Managing Stress/Anxiety

Ok, so I have anxiety…now what?

If you happened to read the article I wrote on anxiety, you might be reading this article because you think you might have an issue with anxiety, stress, or panic attacks, and you might be wondering what you should be doing about it.  Well, read on.

With all mental health issues, it is important to know why you do the things you do.  As one of my colleagues said to me the other day “You know, therapy is really rather simple…it’s human behavior that is so complicated.”  In other words, the interventions that us mental health professionals suggest aren’t that complicated, but the behavior that the interventions are trying to change are complicated, and that’s what makes positive change so difficult.

Probing the “why”(or why you should see a counselor if you want to know the “why”)

Before I dive into interventions, I want briefly discuss the “why” behind our actions.  Human behavior is very much, NOT cause and effect.  In fact, it’s about as far as you can get from cause and effect.  How I wish it were that simple.  So you had a bad birthday when you were 4, or you didn’t get the car/pony/toy that you wanted when you were younger…yes, those things matter, but they don’t tell me anything.

The reason those events don’t tell me anything is because you can’t draw any kind of linear, logical conclusion from that.  Even in cases of trauma, we frequently still cannot draw direct lines from the event to  a current behavior.  In that, behavior follows what we call a non-linear causal model.  What is that?  Well, it’s a causal model to look at, that isn’t linear.

To simplify it, it’s like this:  Dog bites my hand when I’m 4, which leads me to be somewhat leery of big dogs.  Then, I spend the next 5 years of my life being leery of big dogs, because I’m afraid of being bitten, but I am never bitten again.  At age 9, I go to a friend’s house for a sleepover, and misinterpret a joke from a friend, we get in a fight,  and that friend just happens to have a dog that snarled like the one that bit me when I was 4.  After that, in the future, if another friend happens to behave in a similar manner, I have a panic attack.  The fear/anxiety I had from being bitten when I was 4 gets associated with the negative interaction and fight I had with the friend.  These illogical beliefs go unchecked, and lead folks into all sorts of bizarre thinking patterns.

Now, if you think that doesn’t make sense, look at it in the context of itself, not what you think is logical or reasonable.  Where we end up is that it can be difficult, but not impossible, to determine why we do certain things and behave in certain ways.  It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dig, but it’s a long road, especially if you aren’t in the habit of being introspective.  And in my experience, if you are in my office, you aren’t in the habit of being introspective.

Coping strategies/Management Techniques

Whether it’s anxiety, stress, panic attacks, or all of the above, I will first say that if it’s way out of control, please go find someone to speak with, or a good psychiatrist to assist you.  Find a support group.  Don’t go through this alone.

Secondly, remember that you’re gonna suck at this stuff in the beginning.  It’s like learning a new task or a sport.  You didn’t do it perfectly when you first started, but after some practice, you got better.

Third, there’s just going to be some discomfort when looking at your life and trying to make change.  It’s ok, and normal.  You’re probably doing something right if you feel a bit strange when making changes.

1.  Self Care– This is something that health-care professionals, myself included, are instructed on in school.  Self care is just what it sounds like: taking care of self.  If you don’t have enough fun in life, or just work too much, or don’t let yourself relax, or have too much stress sustained over  a long period of time, you will break down somewhere.  You may comfort eat, shop too much, do drugs, drink, yell at family, etc.  Or, you could have a mental breakdown.  So, stop and smell the roses!  Have an impromptu picnic!  Have a night out on the town!  Take a vacation!  Read a good book!  Go for a walk!  Do SOMETHING!  My rules for activities such as these are 1. It has to be safe(won’t hurt you or another), 2. has to be legal, and 3. can’t hurt you financially.  Otherwise, it’s game on!

2.  Exercise– Yes, I know, there’s a little bit of overlap, and I’m probably not the first person that has told you to exercise, or exercise more, but folks who regularly exercise(2 times a week for 30-60 min) have been shown to be physically and mentally in better shape than those who don’t.  So drop the jelly doughnut, the doritos, and soda pop, and get off the sofa and get moving!

3.  Develop a good support system–  There was a study done many moons ago that indicated that people who attend church regularly better handle life issues than those who don’t attend.  And no, I’m not suggesting you go to church.  What was concluded about the study was that folks had a larger support system available, which in turn helps a person to work through things.  The bottom line is that people who have friends/family that are supportive and good listeners are able to get through life much easier than those who don’t.  If you don’t have this, find some folks, find a support group, or get a counselor.

Try some of this stuff.  Keep it simple.  Even minor changes in your routine can have a large and positive effect.  And lastly, don’t give up!  You deserve to have excellent mental health!

David P. Robbins

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