When you have generalized anxiety, there is an underlying belief system that the world is a dangerous place. People with this disorder have brains that seem to filter out the good stuff and retain the bad stuff even more than the overall population. Ask them about their day and you are likely to get a litany of things that went wrong. It’s as though the entire world is filled with lemons and lemonade is a drink only other people enjoy. These are people who, when they have downed half of their coffee, look in their cup in despair because the coffee is halfway gone already. They are already planning for their next cup rather than enjoying the coffee they still have left. Instead of enjoying all the times that nothing bad is happening, they are busy waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The thing is, anxiety can be progressive for many people. What starts as negative thinking left unchecked can end up in Agoraphobia, that thing where in severe cases people don’t leave their homes because the world is simply too dangerous. In other words, their comfort zones get smaller and smaller. Is that any way to live? I submit that it is not.
So what to do in a situation where a person has Generalize Anxiety Disorder and Fran ‘the frontal’ Cortex wants to go explore the world, but Amy G. Dala is on fire? You have to find some ways to specifically address the underlying belief system that the world is too dangerous and that the only safe place is your special bed, under the covers, eyes tightly shut. you can’t do that when your inner Amy is way overstimulated. You need some tools to get her to relax a bit so you can hear what Fran ‘the frontal’ Cortex has to say. Let’s start thinking of Amy as an overly tired toddler whose screams drown out all sensible solutions.
You ever been around an overly tired toddler? It’s hilarious (if you are not the parent, that is). They are hyperactive. They run around, swing their arms, kick things, slap their own face (or your face) anything to keep stimulating their brains so they don’t fall asleep standing up. They have chronic meltdowns. They are completely oppositional. Woe be to the parent who asks the overly tired toddler a question that begins with ‘Do you want…’. HAHAHAHA! Those parents are really setting themselves up. Once you’ve allowed a toddler to get to this point, you’re in trouble. It’s going to be very difficult. Amy G. Dala is exactly like that. Trying to use coping skills when she is really upset is only going to go so far. You need to have been paying more attention from the get go. You need to keep her in a better state of zen.
So what do you pay attention to? What over-stimulates your brain such that Generalized Anxiety gets hold of you? In our modern world, there are many ways that we are overstimulated. We live in the TMI days. Too. Much. Information. We are constantly over-exposed. Think of it like the sun. You over expose yourself, you will get blistered. And it will hurt and be bad for you.
Over-exposure comes in many forms. And you probably will have to give up something that you THINK you are enjoying, but is actually just putting Amy’s knickers in a twist. You don’t have to give it up forever. But learning how to mitigate your exposure to things that create tension is important in the long run. It’s hard to notice how things are effecting you until you give them up. It’s kind of like a wheat sensitivity. You might not notice you have one until you eat clean for a month, then add wheat back in and suffer the consequences. Then, you make the connection. See what I mean? Here’s a short list of possibilities.
- Too much news coverage. If you have GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), please stop watching TV news until your brain simmers down. And please stop reading sensationalized news coverage on the interwebs, which pretty much includes any of the mass media websites. Is there anything you can do about the evil geniuses in our world? So what if Vladimir Putin has posed without his shirt on once more? Why is it a surprise that Kim Jong-un has shown the world his own special brand of crazy again? Oh, the Mexican drug cartels have committed more murders? Do tell. The world has always been filled with crazy madmen. You have no control over that.Remember that TV and other media have to compete with each other for readers/viewers. If they can make things overly dramatic, they will do so. A constant barrage of over-stimulation by bad news is bad for the brain. It gives a skewed view of reality and people with GAD already do a good enough job of that. Take a news break.If you feel you must be ‘informed’ ask yourself why? What can you possibly do about anything that is happening in the news unless it is in your own backyard, in which case you will hear about it soon enough. You will not be a bad citizen if you protect your brain from being overly stimulated by being hyper-aroused by TV news. You know what is not news? The fact that every day in our world billions of people go about their business and live perfectly ordinary lives with no drama. No. Drama.
- Listen much to talk radio? Unless it’s NPR, talk radio is likely to be designed to elicit strong emotion, i.e. piss you off. If you find that talk radio puts your head in a space where it won’t shut the hell up, just say no to talk radio.Also, have you ever noticed many talk radio programs center around conspiracy theory? Ever wonder why that is? I opine it’s because fear is the way to get to people’s hearts. These people are like emotional terrorists. Think about it: so what if there is a conspiracy? What will you be able to do about it? So much of dealing with anxiety is knowing that you have ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL, and probably the same amount of responsibility to ‘fix it’. Revel in the freedom that lack of control brings you on things like whether the world is run by reptilian aliens in disguise as presidential candidates. You have no super power. There is nothing you can do about it.
- Scary movies. Really? Do we have to go into this one? Why would anyone with anxiety go to see a horror movie or true crime flick? Just a glutton for punishment? If you somehow believe that this is going to ‘teach you to handle fear’, I just don’t know what to say to that except NO.While we are on the subject, can I just put a plug in here to keep young children from viewing scary media? Just don’t take little kids to movies such as Star Wars (which I LOVE). Young children are not ready for the complete over stimulation and in-your-face experience of this kind of movie, much less some of the others out there. When we went to see Lord of the Rings, someone had brought an infant. Really? Your 4 year old might TELL you that they know that things that happen in movies or on TV aren’t real, but they are only saying that to please you because you’ve told them that, and because they can tell how much you want them to give you that answer. Their brains are not quite ready for that. If you continually allow your young child to be overstimulated, and then they are anxious kids, don’t blame me. (Of course, it’s usually more complex than that, but point made.)
- Video games. Yeah, if you are a lover of intense video games, may want to rethink that, especially if they are violent. And actually, are there any popular ones that are not? Think about the images in these games. Is that what you want to put into your head? I’m not saying you have to never play a video game. But in all seriousness, when your brain is always on fire, this is like blowing on hot coals.
- Facebook drama. Facebook is great. I use it all the time. But ever notice how some people on your feed are always posting negative things? Maybe they have anxiety. Who knows? But if someone on your FB feed is always posting things that make you feel bad, for whatever reason, just unfollow them for awhile. You don’t have to block them, or unfriend them, or whatever. Just don’t expose yourself. Because it doesn’t help you. It hurts you.
- Physical surroundings. Look around the place where you live. Is it overly cluttered? Are you able to completely relax there? Do you have too much stuff? Is your place physically safe? (Recall the woman who lived in a gang infested area and thought she had anxiety.) If you have too much stuff, get rid of some of it. Have a home or boat that is fairly organized and tidy enough that you are not visually and energetically overstimulated by too much stuff. You want to be able to sigh, ‘Ahhhhh…’ in relief when you come home.
- Too much busy-ness. Take a look at how you live your day. Are you trying to cram too much into one day and feeling chronically stressed out? Is there a way to cut back on that? How can you, for instance, use the time sitting in traffic to your advantage rather than getting spun up about it? How can you give yourself time to relax each day and unwind? You might consider talking to a professional who can look at your lifestyle and help you find ways to be creative about time.
- Are you getting enough good quality sleep? You need at least 7 hours of good sleep each night. Sleep deprivation is a huge cause of anxiety. Do you have sleep apnea? A brain deprived of oxygen is a brain trying to survive.
- Exercise. Do you get any? Lack of exercise can keep you spun up for no good reason. Find something that works for you. Walking is a very good exercise for anxiety. Working that excess tension out with physical activity is good on all levels. It really does help.
I hope you can see a general trend here. You should be looking for any kind of activity that creates tension in your body because tension sends a signal to your brain that all is not well. Understanding what creates tension for you, and that you can choose to forego some of that for a time, will help you learn to control your anxiety. Give your system a chance to calm down. Again, think of a toddler. If you never give that toddler a structured time to rest and recoup, can you really blame him for being out of control?
Finally, take stock of your level of chronic tension. Give it a number, like we did in the exercise with couples. Don’t forget that many people have chronic, underlying issues that create a default level of tension all the time. This morning, for instance, I’m typing this post and my internal state of tension is about a 2, mostly because I’m wanting to get it finished. I’m alone, so I don’t have to worry about being able to hear anyone.
What is your current level of tension and anxiety? If it’s above a 2, how can you bring that down? The more your brain can rest from being on high alert, the more healing you will experience.
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