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Anxiety & You

Approximately 40 million Americans or 18% of the population struggle with anxiety. But exactly what is anxiety? Over the next few blogs I will discuss types of anxiety and coping skills to help manage them.


Generalized anxiety symptoms include:


Excessive anxiety and worry

Difficult to control worry

Restlessness, feeling keyed up or on edge

Easily fatigued

Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank

Irritability

Muscle tension

Sleep disturbance, difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless, unsatisfying sleep


Panic attacks symptoms include:


Feeling of impending doom

Feeling out of control or like you’re going crazy

Feeling like you’re having a heart attack

Physical symptoms

Headache

Nausea

Sweating

Light-headed

Shaking

Increase heart rate

Rapid, shallow breathing


So now that we’ve described the problem, how do we deal with it? There are three different areas that can be tackled.


Physiological-which is about calming your body down

Cognitive- which is about correcting your thinking

Behavioral-which is about confronting your fears.


First let’s talk about what happens to the body during a panic attack or when your anxiety is elevated. You have the physical reactions, such as your heart pounding, your breathing increasing, sweating etc. That’s your bodies emergency response system and if you are in danger it works great because it keeps you alive. So a bad panic attack means you have a great emergency response system. Unfortunately, our bodies emergency response system is out of date. If we go back to cave man days, it kept us alive.


Imagine you’re a cave woman and you’re walking down a trail. Suddenly a saber tooth tiger jumps out at you! Your emergency response system kicks into high gear preparing you to fight or run. Your heart starts pounding, pushing blood into your limbs to let you fight or run really fast, so your blood pressure increases. The adrenaline gets dumped into your system, making your hands shake. Your stomach shuts down all digestion because you won’t need to digest your dinner if your dead so it sends the blood to the limbs instead, but gives you an upset stomach in the process. Your brain kicks into primal gear, pushing all excess blood to the limbs, but also causing your head to hurt and making it hard for you to think clearly. You are primed and ready to fight or run as fast as you can-which helps you survive the saber tooth attack but sucks when there is no real physical danger around.


So how can we calm ourselves down physically? One of the first exercises I teach clients is called 4,7,8 breathing. 4,7, 8 breathing is done by breathing in deeply (from your abdomen) while counting to 4, holding your breath while counting 5,6 &7, than releasing a long slow breath on the count of 8.


Deep breathing exercises help for a couple of reasons. First, this helps push oxygen into your body while lowering your heart rate and your blood pressure. At the same time, the counting helps to distract you from whatever is causing the anxiety. It’s hard to focus on what is making you anxious if you are busy counting!


I recommend you practice 3-4 times a day, at least. If you wait for a panic attack or a highly anxious moment, you won’t be able to remember what to do.


Another form of relax to help decrease the physiological response is progressive muscle relaxation. Starting at your feet or your head, focus on each muscle group and slowly tighten and release each one. It’s normal to tense muscles when the flight or fight reaction has been activated, causing sore muscles. Progressive muscle relaxation can help loosen those muscles, decreasing soreness in the process. There are many recorded versions of this on-line and as apps that you can download and listen to.


Another exercise is called grounding. Grounding is not a relaxation exercise but is designed to help you seperate yourself from your negative emotions. There is physical grounding, which is similar to progressive muscle relaxation and than there is mental grounding which focuses on your surroundings. Mental grounding is a type of mindfulness exercise. One version is where you concentrate on your surroundings, you can name all the colors in the room, name all the items in the room, focus on a picture and describe it in as much detail as possible. Mindfulness, helping you stop the racing thoughts and focus on the present moment can help decrease anxiety.


Although these suggestions can help to calm the physical symptoms down, you might not be able to make them all go away and you don’t really want to try. My next post will focus on mindful acceptance as well as how to change the thinking which leads to anxiety and panic attacks.


Call now for a free phone consultation or to schedule an appointment at 217-731-4638 or e-mail me at info@msivleytherapy.com


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