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Taming Anxiety Now

Note the title.  Taming anxiety--not curing it.

Most people troubled by an oveactive amigdala don't eliminate the problem altogether, they learn to manage it.  When it hits, they have ways to weaken its grip and lessen its impact. 


Imagine yourself in an ocean typhoon, huge waves tossing your boat about, every roiling surge threatening to swallow you whole.  If you could tame those swells to mere ripples lapping at your craft, you'd gladly accept a bit of swaying and rocking until it stopped.  Storms happen, and they pass, but in the middle of a maelstrom it's good to know ways to tame the turbulence.  

Breathe.  It doesn't have to be a certain number or counting the seconds of each inhale and exhale.  Just breathe, and focus on it.  Conscious breathing sends a message to our brains that we're slowing down, and the brain, in turn, signals the parasympathetic nervous system to lower our heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and generally calm the body.  Here's an excellent, easy-to-follow guide, from Anxiety Canada (click the arrow). 


The 3/3/3 Reset.  Look around you and name 3 things you see.  Say them aloudl  Then identify three sounds you hear, and say them.  Finally, name three body parts that you can feel (e.g., your butt on the chair, your toes in your shoes, a coolness in your nostrils).  This reconnects you to the Now, the present, the 'time zone' of your existence, while pulling you from the 'what if?' future zone anxiety needs to survive. 

Fact Check.  Your mother had a stroke, and you're 2,000 miles away.  You want to be there but cannot, at least for the next several days.  You imagine the scenarios--she's all alone, no one with her; she'll never walk again; or worst of all, she dies (and you're not there).  A call to the doctor, or her best friend, is your fact check, and it washes away the worries.  When your anxiety is tied to something specific, rather than a general, free-floating sense of disquiet, you can ease the tension by the same process: checking reality.  Here's a good source for how to fact check.

Fact Check Your Panic.  When caught up in a panic, an all-systems-involved crisis, ideas of disaster run wild.  Your tight chest, cold sweats, panting breaths, and soaring heart rate say you're going to die--or at least have a heart attack, collapse, or something else.  Learn to fact check it, so you can draw upon reality when it's happening.  Here are the myths, and here are the facts.

Activate.  Fear makes us stop, look, and listen.  It's designed that way, by evolution, helping us survive tiger attacks, precipice falls, enemy ambushes, and other dangers.  But anxiety is fear gone haywire.  So do something.  Clean a desk, make a bed, do laundry, take a walk.  Your body is adrenalized, that old fight-or-flight thing, so use the juice.  Bonus: you'll have to focus your mind, at least to some degree, on that desk, the sheets, laundry, neighborhood . . .

Connect With Others.  Most people with chronic or acute anxiety have a friend or two they've confided in.  Call them, let them know how you're feeling, what it's like, how scared your mind is.  It will help.  Even if you don't have a confidant like this, you can tap into others' panic and anxiety stories, adjusting your perspective.  Bussfeed has 25, and reading them will give you the grounding of knowing, once again, that you're not alone.

--   Richard Boersma

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