Monday, December 11

Help For Anxiety at Year's End

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There was a fascinating article that made national news recently about a woman who no longer experienced fear due to damage from a rare medical condition to a part of her brain called the amygdala – the fear center. When presented with frightening stimuli (spiders, snakes, haunted houses, being threatened with a knife), she didn’t respond with any of the typical physiological symptoms, in fact, no agitation whatsoever.

As I read this article, I have to admit I actually felt a bit envious. Yes, I know it’s totally unnatural to have zero fear and it is probably not helpful in a dangerous situation; but having dealt with anxiety all my life, the prospect of not experiencing the physical and psychological feelings of fear sounds quite wonderful. When I recounted this story to my husband of how fear has actually been neurologically eliminated (albeit through a disease), he jokingly proposed the term “neurosculpting” as an elective procedure. Yeah, it could happen one day, on a smaller scale.

But until then, here are some ways to reduce anxiety as you close out the old and prepare for the new:

  • Reduce your expectations for yourself and others. Not your standards, just your expectations. If you’re often anxious, you could possibly have unrealistically high expectations to meet. Anxiety-ridden people tend to be very self-critical. Be kind to yourself.
  • Do something fun. Take time for yourself unapologetically on a regular basis; you are worth it. Life is not one big deadline or “to do” list. Do one thing that you really enjoy doing, be it lounging in a warm bath, playing or watching sports, treating yourself to a massage, cooking while listening to great music, catching the latest movie, or reading an engaging book or fun magazine with a glass of wine. This is good for the brain.
  • Practice a relaxation discipline like yoga or meditation. I know it sounds so trendy but having actually done both, I’ve found they are truly helpful for “turning down the dimmer switch” of an overactive brain.
  • Pray. I can hear some of you scoffing audibly at this one. If you don’t believe in God, find a Higher Power somewhere – you don’t have to do it all in your own strength. I, very humbly, believe there’s a God who gives grace in time of need. He’s always there; praying is simply communicating with another.
  • Get your worries out of your head. Journaling is a great way to express yourself. If you don’t find writing cathartic or if you have a strong sense of urgency, call or get together with a friend who’s a good listener and bounce your thoughts off him or her for perspective. You’ll probably find that you’re out of balance and the friend can help restore your sense of emotional equilibrium.
  • Make a list of things you earnestly desire to accomplish and a game plan of how and when to tackle them. Sometimes it helps to have goal dates laid out. Use a whiteboard or your mobile but use the visual to keep it on your radar. And be realistic: unless you’re a guest on “The Biggest Loser”, don’t aim to drop 100 pounds; stick to something reasonable like 15 or 20 and make some permanent lifestyle changes like adding a vegetable or fruit to each meal or going walking 3-4 times a week. We all know diets don’t work.
  • Consult an expert. If all else fails, seriously, get your butt to a good therapist, have yourself evaluated and be open to medication. It’s a good thing. People used to “go mad” in centuries past when a good SSRI might have balanced them chemically and enabled them to lead a decent life with so much less suffering. We live in the age of opportunity.

Sure a strong work ethic is important and there are always tasks that need completing especially if you have children or own a home. And social obligations can take on a life of their own, but taking care of YOU is equally important. Otherwise, eventually YOU won’t be able to do those desired things.

 Happy New Year and may it be a calm one

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