Hey guys, remember me? I’m Chelsea, the “mountain-climbing” anxiety girl. I’ve been doing some reading lately on how to banish anxiety for good, and I’ve learned some new pointers. My book of the week was the Heal Your Anxiety Workbook: New Techniques for Moving From Panic to Inner Peace by John B. Arden, Ph.D.
A mouthful, I know.
Don’t let the title dissuade you, though. It’s not all wishy-washy “meditate and breathe and think of little pink butterflies and all your troubles will melt away” garbage. Arden’s book brought to light a lot of things that I’d never thought of, and he made a lot of sense. It was a workbook, and I benefited from that, but he stated the actual, exact things I’m doing to contribute to my general anxiety disorder. And of course– how to fix them. To save you guys the trouble, I’ve decided to outline a few key points Arden makes in his book.
The first point is to accept your bodily sensations. For example: when something happens to jump start my heart. Remembering a deadline I forgot about, a weird text message, or even the mere thought of a panic attack can all set my heart a-racing. As soon as my heart’s racing, it’s only a matter of time before I work myself into a tizzy over a bodily sensation. I associate the rapid heartbeat with a new attack, and soon I am anxious over nothing. But Arden points out that, just because you are having a “sensation” doesn’t mean that it’s something to panic over. Just accepting the sensation and letting it go is the first step in avoiding an attack. Whether for you this is clammy palms, chest constriction, nausea, or labored breathing– remember– just because you’re having a symptom of a panic attack, doesn’t mean you are having one. It’s no reason to freak out and trigger the attack yourself.
Another of Arden’s points is (ironically) avoiding avoidant behavior. What this means is that when you purposely drive past a restaurant you want to eat at– because your ex might be there, and that too much for you to handle– you are demonstrating avoidant behavior. Another example is someone who has a fear of dogs. At first they may stop going to places dogs may be (pet shops, parks, etc…) Then they might stop running for fear of encountering a dog. Then they might stop leaving their house entirely. You get where I’m going with this? By avoiding all situations that create anxiety within you, you are never giving yourself the advantage of realizing that the worst rarely happens. Yep. You’re ex probably won’t be there. The neighbor’s dog probably not going to bite your face off, even if it does bark at you while you jog. And even if those things did happen, you could handle it. It’s time to give yourself some credit.
Watch your diet. Ew. I hate this one. I love my fizzy drinks and salty snacks. How could they be causing me severe anxiety? Well guess what, kiddos? They can. Salty foods increase blood pressure, which also increases heart rate. caffeine stimulates an already over-worked and under-payed nervous system. Sugar… Come on. You know about sugar. Ditch the bad food.
Another is stop with the magical thinking. Oh, Harry Potter’s got nothing on me when it comes to this! Magical thinking is your belief that worrying enough about something will change the outcome. Sorry to disappoint you, but it doesn’t change a thing. Otherwise we’d all be super-hot millionaires snuggled up next to our soul mates. Magical thinking is like being in a rocking chair; it gives you something to do, but doesn’t get you anywhere. Know this, stop doing it, move on.
And last, maybe most importantly, realize that emotions are not fact. They are called feelings for a reason. They are expressive of how you feel, not how the world around you is operating. Just because you feel like something bad is going to happen, doesn’t mean that it is. Think of it this way. When you feel happy, do you think every single person in the world is happy right there with you? No. Just because I feel like eating a jumbo bag of Lay’s and washing it down with a Cherry Coke (even though Dr. Arden told me not to…) doesn’t mean you feel like doing that too.
Conventional wisdom tells us to listen to our gut instinct and follow our hearts and all that blah blah blah. While “listening to your heart” may have worked for Roxette, people who suffer from anxiety disorder must learn that you can’t trust your feelings as being factual. Look for specific environmental cues (like an oncoming car in your lane) when it comes to being nervous, not vague internal cues (like something, anything bad could happen.)
Something good could happen too, you know…