Monday, May 4, 2009

Coping with matters out of our control

Here's a comment I received a few days ago & the impetus for this current post:

"I would love for you to do a post on the swine flu and how to handle anxiety symptoms related to something that's so out of a person's control. I'm having difficulty with it, with the situation in and of itself, but it also brings up symptoms related to the general fear that I've got no control over the future."

What's an anxiety super hero to do when the world feels out of control and scary and it seems like there's nothing you can do to protect yourself? And, I don't mean all the scary scenario's we regularly create in our brains - rather, things like terrorism, global warming and the swine flu.

I remember hearing about the avian flu a few years back and feeling terrified. Every time I turned on the news, there was another frightening report of how it would spread to a pandemic level. Newspapers printed full page stories about supplies you should have at home in case we all had to be quarantined. Picking up my children from pre-school, the avian flu was a hot topic among parents & many of us felt afraid. My husband & I talked about what we would do if a pandemic were to occur, thinking through how we could keep our family safe. (There's still a box of unwrapped, protective masks in our basement.)

So what can we do when life feels out of our control? How can we take smart precautions without going off the deep end and building a bomb shelter in the backyard - just in case? How do we sort out the necessary information from the fear messaging so prevalent in our world, threatening to limit and suck the joy out of our lives?

Here's what I do & some links that I find helpful:

*I greatly limit the amount & type of news I take in. Dr. Andrew Weil writes about going on a news diet in his book 8 Weeks to Optimum Health & I take it to heart!

*When something comes up that's bothering me, I might freak out a little bit first, to be honest. After I'm done with that, I find a trusted source or two & go to it for information. If I find myself anxiously surfing the web for every little article - any piece of information that might help me protect myself & my family - I recognize that for what it is - a symptom of anxiety. When anxiety arises, you know what to do - check out this & this. Scheduling a worry time each day also helps to decrease that feeling of constant worry weaving through your thoughts day & night.

*I try to plan and take control of what I can. With the swine flu, I talked to my kids last night at the dinner table (in age appropriate terms) and reminded them how important it is to wash their hands before eating, after going to the bathroom, when the come home from school, etc. It's such an easy, but extremely effective tool for keeping healthy. My husband & I have gone through what steps we could take if this flu became pandemic. Looking fears in the face & finding potential solutions can feel very liberating.

*I try to keep up with the basics -- exercise, a good night's sleep (I'm not so good there), & a healthy diet.

*Meditation, prayer/spirituality, progressive muscle relaxation, & yoga are all essential tools.

*And, finally, it's easy to take a healthy dose of humor each day when you live with a toddler. I try to laugh with my family, cuddle them up & be as present as I can when I'm with them. Life feels like it's going so quickly & I don't want to waste their growing up time preparing anxiouly for the "what if's".

I hope that helped as you strive for a balanced response to the craziness in the world. I'd love to hear from readers what works for you, too!


Katie said...

I was agoraphobic for 3 years; I think I have some knowledge here. When you have anxiety you must beat it… however the sneaky part is it will always try to come back, even I thought about the swine flew, however you must make a mental note to not avoid anything… its your new guide line once having or had anxiety… Do not avoid anything or it will re appear and you will eventually be locked in your house…. And that’s just not living.

Anxiety Girl said...

Hi Katie,

You're so right - avoiding & resisting seem to just feed anxiety exponentially, don't they? That's so fantastic that you worked your way out from 3 years of agoraphobia - way to go anxiety superhero! Thanks for your comment & good advice!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this (I'm anon, the original commenter). Great helpful information. I think the news diet is the most important one for me, right now, and putting things into perspective. Great info!

Anxiety Girl said...

I'm so glad it was helpful. Take care & thanks for prompting this post. :)

Natalie C. said...

I just stumbled on your blog and I actually have a question for you! Hope you don't mind this comment being used for that purpose. I am fighting anxiety and depression and I had been getting so much better, then all of a sudden the warm weather hit, and today was HORRIBLE! I feel back to square 1. I've noticed a pattern the last 4 years that I've been depressed where summer months are WAY WORSE! Have you ever heard of anything like this? Maybe the heat inducing physical symptoms & therefore anxiety? But it lasts the whole summer. How can I fight this so I don't backslide completely this summer?

Anxiety Girl said...

Hi Natalie!

Thanks for your comment. When I'm answering questions, I have to start with the disclaimer that I'm not a doctor & you should connect with a therapist in your area or your general physician to address any symptoms of anxiety &/or depression.

That said, when I read your comment, my first response was to ask some questions.

When you were getting better & feeling much better, what was working for you? Or, what combination of things was working? For some people, it can be helpful to write all of those things down on paper.

How can you reintegrate some of those things back into your daily life?

If you haven't changed your routines & you're suddenly feeling bad again, what's different now? Do you need to have a physical & check in with your doctor?

I'm wondering if the summer return of symptoms is because of the heat bringing on physical symptoms, which can feel like anxiety /depression. Or, did you have an episode of anxiety/depression one summer & now your mind/body is conditioned to expect a relapse.

I like what Katie said about not avoiding or resisting anything because in the act of such, anxiety symptoms can come back with a vengeance. Is there anything you're avoiding or resisting? When I've avoided anxiety provoking things in the past, I always feel a return of symptoms - guaranteed. When I take them on, I may feel anxious in the moment, but it's manageable.

Some other things that come to mind:

*David Burns wrote a great book called "Don't Panic" & I love that he has a chapter towards the end on relapse prevention. I think it's so helpful to keep track of what's working when you feel good, so you can draw on those strengths & skills when you're not feeling good.

*Check in with yourself on the basics: how's it going with sleep, nutrition, exercise, relationships, mindfulness/spirituality, etc.?

*And, finally, when I start feeling a big return of symptoms, I go to the paradoxical technique of "bring it on". Another great read (& it's super short) is Dr. R. Reid Wilson's "Facing Panic - Self Help for People with Panic Attacks" (I've got a link under recommended books). Taking control of they symptoms by asking for more, turns anxiety on it's head for me. Let me know if it's helpful for you.

I hope this helps, Natalie! I'm also a big fan of good counseling - even if it's just a "booster session" to get back on track. I would encourage you to find someone who truly specializes in anxiety. Many counselors advertise that they do anxiety & depression work. But, I think it's important to know if that's their area of expertise & if they're up on the latest research. I saw from your profile that you're close to 2 fantastic resources - The Ross Center (Jerilyn Ross) & The Center for Mind-Body Medicine (Dr. James Gordon).

Take care & let me know how you're doing!