Monday, October 20, 2008

Treating Anxiety Part 1: cycles and patterns

Anxiety is by far the most addressed issue in clinical therapy. It is the big kahuna of psychiatric treatment. The 3 largest selling prescription drugs in the U.S. for all ailments of body and mind are approved to treat anxiety. These drugs usually produce moderate to excellent initial success, but are known for profound side-effects and increased tolerance. That's why learning to manage it on your own is so important.

Although anxiety manifests itself in many ways, there are some common elements we can identify that help us gain an understand of the cause-effect relationship and behavior chains that make it an obstacle to enjoy and function in our daily lives. Here are a few commonalities:

The Tension Mounts: Anxiety accumulates through stress. Most people report anxiety heightening by the end of the day. Panic attacks occur far more often in the PM then AM. It is therefore very important for sufferers to take stress breaks during the day. If you have an anxiety problem and you are spending your lunch or coffee break surfing the net, calling family or friends or some other activity that requires significant attention and concentration, then you are making poor use of your time. Take a few minutes periodically during the day implement a stress reduction technique (much more on them later). This will at least slow the accumulation of stress during the day and make it more manageable as it peaks.

Domino Effect: When we are under stress, we often make hasty and impulsive decisions. The consequences of these decisions are often cause for more stress and anxiety. Like a bad lie made from a politician, things start to unravel and we experience chaos and a loss of control. The saying or song "one thing leads to another," probably alludes to this phenomena. This dynamic once again points to the need to keep stress at a minimum and reset periodically during the day.

The Mind-Body Relationship: There are several measurable physical response directly associated with anxiety: increased and variable heart rate, adrenalin being dumped in the blood stream, increased muscle tension to name a few. These will be further addressed in the discussion of biofeedback in part 2. When we experience uncomfortable physical sensations the result is generally, you guessed it, more anxiety. Someone's heartbeat increases and palpitates and they wonder if they need to go to ER. Or someone begins to perspire in a social setting and they become more self-conscious and less confident.

The common theme between these 3 elements of anxiety disorders is one of mounting and accumulating stress. We see a chain of events and behaviors that help feed the anxiety. The preventive or proactive element of treating this disorder is vital. The onus is on you to identify these maladaptive trends as they happen and try to subvert them. Then the therapist or other resource can give you a repertoire of techniques to help you tame this debilitating beast.

up next: Treating Anxiety Part 2: relaxation techniques

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

looking forward to part 2