By Rachel @ Christian Mommies
Minor anxiety can cause a stressed out, feeling of unease that subtly interferes with life. Almost everyone will have to face such stress chronically at some point. This "minor" stress can go haywire if not addressed. Many of us will develop heightened anxiety and panic attacks at some point during a highly stressful situation or after prolonged stress, or just due to being especially sensitive and prone to nervousness.
Anxiety attacks feel like a river (of adrenaline) cresting it's banks, a crescendo of ill-ease that can be frightening and leave a sensitive person feeling sick and on the mend for days after each attack. When anxiety attacks are happening for some reason other than a present and dangerous situation, our mind can be our worst enemy. The mind tries to "fill in the blank" and manufacture reasons for feeling like you're about to jump out of a plane. These invasive thoughts, which can range from common fears to fears that aren't even realistically possible, can take over the experience and make it seem a hundred times worse than it is, even insurmountable.
The physical sensations of anxiety heighten the fear, although the sensations are normal and harmless in and of themselves. Common physical symptoms are tightness in the chest (that makes many fear they are near to having a heart attack), fear of fainting, and fear of suffocating, to name a few. Sometimes you get so much oxygen (due to hyperventilating) that your brain signals a "no deep breaths" alert, which causes more panic when you attempt to take a deep, soothing breath and cannot. Your stomach, aka your "little brain" (because it has so many nerves) can have you running to the bathroom all day as if you have a stomach virus. You may feel like you're losing control and begin to worry this is your new normal.
In this two-parter are 9 steps you can take toward recovery from anxiety:
Very sensitive people may realize that too much screen time can cause extra stress. That includes overdoing Internet surfing, certain kinds of television shows, movies or music, and games. This is probably also true for less sensitive anxiety sufferers, although they may not readily notice the connection. Try reducing or eliminating the noise of life, such as overstimulating, emotion wrenching sort of entertainment. This doesn't mean you'll never watch a scary movie again in your life, but that during recovery from anxiety you'll have created a safe cocoon to heal in. Limited viewing, reading, or listening to neutral-positive media, and browsing funnies or cute animal pictures, are calming alternatives.
Every thought brings with it chemicals/hormones that match, negative or positive. Yes, it can be hard to "think on these things... whatever is pure, whatever is lovely" in the midst of an attack. However, we wouldn't be told to do so if it were impossible. From replacing fear of circumstances with trust in God (Psalm 56:3-4, 11). From allowing ourselves to move from trembling in the presence of God to letting His perfect love "cast out fear" so we can boldly approach Him. To embracing God's love and not just seeing God in tunnel vision as judge and ruler. Anxiety usually makes having a balanced and positive view of God and life take extra effort. Sometimes people have to hit some sort of rock bottom to seriously commit to a lifelong process of renewal of the mind and lifelong reinforcement of that renewed thinking.
Therapies for depression and anxiety usually address these negative thoughts. The most common is CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy). It's about replacing wrong, irrational and fearful thoughts with right, rational and positive thoughts. You can pull truths from scripture to use to replace many wrong and fearful thoughts. For instance, in "Stop Worrying!" Scriptures to Memorize, the "change of perspective" topics addressed include verses on confidence, gratitude and victory. They can be applied with typical scripture memorization, and with CBT-like methods. Another example of therapy is REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy), which isolates some common false beliefs about ourselves and others, to replace with reality. For instance, replacing a belief like "I need to be perfect" with "I make mistakes, but I'm still lovable" and if adding scripture, "God's grace is sufficient for me." Or another example, "people need to treat me fairly" with "people sometimes won't treat me fairly, but that doesn't mean they are unlovable", and ultimately with the scriptural "love and pray for those who hurt you". It's a long process and often brought to mind this verse:
"I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!" Mark 9:24
Another common therapy is SD (Systematic Desensitization), the "face your fears" therapy that exposes you to your what-ifs or other phobias. In many cases it's not one to be forced, but in some cases facing up to or learning about what you are anxious about can help you realize it's not an end of the world scenario. Reading other's stories about surviving "the worst" (Corrie Ten Boom comes to mind!) or watching movies about them when you are ready, can help build your courage and see what is possible for humans to overcome. Our Creator made the human spirit quite tough, people are going through some of the things we fear most and coming out victorious.
Moving your mind "into the present" when things are getting overwhelming can be all it takes to stop a worry-a-thon. You can't change the past by worrying about it. You cannot alter the future by worrying about it. Stop what you are doing and start on another task at hand, like that pile of dishes in the sink, mowing the lawn (beware pushing yourself so hard physically that you get workout related "symptoms" that mirror panic attack symptoms and flare up your anxiety as a result), knitting a scarf, writing in a journal, or just sitting out in the sunshine with a magazine. Activities that involve your hands or being creative tend to be most relaxing.
An extreme form of distraction I've tried is the dive reflex, "distracting" from the brain out, which involved dipping my head in freezing water and holding it there. It's like hitting the reset button of your brain. (You should ask your doctor if you should even try this. You should NOT do it if you have any heart issues!) It only temporarily worked for me, because I was at my height of anxiety and smack in the middle of an attack, and my continued anxious thoughts drove me right back into an anxiety attack within five minutes. After some recovery and practice policing your thoughts, I can see it being used as a tool, if you don't mind getting your face freezing wet. (I'll pass.)
If these day to day activities aren't enough of a distraction, another way of getting yourself back to the present is to do self care. I have a bag of Popsicle sticks with an activity on each (Laugh, Rock, Self Massage, Foot Soak, Mani/Pedi, Facial, Warm Bath, Hug it Out - if no pets or family are around then hug yourself). I draw one from my "Stress Bag" when I need some random relaxing distraction.
Cont'd in Part 2
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