Understanding Anxiety

Do you often worry about stuff or think something bad is going to happen?  I know these feelings because I have also had extreme anxiety.  Everyone worries about things sometimes but anxiety takes worrying to a much higher level.    This post will discuss the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and what can help you to feel better.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects about 6.8 million American adults, including twice as many women as men.  It usually  develops gradually and can begin at any point in  life  but usually develops between childhood and middle age.  Other anxiety disorders such as panic disorder, depression, or substance abuse often accompany GAD.   It  is commonly treated with medication and/or  cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Generalized anxiety disorder  is characterized by six months or more of chronic, exaggerated worry and tension that is unfounded or  more severe than the normal anxiety most people experience. People with GAD usually:
Can’t control their excessive worrying
Have difficulty falling or staying asleep
Experience muscle tension
Expect the worst
Worry excessively about money, health, family or work, even when there are no signs of trouble
Are unable to relax
Are irritable
Are easily startled
Are easily fatigued
Have difficulty concentrating

Generalized anxiety disorder usually responds well to medication and certain types of psychotherapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness.  Sometimes medication won’t be needed and anxiety will respond well to psychotherapy.

A number of medications that were originally approved for treating depression have been found to be effective for anxiety disorders. These must be taken for several weeks before symptoms start to fade, so it is important not to get discouraged and stop taking these medications. They need a chance to work.  This is especially helpful if you have depression and anxiety.   If you have any bothersome side effects, speak to your doctor and he or she will be able to determine if a change is needed in your medication. An adjustment in dosage or a switch to another medication  will usually correct side effects.

Anti-Anxiety Medications
Benzodiazepines relieve symptoms quickly  however they often increase drowsiness. Since many  people can develop a tolerance to them—and would have to continue increasing the dosage to get the same effect—benzodiazepines are generally prescribed for short periods of time. People who have had problems with drug or alcohol abuse are not usually good candidates for these medications because they have a greater likelihood of becoming   dependent.  Some people experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking benzodiazepines abruptly instead of tapering off, and anxiety can return once the medication is stopped. Potential problems with benzodiazepines have led some physicians to shy away from using them.  Buspirone (Buspar),  is an  antianxiety medication used to treat GAD.  Unlike benzodiazepines, buspirone must be taken consistently for at least two weeks to achieve an antianxiety effect.

Cognitive-Behavioral  Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is very useful in treating anxiety disorders. The cognitive part helps people change the thinking patterns that support their fears, and the behavioral part helps people change the way they react to anxiety-provoking situations.
For example, CBT can help people with panic disorder learn that their panic attacks are not really heart attacks and help people with social phobia learn how to overcome the belief that others are always watching and judging them.

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) combines cognitive behavioral techniques with mindfulness strategies such as meditation and  deep breathing exercises  in order to help you to better understand and manage your  thoughts and emotions in order to achieve relief from feelings of anxiety.

For many people, the best approach to treatment is medication combined with therapy. As stated earlier, it is important to give any treatment a fair trial.   Remember  if one approach doesn’t work, there are others that may be helpful for you.


How increased mindfulness can decrease relapse risk

Do you sometimes hear an inner voice that tries to convince you to drink or use drugs during sobriety?  The voice might say,  “I can have just one drink,” or “I’ll never be able to stay clean, so I might as well use”?   This inner voice can make you have increased cravings and cause a relapse.

I’ve worked with clients   who are dealing with addictions as well as  co-occurring concerns such as depression  or anxiety.  Relapses are common within the process of recovery,  however, learning techniques that help  redirect thoughts and increase internal awareness can be  helpful in  minimizing  the possibility of future relapses.

How Does Mindfulness Help Prevent Relapse?

Mindfulness practice  helps to increase awareness of thoughts, sensations, and feelings from moment to moment by instructing you  to simply observe what occurs in each moment within the self without judgment.   This helps you to   learn to recognize triggers or cravings associated with certain emotions, thoughts, or sensations that may lead to drug or alcohol use. This increased awareness of what is occurring internally in a moment leads to an increased capacity to intervene during that day.

Increased mindfulness practice, helps you to  begin to detect thoughts, feelings, and triggers that may lead to relapse early enough to prevent yourself from acting on them. Mindfulness helps you to learn to detach from thoughts by first simply recognizing the thought, without judging it, and then redirecting attention to the present moment or to your breath.

Redirecting your thoughts to today, where you are sober, instead of spending time worrying about whether you will be able to remain sober or thinking about  regrets from when you were using drugs or drinking heavily, can help relieve the pressure of negative emotional experiences that may  put  your sobriety at risk.   Mindfulness can  also help you interrupt the thought processes that often leads to drug- or alcohol-seeking behavior.

Other benefits of mindfulness related to addiction and recovery include a reduction in negative thoughts and feelings associated with the past or future. For some, the mind going to the past or the future often  jeopardizes existing sobriety. With mindfulness practice, you can learn to increase the amount of time you spend being in the present moment, which reduces the amount of time you spend thinking about your past or future.   Increased mindfulness helps you to  learn to train yourself to pick up on important cues that might go unrecognized. When you become more mindful of your internal and external state, you will find it easier to recognize moment-to-moment happenings in your life.  Mindfulness  also celebrates with awareness each moment and day you have successfully abstained and helps you learn to reduce harsh self-judgments that do not serve you in your continued  recovery.

Practicing Mindfulness During Your Workday

A busy week at work often leads to increased stress.   Even with the best intentions for productivity at the start of the day, many people  find themselves going home thinking about the tasks they haven’t completed and wondering how the day went by so fast.

Successful mindfulness practice can help to reduce stress, improve focus, and help you to find more satisfaction in relationships.   I’ve compiled a list of 10 ways you can easily fit mindfulness practice into a regular day:

1. Practice Mindfulness in the Morning

Try introducing mindful moments into some of your first actions for the day, such as when you start getting ready for work.   For example, try being mindful while you get dressed.  How does the clothing feel,  take a deep breath as you get dressed.   Pay attention to the fabric touching your skin.

2. Practice Mindfulness on Your  Commute

If you drive, take a moment in traffic to safely notice the details around you. What does the car in front of you look like? How does the steering wheel feel in your hands? If you take public transportation, take a deep breath and notice how the seat beneath you feels. See the color and texture of it. Notice the sound the bus or train makes when it starts and stops.

3. Practice Mindfulness While Drinking Coffee or Tea

If you’re the type of person who chugs coffee or tea while checking email first thing in the morning, then this might be a good time to pause and take a moment for mindfulness.  Instead, sit down with your cup and notice how it feels in your hands. Feel the temperature through the container. Inhale the aroma, then slowly breathe it back out. How does the color of your drink contrast or blend in with its container?

4. Practice Mindfulness While Taking a Break

Make a point to take short breaks from work a few times each day. Taking a quick walk even if it’s around your office or grabbing a snack can help refuel your energy and productivity level. Studies have found employees who take breaks during the day,  return to their tasks with more stamina and feel more energized and motivated throughout the day.

5. Practice Mindfulness While Browsing Social Media

Findings from a University of Pittsburgh study suggest  that the more time people spend on social media, the more likely they are to experience depression. Social media can sometimes make you feel more isolated, can expose you to cyberbullying, and can sometimes distort your perception of time Try not to stay logged into your social media accounts all the time, so when you  decide to check Facebook or Instagram, you need to stop and log in.

6. Practice Mindfulness in the Presence of Others

If your day involves being around other people for a lot of the time, you can still find moments for mindfulness. If you’re in a work meeting, lay your hand flat on the surface in front of you. Notice how the table or desk feels under your palm.

7. Practice Mindfulness in Meditation

Many people practice mindfulness through meditation.  Quieting your mind is often very difficult. In mindfulness meditation, focus your mind on the present thought. If you find your thoughts drifting to other things, take notice of those thoughts—without reaction or judgment then redirect your attention back to the present.  If you’re having trouble getting started, try  closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing. Count each deep breath as you check in with your body. Notice where you are carrying tension. Focus your breaths on that area.

8. Practice Mindfulness While Eating

Physical health can contribute in many ways to mental health and well-being. Practicing mindfulness while making decisions about what you put in your body can help you feel better and also aid in creating healthier eating habits.  Being in tune with your body and eating while relaxed can also support good digestion.

9. Practice Mindfulness in Self-Care Activities

Meditation and mindfulness can be a part of your self care plan.   Think about what would most benefit your mind and body, and then choose a self-care activity thoughtfully.  During your activity, pay attention to your senses. What do you feel? What can you hear? If you find your mind wandering, take note of your thoughts and direct them back to your self-care activity.

10. Practice Mindfulness Before You Go to Sleep

A lack of good and restful sleep can raise your stress level and take a toll on your mind and body. If your mind is busy, and you’re having difficulty quieting it at night, a moment of mindfulness can be very helpful.   Try a few deep breathing exercises or a guided meditation.  As you lie in bed, focus on relaxing one section of your body at a time. Concentrate on your breathing until your mind feels quiet enough to fall asleep.