Understanding Anxiety

We all tend to use the words depression, anxiety, panic, madness, psychotic,demented, loosely, without understanding the real meaning of it, and labeling almost every second person we meet as not ‘positive’ enough, or good enough according to our standards of thinking. Mental Healthcare today is nothing but chaotic with various most people not wanting to understanding what it is, what to do about it, how to handle it, and most importantly, how to overcome or help a loved one overcome the mental agony that they might be going through.

According to a study conducted by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, over 12 million adults and about 10% of teenage children struggle with Social Anxiety or Social Phobia. The mis-conception in many situations about people over-reacting to a particular event or a problem, unfortunately goes on to make the person feel worse, increasing their intensity, and creating more stress. Anxiety is a fight or flight reaction, that originates in the brain. It is very real, when a long list of somatic reactions such as sweating, a racing heart, trembling, blushing, feeling dizziness, feeling nauseous, having muscle cramps, blacking out, feeling like your stomach is churning, etc.

In spite of repeated visible and invisible symptoms, more than a third of the population, will down right refuse to take any form of professional help. The reason is very simple- feeling embarrassed to talk not just to a doctor, (Psychiatrist), Psychologist, Therapist, etc,but also to a trusted ally like a family member or a friend. Even if they are non-judgmental towards the person, the stigma around Mental Health disorders is so big that the person beats themselves up, inflicting themselves with nothing but more pain.

We find ourselves or our loved ones deeply fearing coming out to meet new people, accepting a job offer or just speaking out about something that may not necessarily be uncomfortable, and we are just unable to decipher as to why this is happening, even after listing a 100 benefits of doing the same. This fear is known as Social Anxiety Disorder/Social Phobia, where a person EXTREMELY fears being judged, negatively evaluated, in a social or performance situation. People with social anxiety disorder may worry about acting or appearing visibly anxious (e.g., blushing, stumbling over words), or being viewed as stupid, or weird. As a result, they often avoid social gatherings, and when a situation cannot be avoided, they experience significant anxiety and distress. A common form of anxiety, it goes far beyond having butterflies in the stomach, and can be debilitating for some one who has to constantly interact with people. This fear in many cases leads to failure at school, work, at home, complete social isolation, increased risk of depression (Major Depressive Disorder), addiction issues, eating disorders etc. According to a study conducted by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Social Anxiety affects about 15 million American Adults, and about 9% of teenagers.

It is no longer a hidden fact today that the medications often used to treat depression and general anxiety, i.e selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, SSRIs, can have many side-effects. Reason being, an excess of serotonin (a chemical the body produces that is needed for nerve cells and the brain to function) production, in the fear or emotional center of the brain known as the amygdala.

This then makes us question, ”How do I or a loved one deal with this?” Today, almost every resource is available online. There are a plethora of therapies- both scientific and pseudo scientific that 4 in 10 people offer, claiming to heal and permanently over come their issues. Who to believe? Why to believe? How to believe? As a therapist myself, and as someone who integrates and practices both holistic therapies, and the traditional counselling and talk therapy, my advice to my clients and their relatives is very simple. Patiently think before making any hasty decision that could further create havoc in a person’s mental and physical environment. An integrative approach of the mind, body, and soul is necessary, including making sure the right kind of diet is being taken by the person, but understanding what aspect to tackle and deal with first, creates a concrete foundation for a successful outcome.

As Torkil Berge, head of the Norwegian Association of Cognitive Therapy rightly said, ”Social Anxiety is a hidden disorder, and due to its very nature, many patients find it difficult to even communicate the fact that they need help to overcome their fear to a health care provider. Thousands of people then end up not receiving the right kind of attention and treatment, eventually having to resort to drug therapy as the ultimate result.” Due to this very reason, it becomes imperative for the healthcare provider to first hear the person out before rushing to give a physical, and many a times, a metaphysical explanation for the problem.

How does one help a person that is scared of taking professional help?

You might be thinking why on earth would anyone not want to come out of their mental state, because you can see and understanding how difficult it is for them to deal with life and its situations on a day to day basis, but, this is a truth. Because professional help is considered as a money-waster, time consuming, absurd, and only fit for people that are mad, it cripples a person self-esteem about themselves even more. In this kind of a situation, it is important for the care-giver to contact someone who would be able to help them understand how to deal with this problem, and themselves as well, since most loved ones become harrowed and helpless watching their loved ones suffer. Because of the lack of mental health education, knowingly or unknowingly, the situation is mis-handled, worsening the condition. Below are a few simple techniques that you can help your loved ones or yourself with, if such an issue arises:

  1. If you feel you are about to burst into an anxiety attack, either go hug someone, lend a hug, or go and hug a tree (if possible), and start deep breathing. Breathe in through the nose, breathe out through the mouth, and relax. Do this about 7 times.

  2. If a hug or a physical touch is not possible, grip and hold on to any object, and start deep breathing while counting down from 5, down to 0.

  3. Look around for 5 static objects that you can see around you- a car, a tree, a pen, a bottle, etc.

  4. Touch various objects around you and hold them in your hands for a few seconds each.

  5. Have some water.

Once this initial phase is tackled:-

a) Consider learning about the scientific aspects of mental health and related disorders, in order to acknowledge the problem, instead of running away from it.

b) On a scale of 0 to 10, rate the level of anxiety. A range of 4 to 6 is manageable, and is a good way to start beginning to redirect this dis-empowering mental and energy. Think of anxiety as energy flowing through your nervous system. Feelings of anxiety are similar to feelings of excitement—the difference is the emotional charge attached to it.

c) On a piece of paper, write down all that you are feeling. In moments when even this is not possible, scribble through and do what your mind guides you to, in order to release whatever residual emotions that might be pent up. Once, you feel a little in control of yourself, write down what all you think could do physically, mentally, and emotionally to turn your anxiety into excitement. It could be as simple as reading one page from a book, or going out for a walk, having a cup of tea, opening the window and feeling the breeze on your face. Make it simple, and doable first, then going to something like dancing, pottery, yoga and meditation class, etc.

d) Take 3 deep breaths and see the desired outcome of you being able to overcome your social anxiety, filling your imagination up, artistically as possible. Make an effort to feel it with all your sense, without trying to analyze too much. When you use your imagination well, and consistently, you fill your body and mind with power and confidence, dramatically increasing the likelihood of your success.

e) Take action. Do one thing each day to help you take control. Even one small step or task will lead to a greater sense of security about your current situation, leaving you breathe a lot more easier, and be a little less non-judgmental towards yourself and the condition. Go back to all the things you wrote that you wanted to do, one at a time.

Turning anxiety into personal strength does not have to be rocket science, once you understand and what it is, properly.