I was at a conference two weeks ago and one of the common maladies being considered was the “panic attack.” They are more common than ever, it seems. You may have experienced your heart racing and your mind filling with doomsday visions as you worry about everything around you, including whether you’ll have more panic attacks or not be able to stop them.
About 40 million people eighteen or older in the United States, that’s 18% of the population, will suffer from an anxiety disorder this year. David Rosmarin, the director of the Center for Anxiety at Harvard says, “We’ve seen a massive increase in services in New York City in the last six months. From North Korea to hurricanes, we live with a greater degree of uncertainty. What it boils down to is: How much can people tolerate it when they don’t know what’s going to happen next?”
To make matters more anxiety-provoking, there’s an overwhelming number of methods to which you might turn to help you manage life in these uncertain times. (Coping might not be a DIY situation for you, so you might need to contact Circle Counseling).
Check your thinking: just because you are anxious does not mean you’re disordered
There’s an important distinction between anxiety and an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is a natural reaction to stress — it’s not necessarily pathological or dangerous. There’s the point where it becomes a “condition.” It depends on the level of persistence, the severity, sense of distress, and if it’s impacting day-to-day function.
So, for example, if you feel anxiety while watching the news, you probably don’t need to do anything about that (except maybe turn off the TV, go for a walk or take some deep breaths). But if your anxiety is interfering with your concentration, ability to focus or sleep (or, as the DSM-5 says, if you have worry for more days than not for at least six months) — those things point toward disorder and you should find a counselor. But for anyone who has some nervousness, anxiety or stress, there are many coping strategies you can try on your own.
Even at extreme levels, anxiety is uncomfortable but generally does not result in death. (Even if it doesn’t feel like that at the time.)
Get out of control
Anxiety is an excessive focus on something that might happen in the future. It is always related to a perceived lack of control.
Jesus followers started following Jesus because they saw the truth that they were not supposed to be in control and could not manage the authority of being so, so they returned to a proper relationship of trust in God.
When things feel “out of control” we can do very practical things to put ourselves back in an appropriate track. Rather than focusing on what we can’t control, we can focus on what we are given to manage. Think about how you can contribute, do things, make progress. Just walk outside — even that does wonders. Talk therapy is rarely a bad thing.
You might think about “editing” your life to help bring back a sense of empowerment. This means giving up things that contribute to anxiety.
Medication can have its place
Many doctors urge caution, however, with regard to prescriptions, as well as indulging too heavily in “self-medicating” with beers or rosé with friends. Keep in mind, however, that there’s an increased association between anxiety and alcohol and other substance abuse. And drinking too much can ultimately make you feel even more anxious. So turn to rosé cautiously.
Meds do have a role for some people either short or long term as they are generally safe under the care of a doctor. A person should use them only so far as they help deal with the problem, Ultimately, people have to face their fear. To get a person to that place, that’s the art of therapy.
Even people who don’t care about God think praying is great. It doesn’t have to be scary. Begin with a very simple daily practice in the beginning of the day. Keep it to five minutes, or do five breath cycles if five minutes causes anxiety. For example, breathe out anxiety, breathe in goodness, strength, or whatever you’re trying to cultivate, all in the safe presence of the Holy Spirit.
If you sit down and enter a space you’ve decided is safe and healthy and healing, it sends a message to the rest of your system that you are not just at the whim of all the other things that are going on.
This is also where you might work in gratitude, or the practice of being grateful for what you have. I have a friend who keeps a list of things on her iPhone that make her feel good (reading a few of them made me feel good, too!). Others write in journals or think of a positive thing — or several — before going to sleep at night.
Go into more natural settings and attend to the trees, the weather or the ocean. It will refocus your attention away from the worries and toward God. Going to the cell and the Sunday meeting, getting out to help somebody else or protest, provides ways to be among good human nature.
Control the phone
Lots of people sleep with their phone, or right next to it. It’s generally the first thing they look at in the morning, and the last thing they look at before they go to bed. That’s asking for anxiety. Try turning off your ringer and all alerts so you don’t immediately respond to texts or calls. The Moment app might help you, since it tracks how much time you are looking at apps on your phone. Get off the devices and try to spend time with people you care about and restrict how much you interact with anxiety-provoking topics.
The exercise, dance, sports are not guilty pleasures or luxuries, they are ways to take care of oneself so you can engage more meaningfully. Even if you don’t feel that great when you are there, plod to the gym. The endorphins are nice, and the process gives you a sense of mastery over your situation and your body. That reduces anxiety.
Packing our schedules with activities and obligations takes a toll, no matter how much we want to do them. Maybe you need to get over your “FOMO issues” — Fear of Missing Out. Anxiety creeps up when we let demands — even fun distractions — from the outside have their way with us When we say no it feels like we’re reshuffling the decks so we are a priority and not “the things.”
Try working backward. What do you want your life to look like? What do you want your day to look like? Whenever you come up against the feeling of dread, instead of saying “I have to do this,” say ‘I GET to do this, what will this GET me?’ If what you are asked to do does not align, then stop doing that.
… But say yes to the right things
“Self care” has become a suspicious phrase because it’s often a marketing strategy for things that feel frivolous. But we should not throw the baby out with the scented bath water.
Need some ideas? I collected some the other week. But here are some more:
- Do a sheet mask (it requires you to lie down motionless);
- adopt an anti-inflammatory diet;
- sleep at least eight hours a night;
- read poetry or fiction and don’t read all the latest articles;
- watch the best TV, including escapist favorites like 30 Rock, or The Great British Baking Show;
- ride a roller coaster every few weeks. North Korea may be beyond your comprehension. But being upside down at 60 miles per hour is not is a fear you can handle.
- Spend quality time with friends, both furry and human;
- Be with kids, yours or borrowed. They can really help put things in perspective.
Ask for help
Panic often leads to isolation. The shame of not feeling completely, personally capable is part of our original sin. If you need to press the numbers through tears, that’s OK. Call someone. Spending time with people who you find supportive, professional or otherwise, is one of the most protective things.
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