When anxiety halts you

Seamus is 35. He has a responsible job and a loving girlfriend. But he suffers from heightened anxiety that stops him from leading a normal life. It’s partly due to childhood abuse, partly from traumatic scenes he has witnessed as an adult, and partly from a health problem. He finds it hard to get up in the morning and get out through the front door.

Anxiety has many causes: trauma, PTSD, childhood abuse, of generalised anxiety disorder. Whatever the cause, it’s disabling and crippling. It stops you getting out of bed. It makes you retreat into yourself.

Ten strategies for overcoming anxiety

If there is unfinished history from your past that you haven’t dealt with, it may be worth seeing a therapist. But keep the number of sessions to no more than 12. Otherwise it will be a continuing merry go round where you go through the problem over and over again. Dwelling on it won’t solve the problem.

If you know what the problem is, maybe you’ve been to a counsellor, and you’re still anxious, it’s time to practise the following solutions.

1. Imagine your anxiety is a lion roaring behind you, stuck in its cage. Knowing it can’t get out means you can move forward and do things. Shout out to the lion behind you, “I know you’re there, but you can’t do anything. Roar as much as you want. I don’t care. I have things to do”

2. Practise tightening and then releasing your muscles, one by one. Get used to recognising which muscles are tense. Is it your neck, a tightening in your stomach, or the muscles around your mouth? Releasing the tension in those muscles will feed through to your brain, telling it all is well and educing your anxiety.

3. Consider getting medications from your GP to help you as you learn to fight your anxiety. There is every reason to do this. My ex-partner, a rheumatologist, told patients that the body often rushes in to fight something it senses as a threat. Medications would reduce her patients’ inflammation. The body would calm down, and stop barraging patients with chemicals, allowing the system to get back on an even keel. Reducing your anxiety through medication will allow you to fight a weaker opponent and overcome it. But as with counselling, don’t stay on the medications for more than 12 weeks. Otherwise, they become a crutch.

4. Write down your fears on paper. Put them all down: the things your worry about; the future events that cause you anxiety. Be specific, and number the items. It’s a way to face your demons. Putting a name to them will reduce their power over you.

I might fail

I’m not as good as they think I am

I don’t have talent

I can’t face my audience

I will make mistakes

This project will be a flop

I’m a fake.

They will be laughing at me

I’m worried about climate change

I feel for my children’s future

I have cancer/heart failure/liver failure

I fear death

I’m not a good enough parent

Then write a response for each. What would a best friend say to each of your worries?

Use a mood tracker, like the one below, from putthekettleon.ca. Whenever you feel an emotion, write it down, and identify its cause. If you were anxious, what was the subject of that anxiety.

5. Before going to bed, write down the things you need to do tomorrow. That allows your brain to relax, knowing it’s not its responsibility to remind you. Einstein never sought to remember anything, saying that putting things down in writing allowed him to focus on other things.

 6. Separate you and your anxiety, by giving it a name, such as Mr. Anxiety. Remind yourself that he and you are not the same person; and that you’ll have to put him in his place. Visualise putting Mr Anxiety

7. Put your bad history in a box in a room, and shut the door on it. Imagine a room in your house with a closed door. Behind it are is you main fear or anxiety, or a trauma from your past. The trauma is real, but the door is locked, and you don’t have to go into it. It exists, of course it does, but it’s not something that affects you.

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