Thursday, June 20, 2013

Answering questions - Dealing with Anxiety

I would love to know more about how you deal with that morning anxiety and other anxiety that comes thru the day?

This is a hard one to easily answer because my strategies have changed over time.    Generally speaking, I encounter two types of anxiety - one from internal triggers and another from external.


Morning is still my greatest challenge when it comes to internal anxiety.    I used to have frequent nightmares and flashbacks.  Even after all these years, images of the violence play for me almost every night in that weird state between wake and sleep and again in the morning before I am fully awake.   Through a lot of therapy, especially immersion therapy,  the emotional impact of these images has decreased significantly, so morning has become easier for me.     Other things that have worked for me to help undo that inner turmoil:

Physical exertion.   It was not uncommon for me to wake before dawn and hit the treadmill or bike I have in the basement.  Hard.   I have found exercise to be the fastest and easiest way to dissolve anxiety that has slowly built up in my body.

I struggled a lot when I got sick and had a string of surgeries that eliminated being able to do any exercise. I had to rely on mental tricks, which were not as effective.  One of the things I do is to say the alphabet in my head - slowly and concentrating on each letter.  And because it’s easy to drift because the alphabet is so familiar, I have learned to say it backwards, every other letter, every third letter, only round letters, etc.  I have a bunch of these games - reciting prime numbers (I was a math geek)  doing math equations in my head, etc.   It’s just an easy way to disrupt the triggering thoughts but doesn't really help the lingering physical impact of anxiety.  My therapist always tried to get me to do breathing exercises, which would help for a short time but they tended to make me lightheaded, which made me more anxious.

Other things that help that tense physical build-up are sex and laughing.   Actually, I should have put laughing even before exercise.   Laughing. Hard. Out loud.  It works better than anything and fortunately, I have plenty of stimulus in my life to make me laugh.   And if I need help, I think about Ed Wynn signing “I love to Laugh” in Mary Poppins.  Works every time.

For external anxiety - triggers that happen around me, like knowing I will be in a claustrophobic situation or suddenly encountering a group of strange men, I rely on a lot of those same mental tricks listed above.  Another trick I use is concentrating on one object, like my thumb.  I probably know the geography of my thumb better than any other human being.    I do also have anxiety meds for when I know I will be in hard (for me)  situations, but I try not to take them. Sometimes, just knowing they are available is enough.

Now I am finding, more and more, that I can build up immunity to anxiety.  Going into the woods for a few days will give me a couple of weeks of calm mornings.  Doing some yoga and mediation before bed or before anxious situations, will also help.   As I become more and more aware of my spiritual self, and build those skills, I am finding that the mental and physical anxiety is diminishing.    And perhaps that is the key.   Awareness.  Staying in the Present.  Gratitude.  Focus.  All those things you read about when you read about how to deal with PTSD,  but I never really connected it with the spirituality that I am just beginning to really feel.

I am inclined to think that healing journeys are just as unique as the individual traumas.    I have been at this for decades and I am only now feeling like I am getting a handle on it.  What works for me may not work for you.  I guess my only advice is to keep trying different strategies until something clicks for you.  And then practice it as hard as you can.   I've had so many failures I lost count.  But as my therapist always used to say - “keep failing forward.”

You’ll get there.



11 comments:

  1. AnonymousJune 20, 2013

    i will talk to my therapist about this.

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    1. It is also critical, I believe, to have total confidence in your therapist. If you don't feel you're making progress, or that your therapist is not trying different approaches or giving you strategies to cope, you may want to think about seeing someone else.

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  2. "keep failing forward" -- Wow. So perfectly stated.

    Maybe try EMDR. I have heard good things about this type of therapy. Just another tool in the toolbox of strategies, I guess.

    Thank you for sharing.
    xoxoxo

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    1. I know of others who are doing the EMDR and feeling some success. I never did it but, unless something new comes and knocks me on my ass, I think I may finally have healed enough to be done with it. (knocking on wood, throwing salt over my shoulder, crossing fingers and toes)

      Keep failing forward - she had so many of these phases - all to emphasize that, no matter how many times you stumble or stall, you just need to keep facing in the direction you want to go. God, I miss her so much.

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  3. As you know, my insurance doesn't cover therapy. I am going to try to work more exercise into my day, especially in the morning, and see if it helps. I will try your mental tricks too. At least they're free.

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    1. It is criminal that insurance companies can get away with this. I will look for other resources and shoot you an email.

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  4. I like the phrase keep failing forward.

    Things to think about.

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    1. I like it too (see reply to e) I especially like that it turns "failure" into progress.

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  5. Great question. Great answer. Mostly I hope people realize that, as e said, there are many different tools in the toolbox. Just keep trying and stay positive. And do reach out to people, like 8thday, who willing to help and support others. There is a lot of on-line support out there.

    Thanks 8thday!

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  6. I have long admired your tenacity in finding ways to heal your soul wounds. What I didn't realize, or fully appreciate, was just how much of a constant exercise it has been. And will continue to be, I suppose.

    To Kim, I do not know your personal circumstances but I do know of some people who have received help through Social Security Disability (SSD) Might be worth a try. And I agree with 8thday, our handling of mental health issues in this country is a national shame.

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  7. Your posts are so rich - they invariably leave me feeling hope for myself and compassion for others. Thank you for this post and the others I'm catching up with right now. Thanks so much.

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