I’m starting to think we are in the middle of an anxiety epidemic.
In a counseling and coaching practice, you see trends of common client problems at certain times – maybe couples with sexual issues in their relationships, people with micromanaging or abusive bosses at work, acting-out 15-year-olds, women who are quite sure they must have ADHD or the beginning of Alzheimer’s.
The past few months the issue has been anxiety. So my mission over the next few blogs is to share a few of my favorite tips, tools and resources.
Our Imagination is a Powerful Thing
You know that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, in the Well of Souls where there are all those snakes? Well, like Indy, I hate snakes. My only real phobia. (Even getting the pic for this blog made me twitch.) When I saw the movie in the theater I KNEW it was a movie, I KNEW it wasn’t real. But I pulled both feet off the theater floor & curled up into my seat.
Our bodies do what they are programmed to do, and our minds can’t always pull an override even when we know what we see, hear or think might not be REAL. Our bodies respond as though the threat IS real, which is a survival mechanism designed to protect us. But with anxiety, our imaginations negatively affect our bodies even when there might not be much truth to what we fear. When the adrenaline kicks in, we usually have to ride the wave.
The Stats and Symptoms – It’s Complicated
Anxiety disorders are found in 18% of the adult population of the U.S (some 40 million people, according to The National Institute of Mental Health.) Only 1/3 of those who suffer seek treatment, which is a shame, as anxiety responds well to brief interventions.
Now, anxiety is a tricky little thing because it’s a catch-all word with any number of ways that it shows up. For example:
Muscle tension / pain
Racing or obsessive thoughts
Tightness or heaviness in chest
high blood pressure
Alcohol or substance abuse
I’m “OCD” or “stressed out”
Avoiding social settings
“Knots” or butterflies in your stomach
Panic feelings / trembling
Most people go to their doctor or even the emergency room when these symptoms show up, and receive 1) treatment for the symptoms – such as sleep or pain medications, or 2) a referral to a specialist for additional testing.
My fellow therapists & I could rant ad nauseum about people being prescribed powerful and addictive tranquilizers without being given a referral to a therapist or being asked questions about their lifestyle and recent stressors. For example, one of my clients had a severe panic attack – after drinking two cans of energy drinks that day. Another didn’t realize that the combination of job stress and the recent loss of a pet and recent diagnosis of diabetes had added up over time. (I get paid to do a little detective work & help people connect the dots, sometimes…but it’s a matter of experience to know which questions to ask when.)
Anxiety in Perimenopausal Women
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Medco data shows that women have the highest overall utilization rate of anti-anxiety medications; in fact, 11 percent of middle-aged women (ages 45-64) were on an anti-anxiety drug treatment in 2010, nearly twice the rate of their male counterparts (5.7%) There is evidence to suggest the hormone imbalances and possible adrenal fatigue create significant stress on our bodies. I’m quite encouraged that integrative medicine doctors are researching this, and information is being provided to the public that may really make a difference for so many.
Having said all of this, sometimes people truly NEED medication, and their reluctance to use it or fear of addiction creates Needless Suffering. I’ll elaborate on the role of baseline anxiety in the body later this month.
Here’s one fairly simple and effective technique I share with my clients and use myself.
S – Tell yourself firmly – “Stop!”
T – Take a breath.
Take 3 deep slow deep breaths. This helps let your body understand it doesn’t need to move into fight/flight/freeze.
O – Observe
What’s Really going on here? Now that your body is a little calmer, your brain can work properly to analyze the Story You Are Telling Yourself about what is happening and explore it for accuracy, helpfulness. There are many helpful techniques for this.
P – Perspective / Plan
Pull back & see the situation as an outside observer. On a scale of 1-10, how important is it all right now, or in 6 hours, 6 days or 6 weeks or 6 months? Develop a plan for how/when/if you want to address the situation
P – Proceed / Practice
Take action & do what works in conjunction with your principles and values
After you’ve given STOPP a try, leave a comment below & let me know how it worked for you. What else helps when you are feeling anxious?
For a printable format of STOPP click HERE
DISCLAIMER: As you know, I am not a medical doctor. Let me be 100% clear – if you are having chest pain or can’t breathe You Need to Go to the ER. It’s a Very Bad Thing to assume it’s anxiety, stress or heartburn and find out it’s a heart attack later. If you take medications for anxiety, under NO circumstances should you abruptly discontinue them without a physician’s approval. Got it?