This is the third installment on anxiety.
My apologies for the delay in between posts. My previous web host ran into all sorts of difficulties and I had to move the blog and the web site to a new host.
Before going further, let me again say that this site does not substitute in any fashion for treatment or diagnosis by a professional. And this is a good time to mention that whenever someone first experiences anxiety or any other psychiatric illness, a thorough physical examination by your PCP is in order. Many physical illnesses lead to changes in mood, functioning, mental status, etc. Once those illnesses are ruled out, then seeking professional treatment is indicated.
We can now start talking about various anxiety reduction and stress management techniques now that the definitions are in hand.
As a refresher, according to Wikipedia, “Anxiety occurs unconnected to a specific identifiable external stimulus; as such it is distinguished from fear, which occurs in the presence of an identifiable threat.”
One of the first steps in assessing anxiety is to determine if there is any actual external threat. If so, the job of anxiety reduction is made easy. For example, if a person complains of anxiety in the late afternoon, we look to see what may be happening in the late afternoon or evenings that might lead to anxious feelings. If we find that the husband often comes home from work in a foul mood and yells a lot, then this may lead to anxious anticipation of his arrival at home.
The question might arise about why someone would be anxious rather than fearful in these situations. The answer, for better or worse, is lengthy. I will try to devote time to this topic in a later post. For now, let’s simply say that anxiety sometimes seems more bearable than the idea that your life partner is intolerable.
Where there is an external threat, two lines of approach are helpful.
First, anxiety reduction techniques come into play. I’ll get to those in a moment.
Second, if the threat is the husband (or any other external stressor), then more effective ways need to be developed to better deal with the threat. The specific strategies will vary according to the nature of the threat. If it’s the husband, perhaps helping the wife with expressing how his yelling affects her would help. Or perhaps some assertiveness and limit setting is called for. Yet again, it may be that marital therapy would be most beneficial. The list of possibilities goes on. However, the point is to improve the person’s skills for dealing with the situation that threatens them.
Back to anxiety reduction techniques. There are five cornerstones. Each is critical in the reduction of anxiety, although some are harder to achieve than others.
1. Good sleep habits. To keep this post brief, allow me to direct you to a page from the University of Maryland Medical Center. That will help explain the basics of good sleep hygiene.
2. Good diet. Caffeine, sugar, missed meals, highly processed foods are all gasoline to the fires of anxiety. While not exactly a food group, at least for most folks, alcohol and other intoxicants as well as nicotine can also ignite anxiety. For more details on good eating habits, you can go to becomehealthynow.com as well as the glycemicindex.com. It’s hard to overemphasize how much of a role diet plays.
3. Light exercise. This means nothing more than a 20 minute walk around the block. Any kind of physical activity that involves your whole body. But it does not include competitive sports and similar events where there are goals and expectations (read those as stress inducing).
There is a way to cheat on this if you absolutely cannot fit 20 minutes of light outdoor exercise into your day. But it should not be used as a substitute on a regular basis. Again, for the sake of brevity in this post, I’ll direct you to two other sites. The first one is from About.com. The second one comes from RealAge.com. These instructions aren’t quite the same as the ones I use, but they are close enough so that it doesn’t really matter.
4.Fun. This simple word is often the most difficult for people to be able to do. Whatever it is that you consider fun, schedule it in to your week. Fun is an antidote to the build up of stress and anxiety.
5.Get out of the house and socialize, do things with friends and family. Yes, even if you don’t feel like or think that you won’t enjoy yourself or worry that you’ll spoil everything because of your anxieties.
If those are the cornerstones, then the ground upon which they rest is breathing. For a host of physiological reasons, that I will get to in a later post in this topic, breathing is an essential element in both the kindling process of anxiety as well as in reducing anxiety.
Breathing by using your diaphragm is the simplest and most effective anxiety reduction technique that I know (excluding medications). The main problem with this method is that it is so easy, most people don’t think it can be effective. Until I get to the physiological basis of anxiety, you’ll have to trust me on this.
Here are two youtube videos that demonstrate the process. Once you learn how to do it, you can use it everywhere and no one can tell that you are doing. It does not at all need to be as formal as in these videos. They are lying down and being thorough to make a good instruction aide. You can breathe with your diaphragm while walking up the stairs or sitting in a chair at dinner.
I think that’s enough for this post. Next, I’ll try to get to the physical processes involved in stress and anxiety.