How to Get a Grip on Your Anxiety

Column: Aspire Unplugged, by Cheryl Patterson

“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.”  – Charles Spurgeon

1 in 10 people suffer with anxiety, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. It affects women, men and children – it can affect us all – at different points of life and for various reasons.

Dr. Pamela Frank, licensed naturopathic practitioner, with the Forces of Nature Wellness Clinic, Toronto, indicates there are a variety of areas that can provoke anxiety. “Causes of anxiety problems can include home environment, work stress, personality traits, imbalances in neurotransmitters like GABA, serotonin and dopamine, vitamin/mineral or essential fatty acid deficiencies, and trauma, like marital separation, job loss or car accidents.” Sadly, many people feel alone with it and suffer in silence.

Many people with anxiety suffer from embarrassment and guilt, or feel like they’re going “crazy.” I’ve spoken to various people about this topic that have indicated that they’ve been ridiculed and labelled “silly,” or have been told they’re making a big deal out of nothing, so they do nothing about it, or engage in behaviors that make it worse.

Negative ways of coping with anxiety include, withdrawing from people or situations, blaming yourself and engaging in other self-defeating thoughts and behaviors, such as smoking, drinking or drugs.

Unfortunately, if left untreated, anxiety can permeate one’s life to the point of hindering day-to-day life, or escalate into panic attacks or phobias. However, it doesn’t have to escalate to this point.

Anxiety is very manageable. “Anxiety is one of the most common and treatable mental health issues,” says Elizabeth Gilchrist, Ph.D., Registered Pychologist at the MacAnxiety Research Center, in Edmonton, Alberta. She indicates that the goal is to reduce the anxiety so you can manage reactions to situations that trigger it.

Ways to cope with your anxiety

Express yourself. It’s important to let your voice and feelings be heard. Talk to someone you feel comfortable with, and if you think your anxiety is affecting your daily life, talking to your doctor or a therapist can be helpful with understanding what’s perpetuating it and provide you with helpful resources and tools.

Someone I’ll call Susan told me that her family doctor was her first support for her anxiety. He was knowledgeable and someone that she felt comfortable talking to. Then she talked to a therapist for a while,  who recommended she communicate to people more about things that were upsetting to her, as well as journaling and reading books to inspire a more positive outlook—information about dealing with life challenges, setting boundaries and restoring faith. She said it helped to get things off her mind by writing or talking about them, and the books helped her mindset and inspired her to read more of them.

Know the situations that set you off. Have you just moved or had some other recent change in your life, or are under more stress than usual? Understanding your triggers and giving yourself time to adjust where needed, or reducing the stress from it can help.

Nurture your health. Reduce foods that aggravate anxiety. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) indicates, “Diets high in stimulants have been linked to symptoms of anxiety. Reducing stimulants such as caffeine, chocolate, nicotine, refined sugars will reduce incidence and severity of anxiety. Studies have shown that reduction in dietary fat and alcohol also reduces the vulnerability to stress responses.”

Increase foods that help maintain equilibrium, like nuts, eggs and salmon, which are rich in magnesium, B vitamins, and essential fatty and amino acids.

Reduce your stressors, and burn off the adrenaline, fats and sugars pumped into your bloodstream from it through exercise. Something as simple as going for a walk is not only great exercise but calming as well.

Educate loved ones. Sometimes people make fun because they don’t understand the problem, yet they are an important part of healing. The NIMH indicates, “The family is very important in the recovery of a person with an anxiety disorder. Ideally, the family should be supportive but not help perpetuate their loved one’s symptoms.” Providing them with information can help them understand and be more supportive of what things are like for you.

Join a support group. People that are experiencing the same situations can be invaluable. Talking to others that are going through what you are can help prevent you from feeling isolated with your problems, provide emotional support and sharing of resources and coping methods.

A take-away for anxiety is to face it and not allow it to take over your life. Or as Rabindranath Tagore put it, “Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them,” (Collected Poems and Plays of Rabindranath Tagore).

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