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Health Corner 05-01-2015

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Dealing with anxiety

By Patricia Woodbury RN MSN

It is normal to feel some anxiety in certain circumstances, such as speaking in front of an audience, interviewing for a new job or a frightening situation. Your nervous system’s innate fight-or-flight response helps your body prepare to react to these threats.
The term anxiety can apply to many problems including panic disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This last one is one of the most common anxiety disorder, marked by persistent, unrealistic, exaggerated feelings of worry and tension. People with GAD tend to overreact to normal situations, such as being stuck in traffic or someone is late for dinner. They fear the worst has happened. They tend to startle easily, have difficulty concentrating or relaxing and sleep problems. GAD is usually accompanied by unpleasant physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, trembling, irritability and breathlessness, to name a few.
The good news is that there are non-drug options available to treat generalized anxiety. People with GAD tend to hold their breath or hyperventilate. A common component of many therapies and self-help programs is breathing. Dr. Andrew Weil recommends inhaling, through the nose, for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of seven, and exhaling through the mouth, for a count of eight and repeat four times. The goal is to eventually inhale and exhale more deeply. When people learn to ease anxiety by simply modifying their breath, it gives them an immediate sense of control over their situation.
Another approach is called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It helps people to recognize distorted patterns of thinking and adopt new techniques for changing them. Research shows that this method of teaching the person healthier coping skills is associated with significant resolution of the symptoms of GAD.
Meditation helps an individual focus in the moment, a concept known as mindfulness, and can help prevent worrying and reduce stress. Meditating on a regular basis can result in significant long-term reduction of anxiety.
Often people with anxiety disorder are sensitive to caffeine and other stimulants which can trigger or exacerbate anxious feelings, worry and tension. It is important to eliminate all sources of caffeine including coffee, tea, sodas, energy drinks, and chocolate. Also be sure to wean off this drug slowly as withdrawal symptoms may temporarily worsen anxiety. Nicotine and alcohol, which are stimulants, can also worsen anxiety.
Regular daily exercise is another excellent way to combat anxiety. Aerobic activities such as brisk walking can release endorphins (feel-good chemicals) and offer distraction from negative thoughts. This type of exercise has been found to decrease tension, boost mood, improve sleep and increase mental alertness. Strength training and Yoga can also reduce symptoms of GAD.
For people with GAD, attending to the media can add to existing worry and fear. One study found that people who watched 14 minutes of negative news had a tendency to catastrophize personal worries unrelated to the news reports. So take a “news fast” and let this break from the news promote mental calm and minimize anxiety and overstimulation.
Source: Dr. Andrew Weil’s Self Healing, March 2015.