The Anxiety Bible

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So what happens when a person first identifies that he or she suffers from an anxiety disorder?  For all of us, thousands of thoughts are pouring through our brain at the same moment.  I’m a freak!  What do I do?  What’s wrong with me?  Is there any cure?  To further worsen the situation, many of us have lives that are full of all sorts of other drama such as addiction, other mental illness like bipolar disorder, or chaotic or nonexistent interpersonal relationships!  This is indeed difficult to overcome!  What should a person do in order to turn a complete 180 and live a happy and healthy life rather than a sad and miserable one?

Counseling

The first thing to do is to find a good counselor.  Good counseling can be a hard find, and it can also be expensive.  To find a good counselor, one simply needs to find a personality type with which he or she can work well.  Some counselors are in-your-face and confrontational, while others are very laid-back, perhaps even more anxious than the client at the first meeting.  Sometimes, a person will find that a particular counselor just is not working well with him or her for whatever reason; at this point it is important to remember that the client is the boss of the counselor.  If the client wants, he or she can fire the counselor and see another one – just make sure that the counselor is being fired for an inability to work effectively with the client, and not because of a silly superficial reason like the client disliking the way the counselor asks questions. 

Keep in mind that the term here used is “counselor,” and that it is used for a very specific reason.  Many other professionals can treat anxiety; these include therapists, psychiatrists, and psychologists.  The reason I recommend a counselor is because a counselor typically takes in the “big picture.”  As noted earlier, those of us with anxiety struggles in our lives often have many other stressful situations co-occuring which serve to increase our anxiety level.  Therapists and psychiatrists will focus on reducing only the anxiety, while possibly psychologists, and definitely counselors, will look at the other stressful situations such as difficult parents, bad significant others, or substance dependency which may be playing an important role in increasing the client’s anxiety level.

Finally, counseling can be expensive, but it can be made affordable.  Typically, counseling will run somewhere from $75-$125 per hour, which is way outside the range of affordability for those of us without insurance.  One thing to check into is “sliding-scale” counseling, which is where a counselor will lower his or her fee based on the client’s income.  Simply placing a call to the local NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill), looking in the phone book for counseling agencies (Counselors are more than happy to help.  Feel free to call ANY agency and they will know someone at their organization or someone else’s who can provide sliding-scale services), or asking friends and relatives who are comfortable with this topic will eventually turn up something affordable.

Counseling is incredibly beneficial, and it does not last a lifetime-only until the counselor and the client are comfortable the client can operate on his or her own.  It helped me to completely turn my life around in a matter of months! There is no shame in it.  Everybody has problems, but most do not seek help.  It takes great courage and strength to admit one has problems and ask for help, but it can be the best decision one makes in life.

Exercise

The next most important thing to add to one’s life, if it does not exist already, is regular exercise that increases one’s heart rate to 80% of its maximum for twenty minutes three times per week.  Exercise helps to increase one’s confidence and general feelings of well being, while simultaneously adding energy (exercise is like a natural caffeine) and enhancing the quality of one’s sleep, and most important to this article, it reduces anxiety!  Exercise is great in every way for a person’s health.

Medication

Medication is a very controversial topic in our society, and it is very wise for each person to carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of taking medication.  One thing to remember about medication is that different people respond to the same medication in different ways.  I take a low dosage of Lexapro (10 mg), and that works really well for me.  But, another person may try it and receive no benefit whatsoever, or even worse, that person may experience increased anxiety and other symptoms while receiving no benefit at all.  The best thing to do is to keep a brief journal of how one is thinking and feeling in the days after taking the medication.  Give the medication a couple of months to take full effect, and to allow the body to adjust to this new substance.  If things are not going quite right, either switch the medication or go off of it entirely.

Another point to consider when thinking about medication is how the client would like the medication to work in his or her life.  The Lexapro that I am on is intended to be a medication that I take daily and that is working all the time.  Some people may experience low anxiety most of the time, but extreme anxiety in certain situations.  Medications exist which only have an effect for a few hours at a time, and in my opinion, the less medication that is running through the body, the better. 

The technical aspects of medication are not my area of expertise; I know only the generalities of medication.  But, what I have given is solid advice.  The bottom line is for clients to realize that they are the expects on themselves, and if something is not working right or is causing more bad than good, it is perfectly okay to change things up or stop medication entirely.

Finally, medication is not a requirement for recovery from anxiety, but it certainly can be helpful.  It is most effective when used in combination with counseling, diet, exercise, and supportive friends.

Biofeedback

Biofeedback can be another very helpful option in helping anxiety-sufferers to relax.  If a client is seeing a counselor, be sure to ask about it.  Many counselors keep simple biofeedback devices ready and available, or know where to get them for a reasonable price.  The university that I attend has a counseling center that allows students to check out the devices and use them for free, so this can be a viable option for persons in that age range.  Otherwise, I have been told that biofeedback devices that hook up to any household computer can run only about $125 or so.

Different types of biofeedback devices exist, and the only one I know about is one that has little “caps,” for lack of a better term, that connect to the middle, index, and ring fingers.  These caps are then connected to another device that is attached to a computer.  The caps measure the electrical resistance across a person’s skin.  In this particular biofeedback system, a game, called the Wild Divine, is played that helps to teach the anxious person how to relax.  For myself, I found it moderately beneficial, and I do not have the time to do it these days.  However, it was helpful, and different things can work for different people, so if one is able to try out biofeedback and one finds it useful, use it!

Taking Risks

The next, and probably scariest part of recovering from anxiety is taking risks.  One can read all the information that exists, go to counseling, or engage in biofeedback all one wants, however, one eventually must take the real risks and begin to approach situations that are terrifying. 

Probably the best way to do this is to discuss the terrifying situation with a counselor or supportive friend.  People who are outside of the situation can see it more realistically and can help a person to identify his or her anxious thoughts that are not very realistic.  After actually taking the risk, report the happenings to the trusted friend or counselor, and again they will help the client or friend interpret the situation in a realistic sense.  This is the best way to help one realize that the anxious beliefs and thoughts are simply not true. 

If a person ends up failing and not taking the risk, there is no problem!  Simply regroup, take a break, and get ready to get back at it because limitless opportunities exist for taking risks!

Supportive Social Network

Another major key to one’s recovery is having a supportive social network.  Many of us live in families where personal problems are not to be discussed.  These persons may claim that mental conditions such as social anxiety do not exist (this is an extreme point of view), or they may simply belittle or mock the problems that other people face (as an aside, other people do this usually because they are trying to avoid problems in their own lives and want to make themselves feel better about their situation). 

Having a supportive social network means that we can go somewhere to talk to people who have experience with anxiety.  Not only this, but a supportive social network will be made of people who will listen and try to understand what one is experiencing, and perhaps offer some useful advice or sympathy for the situation.  If a friend or family member seems resistant to understanding difficulties present in other person’s lives, one can continue to attempt to help that person understand, but ultimately, it is best to seek out other people who have common experience with anxiety, as it is impossible to force someone to understand something.

All humans need some sort of social network and place to vent their problems; it is a requirement of a happy life.  Places that offer supportive social networks can include the Anxiety Support Network’s forum, NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) meetings (these typically only exist in larger cities), and anxiety groups that can be run in many different places such as the local library or a local counseling agency.

Regrouping During Burnout

Finally, one thing that is inevitable for all of us is that we will all hit a point where we feel burned out from all the anxiety we have been facing.  This happened to me many times over the years, and I believe that it will happen again; the reason I continue to want to recover from anxiety is that the burnout becomes less frequent and less intense over the years.  In the past, it may have happened every couple weeks or so, but now it may only happen once or twice per year, and only under very stressful conditions.

It is important to remember at this point that what we need to do is to take care of ourselves.  The temptation is to get upset about where we are in our life; that we are not making enough progress and that will always be stuck in this endless cycle of terrifying anxiety.  However, as I have noted from my own personal experience, there is an end.  At this point, the best thing that we can do for ourselves is to take a break, relax, and do something very nice to ourselves that will bring healthy enjoyment to our lives.  This can be very different for many people, but some things that some of us choose would include spending all day watching movies, taking a hot bath with scented candles, getting a massage, eating a favorite meal, playing videogames, or any other activity that brings joy to one’s life. 

While life is challenging and difficult at times, it is a wise idea to do the things we love in order to keep our sanity.  Those people who do nothing that brings them joy find themselves to be very miserable persons.

It may take a few hours or a few days to regroup from burnout.  During this period, it is also important to be talking to friends, and also to take a break from challenging anxiety.  So what if one is not taking anxiety-provoking risks for a few days!  Everyone needs a break at some time and it is perfectly okay to do so once in a while.  I still do it at times myself.

The final point to keep in mind is to congratulate one’s self for any progress made, no matter how small.  Was a conversation, though full of stuttering and stammering, started with a stranger?  If so, and if this is something one could not do in the past, but now one can do it, then this is progress and a job well done!  Was one able to leave the house and just enter the local gym and just be around other people, but not actually exercise?  If so, this is progress.  This is good enough for now, and eventually, if a person sticks to it, that person will be able to start conversations with strangers without having to think about it, or that person will be able to go to the gym and exercise without worrying about what other people are thinking of him or her.

To Wrap It Up

This guide was meant as a comprehensive guide to treating anxiety.  It does not go into great detail in each section, but it gives enough of an idea so that a person can make reasonable steps towards defeating anxiety and living a happier life.  Treating anxiety can be infinitely complex, but if one follows the basic steps in this article, one will be heading in the right direction, and before one knows it, one will be living a happier life and be doing the things that he or she always dreamed of doing!

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