Sunday, November 9, 2008

Treating Anxiety Part 3: reactive elements and body awareness

In parts 1 and 2 of this series, I examined the nature and course of anxiety as it occurs and techniques to break the escalation of anxiety in the comfort of your home or in a clinical setting. Because anxiety is cumulative, there is some benefit to seeking a reduction at anytime we feel overwhelmed with stress, even after a long day. It gives us an opportunity to "reset" and reverse the mounting pressure that our rigorous activity brought forth and put us in the proper state of mind to truly enjoy our recreational and leisure portion of the day. But addressing stress as it occurs, in the social milieu, presents an even greater challenge. When suddenly confronted with a profound external stressor, we often lose that part of us that is the most grounded and pragmatic. So the question becomes, how can I maintain control when I am at my absolute worse?

In part one, I mentioned taking "stress breaks" throughout the active part of your day, utilizing the lunch or personal time appropriated to you. You have developed some stress reduction techniques at home, but because you lack the privacy and resources to fully implement these techniques in a work, school or community setting, it is beneficial to bring SRT into play by creating "portable" versions of these techniques to implement when you have a few moments or even seconds to yourself in these settings.

Meditation and positive visualization are possible anywhere. The most important element here is being well practiced enough at home to jump quickly into the technique in more formal settings, if even for just a brief period of time. Someone who is well-practiced at home can quickly let their mind "empty out," if for just briefly before regaining focus. And break time is an opportunity to take stress on for an even more extended period of time.

Recently a client with and anxiety disorder had some moderate success with deep breathing and meditation in the clinic setting and home. The panic attacks continued at school, however. These attacks included increased heartbeat and profuse sweating. I told him he needed to take time out during the school day and deep breathe and relax. He stated he thought this impossible because he would become self-conscious, aware that others were observing him taking deep breaths. My rational response was what did he find more embarrassing, him taking deep breaths or his shirt becoming soaking wet from perspiration? In fact, there is nothing embarrassing or impractical about breathing in this manner when sedentary or involved a moderately paced activity. And there is absolutely no benefit to displaying tension to others by taking short breaths and speaking in a pressured tone. People respond positively to those that exude calmness and confidence in any formal setting.

In order to claim this calm and confident persona, we need to examine our everyday physical orientation and movement in the workplace. How you sit at your desk chair and get up from it, for example can set the tone for the way you react to stressful situations. Are the muscles of your neck and spine overly tensed? Or do you sit slouched with your shoulders slumped in a submissive manner? Either one will contribute to anxiety when exposed to a stressful situation. Extreme muscle tension causes bodily discomfort, which in turn makes our mind even more confused and less adept to deal with adversity. Slouching passively is cause for unpreparedness and ambush when we our suddenly challenged. The happy medium is a healthy orientation of your head, neck and spine. Sitting upright, shoulders pronounced but not locked square as if at attention, is the correct stress reducing posture. Your neck should allow your head to be slightly forward, but not tilted downward or fixed upright. You should feel a widening in your lower back, as the orientation of head and neck allow the muscles along your spine to relax.

The movement from office chair to copying machine or from classroom to classroom should be scrutinized also. Anxious people tend to move about in a twisting, herky-jerky fashion. They think in terms of function, quickness and utility as opposed to their physical well being and comfort. Do you pop up out of a chair suddenly and automatically with a focus on your destination or the next task at hand? If so, you are reinforcing stress. You are placing unneeded tension on your joints and spine, and once again experiencing that discomfort that is cause for even more confusion and anxiety.

Take on the task of improving the most fundamental physical ergonomics in your day to day activities. Concede that these debilitating repetitious movements are taken for granted and never scrutinized. Resolve to partake in a deliberate and fluid physical motion. Unlearn the repetitious motor movements of your body that are cause for physical and mental tension. Reinvent your physical orientation and increase your awareness in those places were you experience the most stress. Both mind and body will be that much better for it.

This concludes my clinical insight on the practical treatment of the infliction of stress and the experience of anxiety. Hopefully you have achieved an awareness and knowledge of how anxiety manifests itself, the tools and techniques to keep it at bay and the means to take it on where it is most likely to have it most profound effect, in the places where you struggle everyday for achievement, income and recognition.

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