The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another. -William James
These days, it seems like the word anxiety is thrown around a lot and many people all over the world are in a constant state of stress. What’s causing this phenomenon to run so rampant in our society today? One might argue that job stress or rising poverty levels might be to blame. But if that were the case, anxiety wouldn’t affect people like stay-at-home-moms, or the wealthy, and we know that just isn’t true. Anxiety knows no social status and can strike anyone–if they let it.
So what then is the cause?
Although there are many theories to help address this question, it goes without saying that as Americans, we are growing increasingly distant from one another. Human contact has decreased dramatically compared to just 30 years ago, long before the technology driven days of social media and texting. Studies show that face-to-face human interaction and social support- Something that our society greatly lacks in-has been linked to increased mental stability and a decrease in overall stress.
Another theory is that we have become intolerant of negative feelings and heavily reliant on treatments that help mask the associated feelings of stress and anxiety. Simply put, we do not want to feel bad, ever. So we turn to things like prescription or recreational drugs, alcohol abuse, or other destructive behaviors as a means of escape. Instead of facing our fears head-on, we bury them deep and try to forget them.
This is a topic that I went back and forth with in my mind as I haven’t always felt comfortable talking about my personal struggles with anxiety. More and more however, I am realizing that I’d like to make it part of my life’s mission to share what I’ve endured in hopes of helping others facing similar challenges. I mean, what good would it do for the world if I kept it all to myself?
Having suffered with horrible panic attacks, agoraphobia and generalized anxiety for many years while growing up, I know first hand how debilitating, unpredictable, and frightening the symptoms can be. Luckily after careful practice and perseverance, I was able to heal myself naturally simply through the reversal of certain thought patterns and a complete modification of my diet/overall health regimen.
Although there are still some days where I’ll experience anxiety along with the uncomfortable sensations that go along with it, I am no longer afraid of the feelings nor do I let them control me. I simply let them come over me and pass –and they ALWAYS pass. One thing I’ve learned is that nothing in this life is permanent. Nothing at all. Everything always changes and circumstances–no matter how awful, do change and improve.
Another important point to remember is that we are always 100% in control of the thoughts that come into our minds. It may not always feel that way, but it’s true. Certain thoughts may become automatic simply because we have thought them repeatedly. The trick is to recognize the negative thoughts and understand what the core fear is. You see, every negative, foreboding thought that comes into our mind has a certain fear associated with it. Once you understand the core fear, you will be able to replace the negative thought with a more positive and realistic one. I will talk more about core fears and the “thought stop, thought swap” method in a future post.
Old habits die hard
There were many bad habits perpetuating my anxiety throughout the years that I didn’t even realize I was doing. It took a while to identify them and make a conscious effort to change. These were some of the most crucial ones that I recommend for people to begin reversing:
1. Worrying about your physical or mental symptoms and looking up their cause online.
This can become a vicious cycle if you let it spiral out of control. You begin to feel the physical sensations of anxiety such as heart palpitations or numbness. Immediately, you search for diseases which are associated with the symptoms. Much to your horror, the symptoms are directly related to a life-threatening or illness such as heart attack or Multiple Sclerosis. Or, you can’t seem to think straight all of a sudden and feel like you’re outside of your body. So, you decide to google that learn that it is the first sign of psychosis. Your symptoms seem to then intensify creating an upheaval in additional anxiety symptoms. Sound familiar?
Always keep in mind that the search results will automatically always pull up the worst-case-scenario. It has been estimated that 90% of doctors visits are directly related in one way or another to anxiety and stress. The best way to combat this is to of course, have a doctors visit to rule out all medical illnesses. Once you’ve done this, you can rest assured that your symptoms are directly related to anxiety. If it helps, read about the symptoms of anxiety such as panic attacks so you can understand how and why they occur (I will cover this topic in a future post).
2. Taking on too much at once.
Let’s face it, if you’re anything like me, you enjoy being independent and doing things on your own. Oftentimes, you may take on more than you can handle and end up feeling overwhelmed and anxious. It’s normal to feel stressed when working on a big project that requires your full attention while at the same time, managing your home life and keeping everything balanced. You’re only human and you cannot expect to do everything alone. You need to remember that it’s OK to ask for help once in a while. I’m still notorious for this although I’m slowly realizing that there are many tasks that simply need to be outsourced/delegated to others and I’m fine with this.
3. Keeping your feelings to yourself and bottling up your emotions.
One of the best ways to relieve anxiety is to discuss your worries with others. This is why occupations such as psychiatrists and psychoanalysts exist. However, you don’t need a psychotherapist of any kind to help you when you’re feeling this way. Simply talking to a trusted family member, authority figure, or a friend can be beneficial. If there’s no one in your life you feel you can open up to, there are many online groups and communities where you can connect with others like you, who share similar beliefs and or are enduring the same kinds of struggles. Such groups can bring you hope, comfort, and can aid you on your road to recovery. Just know that you never have to share more than you feel comfortable with.
Another bad habit is bottling up your emotions. As humans, we are naturally emotional beings–It’s what helps us survive and connect with others. Do not try and mask your emotions by pretending like everything is alright. We all have bad days and It’s ok to look and feel down once in a while. Chances are good that those who notice, have been through it themselves and can offer their own advice. Whatever you do, find someone to talk to!
4. Fighting the feelings instead of observing and accepting them
Perhaps the single most important reason for why you’re still anxious is constantly trying to fight the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that go along with anxiety. In Claire Weeks’ book, “Hope and help for your nerves” (which i highly recommend)
Click here to get it, she talks about accepting your feelings in the interim and letting go of the need to be in control. Stop over-analyzing what you’re going through. Instead, embrace the feelings and understand that they are a natural part of being human.
In fact, I’d suggest you learn to happily invite the feelings into your mind and body with open arms. It’s only when we’ve whole-hardheartedly accepted anxiety that we can heal from it….Stop running away from your fears. I remember vividly in spring 2009 when I did just that; I decided that I had had my last panic attack while driving. As the all too familiar feeling swept over me, instead of pulling over the car as I had normally done, I continued to drive. Even as both my hands felt completely numb from fear and my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest..I did not stop the car.
Within minutes, I felt the feelings leave my body, my breathing slowed down, and an overwhelming feeling of calm came over me. It was at that very moment that I discovered that I could in fact do anything WHILE feeling the awful feelings of fear…and that I would survive doing so.
After that day, I pushed through each and every panic attack that came over me until they eventually stopped all together. You see, it isn’t an overnight process and can take persistent positive thinking and perseverance to truly move past it all.
Where to start
If you want to finally heal and get your life back, you need to start by understanding anxiety, your core fears, and the anatomy of a panic attack. Also, in addition to reversing the aforementioned habits, it’s important to take care of yourself physically as well. That means, getting enough rest and exercising often to rid the body of harmful toxins which can build up and cause a multitude of illnesses. It doesn’t hurt to change your diet as well to include fresh fruits and vegetables whole grains, and healthy protein. Finding a support group which you can open up to can be a wonderful blessing as well.
It’s estimated that over 40 million Americans suffer with some form of anxiety, so you are not alone. The good news is that circumstances do not have to stay the way they are…you are in control of the thoughts and ideas that come into your head. Make them positive today!
Thanks for stopping by,