Nobody understands that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal. – Albert Camus
Anxiety, in all its forms, has the capability to completely overpower a person. Panic Disorder, Obsessive-compulsive Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Phobias, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder: each of them has the strength to make you feel like you are all alone in this world, with the entire universe conspiring against you, and that you are about to fail at the next step you take. What’s worse is that anxiety is not only emotionally and spiritually draining, but also has physical manifestations, as the mind and body go completely out of sync.
Age, sex, status, success, colour, beauty – nothing can bar anxiety, and anyone and everyone runs the risk of falling prey to this debilitating illness, where fixation about the smallest of things, however irrational, can cripple us with fear, as we lose control over every single situation. We develop a different personality, become a different person.
What causes anxiety?
Scientists are still not exactly sure about the biological or genetic factors that lead to anxiety. All we know is that yet-to-be-identified biological malfunctions, Brain chemistry involving chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, and genetic predisposition being studied as probably causes. These, in combination with environmental factors, lead to various forms of anxiety disorders. What acts as a trigger can vary widely. Even lack of oxygen in diverse circumstances like pulmonary embolism, high altitude sickness, etc. can be external triggers.
Substance abuse, side-effects of medication, symptoms of and stress from some serious medical illness, stress about work, finance, personal relationships, loved ones, fear and tension about one’s image in front of others, constant need to feel accepted and appreciated, worries about how one is being perceived by others, desire to be there for others, fear of performance and result, recent trauma like death or separation, depression – all these and much more can be the external factors that lead to stress, causing anxiety disorder in its various forms.
What does NOT cause anxiety?
Chances are, you are already engulfed by the idea that your anxiety disorders are a result of weakness, and make you feel that you are worth pitying, that there is no hope for you because there is something utterly wrong with you. But, you have to understand one thing – while anxiety is an illness, it is not a result of personal weakness. It does not root from a character flaw. It does not portray to the world that you had a poor upbringing. When you accept these, it will be easier to deal with anxiety.
The steps to deal with anxiety disorders are not your run-of-the-mill twelve-step programs. You have to understand yourself in order to have control over your condition.
The first and foremost thing to do is accept your condition. You have to understand that you have an illness. It is not a phase of feeling blue which will pass. Chances are, you will have anxiety disorders all your life. You will obsess over insignificant, irrational possibilities, have panic attacks, headaches, stomach problems, and other medical issues. Learning to deal with your condition does not mean that you will get rid of your disorder. You will learn to live with it, to make peace with it, and know how to handle yourself better so that things don’t get to you.
Find help within family and friends. Talk to your wife about what is bothering you. Ask your mother to watch the kids while you go pick some flowers. If you have problems in finding a listener, or think that you need some advice or guidance, toss aside your inhibitions and take professional help. Medication, psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, etc. can be largely helpful. Even a regular checkup by your general physician can keep your health issues in check, and you’ll have one less thing to worry about.
Often, lifestyle changes also prove to be helpful in anxiety. Eating healthy by including lots of fruits and vegetables in the diet, cutting out junk food, etc. can lend a hand in improving health and mind. Proper sleep, too, helps to calm the mind, rest the body, whereas remaining underslept can cause stress and anxiety. Besides the basic changes in sleep and diet, other improvements can also help in gaining control over anxiety. The colours you see, the smells in savour – all this can change your state of mind. Indulge in activities and hobbies like gardening, painting, listening to music, dancing, reading, etc. Even sprucing up your home or taking a warm bath might be a soothing distraction.
Meditation, yoga and exercise
Meditation will help you to spend some time with yourself, when you calm the nerves. If you do not have a grip over meditation, start by sitting quietly for some time and focus your attention on your breathing. Yoga and exercise can also help to keep you fit, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, by releasing oxytocin. You can also try the ‘legs up the wall’ posture, in which you lie on your back on the floor, and raise your legs straight up to rest them against the wall. It inverts the regular actions of the body. Besides, with the back against s support, there is greater blood flow in the chest and core, slowing the heart rate, while the lymphatic system drains more freely.
Meditation, exercise, lifestyle changes, hobbies, etc. work differently for different people. In fact, they may not work for some people at all. There is no way to tell what might work for you and what won’t. This is mainly because the minds of people are varied, and their causes of anxiety and ability to deal with it are varied, too. It is important to know yourself and your mental health. Eventually, you might come to know that your problems have a simpler solution that you had expected. Bring small changes to yourself might be a better way of sedating and controlling your inner panic than sedating yourself with the hope of conquering your disorders altogether.
Tracking the root of your anxiety and stress
Having undergone a stressful situation early in life may lead to a habitual pattern of worrisome and stressful thoughts and beliefs that get instilled in a person’s psyche. Your anxiety may have its roots in the distant past whose memories get embedded in your subconscious. It could be because of growing up in an unpredictable environment, where safety had uncertainty associated with it? Have you been exposed to alcoholism, drug abuse and volatility of parents?
Your anxiety disorders could also arise due to your ambition to achieve perfection, and the fear of falling short, by virtue of which you create a pressure upon yourself to excel in everything. You also need to analyze if you worry too much about others, and strive constantly to help everyone in need. We often try to help others to prove to ourselves that we are still in control of our lives and are I a better position than others, and on failing to do so, we get trapped in a vicious circle of panic, fear and helplessness. Having faced a trauma, separation, death, etc. can also leave us in fear and anxiety.
Instead of running away from your past, embrace it. Instead of distancing yourself from your problems, concentrate on observing them. Once we analyze the symptoms and identify the stress, we gain the opportunity to cleanse ourselves inside out. It gives us the chance to change our lives and gain peace. This has to come from within, and no amount of following advice from well-wishers can help in the long run until we go deep into our own minds. This might not be easy, especially with people constantly offering their advices, as they ask you to calm down, stop trying to control everything, eat better, meditate, etc.
Even though these suggestions might sound condescending, or even make you feel that you are being shamed, it is important to make sure that these do not stop you from doing what you think is best for you, such as bringing a total change to your life, or seeking professional help. Others may not understand your day-to-day struggle to prevent everything from slipping out of your hand, but they are not living your life. It is best to walk away from such those who do not understand you. In fact, walking away may be a good option when it comes to your anxious thoughts, especially if you can point out the uncertainly or triviality of your anxiety.
How you behave, what you want, what you feel, what you do might be dependent on you, but what others do or feel, or how they react are not. You can, however, prevent these from affecting you negatively. The more you realize that absolute sangfroid is an unachievable goal, the more at peace you are with yourself. You past is unchangeable, but your present and future are still in your hands.
Source: WebMD, American Psychological Association
Image: Canstock, Wikipedia, Kristy Hanly, “My Anxious Heart” by Katie Joy Crawford