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How to Conquer Mental Maladies: Coping with Anxiety
by Diana Barnum

A normal reaction to stress is to take action & cope or run away. However, if excessive fear, worry or nervousness creates anxiety, these daily reactions can be can be distorted. Danger can be perceived in a simple outing to the grocery store, immobilizing a person. How can you tell if your reactions are normal or excessive? Aaron T. Beck, Gary Emery and Ruth L. Greenberg share the following in their book Anxiety Disorders and Phobias: A Cognitive Perspective (New York: Basic Books, 1985):

"Anxiety is generally considered a normal reaction if it is roused by a realistic danger and if it dissipates when the danger is no longer present. If the degree of anxiety is greatly disproportionate to the risk and severity of possible danger, and if it continues even though no objective danger exists, then the reaction is considered abnormal."

What causes anxiety? Several factors can cause this; among them, genetic predisposition, negative self-talk, inner conflicts, early childhood learned/social environment, physical/medical symptoms – illness, new medications, etc, coping and social behaviors. To learn more, let’s look at the symptoms and the different forms anxiety can take.


If you have at least 4 of the following physical symptoms more than once in a four-week period, you may be suffering anxiety attacks:

· Numbness in the hands & feet
· Racing heartbeat or palpitations
· Trembling hands
· Hot flashes or chills
· Choking
· Upset stomach
· Profuse sweating
· Strong fears about dying
· Lose control or fear of going crazy
· Chest pain
· Feelings of unreality or being detached

The fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s “Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder” (also known as the DSM-IV) lists these major types of anxiety disorders with the following symptoms for each:

Panic Disorder – Recurrent, unexpected panic attacks (intense fear or discomfort that suddenly begins as if out of nowhere).

Phobias - An irrational, recurring fear of an object, activity or situation (for example fear of spiders, flying, or leaving your house).

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – An extreme fear or horror resulting from a traumatic experience (for example having flashbacks from past child abuse or war).

Acute Stress Disorder – Similar to Posttraumatic Stress, but this is not as long term in effect (for instance feeling extreme guilt for surviving after a loved one has died).

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – Persistent thoughts or repetitive behaviors that you feel absolutely MUST be performed (for instance washing your hand 25 times every day).

Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Excessive worry on several events or activities that lasts at least 6 months (like obsessing over what to make for meals and how to keep the house immaculate while working 90 hours per week).

Anxiety Disorder resulting from another condition - Having excessive anxiety because of another type of medical illness ( for example being over anxious because you’re trying to heal from long term depression).

Substance-induced Anxiety Disorder - Directly related to your being exposed to a substance (like having an anxiety reaction to a new medication your doctor prescribed).

More than 19 million people suffer from an anxiety disorder every year. According to the National Institute of Mental Health and other researchers, these disorders are among the most common mental health problems. Physical problems also arise in conjunction with these anxiety illnesses as well; including cardiovascular disease and suicide.


Several methods are available to treat anxiety disorders. Let’s take a closer look at some.

TFT One method of coping with anxiety is using Thought Field Therapy (TFT) discovered in 1981 by a cognitive psychologist Dr. Roger Callahan. He discovered that by treating the blockage in the energy flow created by disturbing thought patterns, the disturbance disappears. TFT eliminates negative feelings previously associated with a thought.

How does it work? Dr. Callahan or your own therapist asks you to think about a situation or event and rate how uncomfortable you feel at the moment on a scale from one to ten; ten is the worst you can feel and one is fine.

Then, at the direction of the therapist, you tap with two fingers on various acupressure points on your body. During this process, you share how you feel. The tapping is done according to a prescribed pattern or algorithm, based on the particular emotions being worked on in therapy. After the series of tapping, usually lasting only five to six minutes, the treatment is complete and the distress is gone. There is an 80% success rate (90-95% with trained therapists) and NO side effects.

Turn your negative thoughts into positive ones. Try journaling during times of stress, and pinpoint your fears. Then list each fear and delve into the “why’s” and find out what the basis for this fear is. Are you affair to leave your house because your car may break down and strand you? Can you take a bus? Can you walk or ask a friend for traveling help? Then jot down some ways to change your current fearful ideas – slowly. Remember you have to walk before you can run! Maybe concentrate on opening your front door on day 1. Tomorrow put one foot outside. Day 3, maybe both feet can be out. But day 4, perhaps enjoying your progress with an ice cream cone is in order, before trying to make it to the mailbox! Make it an adventure and don’t push yourself. Be your best friend.

And while you’re journaling, add some affirmations to boost your self-esteem and confidence. Write your positives: I am smart. I can do this. I am a good person. Keep going… How about checking out the library for aids? There are some great books out there with inspirational ways others have coped with their anxiety. Here are a few I like:

· Anxiety, Phobias and Panic Attacks – by Elaine Sheehan, Element Books, Inc. 1996).
· Straight Talk About Anxiety & Depression – by Michael Maloney, M.D. & Rachel Kranz, Facts on File, Inc., 1991.
· Transforming Anxiety Transcending Shame – by Rex Briggs, M.S.W., Health Communications, Inc., 1999.
· When Anxiety Attacks – by Stan H. Looper, M.A. & Cynthia Scott, M.S., Swan Publishers, 1993.
· Uneasy Lives: Understanding Anxiety Disorders – by Carol C. Nadelson, M.D., Chelsea House Publishers, 2000.

Audiocassettes are also tools for coping with anxiety. Check your local library for some like: The Revitalizer II Relaxation Tape and Priming Self-Esteem - by Thomas H. Budzynski, Ph.D. Anti-Panic & Stop Panic and Fly More Calmly – by Christopher Gilbert, Ph.D.

Some physicians, psychotherapists and psychologists recommend medication; such as Valium, Xanax, Prozac, Paxil, Klonopin, & Imipramine for their patients suffering anxiety disorders. Sometimes different medications need to be tried and dosages re-adjusted to meet individual needs. However in addition to chemical or emotional dependency on these drugs, there are “side effects.” Anxiety can be replaced by nerve numbness, sluggishness, desire to sleep more, loss of sexual feeling and more. You may have to decide which you’d rather have: anxiety attacks to cope with or side effects to deal with.

Others recommend herbal treatments. Some use Kava Kava, Valerian Root, Gingko and St. John’s Wort in various doses. A good book I recommend for finding out more about herbs is called, “Handbook for Herbal Healing,” by Christopher Hobbs, Interweave Press, Inc, 1990. If you’re already taking medication, check with your physician first before trying any herbs. Some herbs and medicines don’t mix!

Relaxation and physical exercises are also helpful. Practice slowing down your breathing. Take wonderful, deep cleansing breaths, then exhale. Start all over and take it easy. Later make sure you get enough physical exercise as well. Take a walk or work out in the living room with a video or television program. Of course, make sure your doctor ok’s this first. And do take care to maintain a healthy menu of foods.

When to Seek Professionals
If there’s even the slightest thought of suicide, seek help now! If your anxiety has taken over your life for too long and you want help, go get help. It’s ok to want help and seek it. Trained professionals can often guide us to healthier paths in short term or long term therapy. Perhaps one appointment is all you’ll need to get a new program under way. Maybe 4-6 weeks with a support group would help.

If you’ve been noticing that you can’t seem to cope on your own, get help. Maybe journaling has worked for a few years, but lately it’s lost its power. Make an appointment and ask a professional. New books, tapes, treatments, medications, herbs, and online Websites pop up daily offering a variety of aids for anxiety disorders.

For more detailed information about anxiety disorders, please visit the Holisticonline.com Anxiety Infocenter

Conquering Anxiety

Diana Barnum is president of Moving Ahead Communications, a company that offers marketing, public relations & freelance writing services. She teaches a 4-week course called, “Marketing and Public Relations Using Computers for Writers” at Word Museum at http://movingaheadcommunications.com/class

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