Mastering Fear and Anxiety, Part 1

I’m a long-time sufferer of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

As a result, I know how uncomfortable, agonizing, and threatening anxiety can be. I also know how tough it can be to deal with and combat. When I first started getting my most intense bouts of anxiety, I didn’t really know how to deal with it. I had no defenses. I didn’t even really know what was going on, or the fact that what I was feeling was not due to any very real dangerous threat outside of the fear that I had. Even if it was even somewhat of a threat or an issue in real life, my mind was definitely blowing it up to gigantic proportions. And even if I knew that intellectually, it didn’t seem to help much.

After years and years of battling long bouts of constant anxiety and occasional panic attacks, I became motivated to help others learn and strive towards the same thing I did in order to master the anxiety. It can be a long road and it can cause many people to go down paths of alcoholism or drugs to relieve it, because the last thing you feel like you can do when you’re in the midst of panic and impending doom is to calm yourself down.

What’s the Key to Mastering Anxiety?

I learned that the key to mastering anxiety really lies in a combination of things. Just the way the definition of health encompasses a combination of things – physical health, mental health, diet, spirituality, exercise, etc. It’s the same with anxiety.

Anxiety can have a trigger or one root cause, but you come to realize that sometimes or maybe most of the time, that trigger doesn’t matter. It only matters in that approaching that trigger a certain way may help deflate the anxiety. But no matter what, it’s the anxiety that perpetuates itself and creates a monster in your head, and actually has much less to do with the original trigger or whatever it might be your anxiety is associating the fear with.

Your anxiety wants to associate it with something and makes that association important in your head. But, you have to learn to place less importance on it. It’s in anxiety’s nature to grab onto something and turn it into something else. It doesn’t matter what caused it. Try not to let it grab onto anything.

The FIRST Key is attending to your basic health needs. That would be:

-Getting Enough Sleep

-Eating Healthy (people’s idea of healthy varies greatly. When I say healthy I mean, cut the sugar out of your diet except for smaller amounts of natural sugars like from fruit. Get in tons of greens. Get in different types of protein daily. Eat healthy fats. Get rid of saturated fats. Lower your carbohydrate and sodium intake).

-Exercise (and challenge yourself!)

I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but these three things are the absolute keys to solving most health issues! Yes mental health issues, too. The way you eat, how often you exercise, and how much you sleep will contribute immensely to the balance of your brain chemicals. And the balance of your brain chemicals is absolutely essential in how intensely you will experience anxiety, and how well you will deal with it.

I have been on prozac for 9 years, and after I improved my diet, sleep, and exercise patterns, I was finally able to reduce my dose and eventually wean myself off.  Of course, I am also at a stable time in my life. Not to say I don’t ever experience anxiety, but my life, job, relationships, finances, are for the most part stable – which provided a good situation to start weaning myself off. I rely on intensive exercise to give my brain chemicals that boost instead of the prozac. It DOES work.

The second keys to mastering anxiety are:

-Learning to recognize anxiety the second it starts occurring. Not only the mental experience of it but the physical manifestations as well.

-Once it comes, instantly noting it as such and watching your mind closely at this point. Don’t let your thoughts spiral out of control and feed the anxiety. Because that will happen fast – and you won’t even notice it, unless you are paying attention. And I know once you get in high anxiety/panic mode, it’s much harder to wheel yourself back down to a calm state.

Maintaining a pro-active attitude. Once the anxiety comes and say you weren’t able to unwind it in time and it ended up getting to a high level, it’s time to dedicate yourself to working on it. Do what you need to do to make yourself feel better, within reason. I bought massage pillows, essential oils for aromatherapy, and I made plans of things to do to keep myself busy during the day. Dedicate yourself to getting over it. Keep watching your mind. For every thought that feeds your anxiety, combat it with a positive one. Do not give up. The mastering of anxiety will come down to how well YOU learn to grab onto it by its roots and pull it up. And don’t lose hope! It took me years of practice to be able to deal with it right off the bat and not let it get bad. It’s hard. Look at yourself like a student of anxiety that’s just learning its tricks and mischievous ways of getting you all strung out. With some hardcore dedication, you will be a mental ninja in no time!

Know that anxiety comes in many forms. Learn to recognize those for what they are, too. I got all sorts of weird mental and physical symptoms with my anxiety. Depersonalization, constant heart racing, constant nausea, sweats, shakes, insomnia — the list goes on. But the most difficult form to deal with are the tricks it can pull on your mind. It makes you doubt the more positive things people are trying to tell you. It makes you paranoid and at times almost addicted in a strange way to the negativity. It has so much allure and it pulls you in. Don’t fall for it! It’s mental poison! Enough of this can then eventually cause depression and then it starts feeding itself perpetually. If you let it spiral out of control, it will become fat, then you have that much farther to go once again to untangle your brain. Not fun.

“The belief is that being afraid keeps you from doing something dangerous or just dumb. But that’s one of the processes fear uses to protect itself. When we look more closely, we begin to see – especially if we decide to approach something we afraid of – that fear is protecting itself against us.

It looks as if fear is on your side, taking care of you, keeping you safe… until you decide to do something it tells you not to do. At that point you become enemies; you are in an adversarial relationship with that which is supposedly protecting you. 

In other words…rather than simply being a signal that something is going on, fear begins to look like an active force with an agenda of its own.

One might conclude that fear itself is the danger.”

-The Fear Book, by Cheri Huber, page 23.

Tips on mastering anxiety to be continued!

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