs – Both have the potential to increase anxiety due to their effect on neurotransmitters in the brain. For more information visit:
Address any other factors that may be contributing to ongoing anxiety or panic with a qualified therapist eg.
Gain advice from a qualified mental health professional about practical strategies for anxiety management and identify what works for you.
Some examples include:
Acceptance/Expansion & Defusion techniques
Graded Exposure exercises
Creating a ‘worry-period’
Practical problem solving
Mindfullness and relaxation exercises
Check your Attitude!
I often use the analogy that if the Lotteries Commission called to inform you that you had just won 30 billion dollars, the physical symptoms you would experience would be very similar, if not identical, to what you feel when you’re anxious – increased heart rate, shortness of breath, a rush of adrenalin, trembling etc. The only difference is that you would label one ‘excitement’ and the other ‘anxiety’. You would invite excitement in with open arms and most likely tell anxiety to take a hike. It stands to reason that if the physical symptoms are virtually the same in both instances, it’s our perception of what these feelings mean in the moment that makes life difficult. So, we DO have a choice. We can’t choose whether or not certain thoughts and feelings make an appearance, but we can choose how we respond to them – and this makes a BIG difference.
Attitude is the most important weapon you can have in your anti-anxiety artillery. If you feel like a helpless victim, you will remain a helpless victim. On the other hand, if you are open to receiving whatever the anxiety monster throws at you with an ‘ok, do your worst, so what?’ attitude, the anxiety monster will get woefully bored and go find someone else to pick on.
That’s accepting anxiety for what it is. But what about accepting the fact that anxiety is happening full stop? This layer of the attitude cake involves dropping any judgements you may have about yourself being one of ‘those’ people. You know, the ones with eight legs, 12 arms and 13 heads that get ‘mental health’ issues? I’m joking of course. The perception that you are weak, or abnormal for experiencing a mental health issue will keep you exactly where you are if you choose to direct it at yourself. It is simply untrue. By carrying this shame, we also give away our ability to inform or empower anyone else. So accept how anxiety feels, accept that it’s happening to you and accept that it has nothing to do with strength or weakness. The sooner you stop judging yourself and feeling shameful, the easier it will be.
Develop a Relapse Prevention Plan
Something that is not often addressed is the fact that life happens, and anxiety can flare up again as a result. This is not a bad thing if we are ready for it to make an appearance. A relapse prevention plan is much like a bushfire plan in a rural area. It provides us with a quick reminder of what to do before things reach crisis point. As relapse or ‘setbacks’ are a natural part of the recovery process it’s a handy thing to have in place and an active record of the supports and strategies that work best for us when things aren’t going so well. To view an example of a Relapse Prevention Plan click here.
Anxiety can be the devil incarnate or it can provide us with a life-changing opportunity to reconsider many of the beliefs, rules and practices that no longer serve us. It gives us the chance to really get to know ourselves, our values and what matters most to us as an individual BUT, we need to be willing to look at the whole story and this takes time, patience and self-honesty.
© Kate Henderson @ The Panic Room SA
Please note: The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only. It should not be construed as, nor relied upon as medical or personal advice.