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Anxiety – A Practical Approach

I was on my way to Albuquerque to speak a couple months ago when it happened.  PANIC.  The door of the plane had not even closed yet.  The second one happened on the tarmac, and embarrassingly, the whole plane was waiting for me to tell them if we had to turn around and go back to the gate.  The third one happened after we landed.

Anxiety!  Panic!  What causes it?  We are all intelligent, rational people.  We know we have a loving God who is always there for us. And He knows us!  We are told in Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God.”

An anxiety or panic attack can come without warning and suddenly the body takes over.  Breathing can become shallow and difficult as muscles tense, heart palpitations can occur, and dizziness and feeling faint are common.  I personally felt as though I was going to explode or die.  We know it doesn’t make any sense, but the body is pumping adrenaline like we are running away from a pack of wolves!  The feeling of doom is very real, and there is an overwhelming need to escape.  For some of us, this could happen anytime and anywhere. 

Recently I was having tea with a friend, and she asked me what I see as one of the most prevalent issues with my clients.  I said stress, and she said she thought it would be anxiety.  Well, you might say one thing leads to another, and in a way, you could be right.  But there is an overlooked aspect to anxiety, and that is that most often it is a physical symptom of something else going on in your body.  It isn’t stemming from mental or emotional roots.  By thinking that we should be able to control it, we often cause it to become worse.  As in…what is wrong with me?  There is something wrong with me!  I am losing my mind, breaking down, and where is my faith?  As a man/woman of God, I shouldn’t have anxiety…how embarrassing and even shameful!  This certainly doesn’t help things does it? 

Anxiety and panic attacks are symptoms that there is something wrong physically.

It may be the gut, it may be the thyroid, it may be your adrenals, it may be your brain, it may be your liver.  But wherever it is stemming from, it can be addressed, so everything will be ok, and there should be no shame attached.  It is not an extension of your faith, or lack thereof.  That being said, one side effect of anxiety is that it can become psychosomatic. 

After a simple blood test, it turned out that I was hyperthyroid. 

My panic had nothing to do with a fear of flying or public speaking, and more to do with too much thyroid hormone in my body.  Dealing with the subsequent anxiety and panic attacks, I know that I felt very hot when they started.  Afterwords, if I felt hot, I would get scared that one was coming on.  And that is what I’d like to talk about today.  There are many ways to head these off at the pass.

 

First, focus on bringing the mind back to the present. 

  • Holding an ice cube tightly in one hand for a few minutes will make the mind think of the discomfort of the cold. 
  • Focus on breathing.   Put your hand on your abdomen and feel it rise as you take in a deep breath.  Hold for a count of 7 and then exhale for a count of 8.   
  • Touch objects in front of you, and note….”this is cool and smooth,” “this is fuzzy and soft,” “this is hard and rough.”
  • Use an app on your phone called “Virtual Hope Box.”
  • Count down from 9 to 1, imagining each number in a bright color made out of something with texture.  For instance, a bright red 9 made out of cherries.  Breathe deeply while imagining this for 20 seconds or so.  Then, an 8, bright green and maybe made out of grass.  Continue down to 0, knowing that when you get there, you will be ok again.
  • As an Orthodox Christian, you may be wearing a prayer rope, or komboskini.  Saying the Jesus Prayer with each knot, or just saying Lord have mercy, or Kyrie eleison repeatedly has helped me…especially if my husband is next to me and we say it together. 

 

For reducing overall daily anxiety make sure to get enough sleep, enjoy some physical exercise daily, and avoid caffeine, sugar, and alcohol, since all place added stress on the adrenal glands.  Processed carbohydrates, low quality animal products, soda, and sugar laden snacks all contribute to fatigue and affect the gut, so these should be avoided as well.  Do not be afraid to seek professional help.  It takes courage to admit struggling with anxiety, but there is help out there.  Some of the above tips came from my own counselor, as I was concerned about getting back on a plane due to the association with the Albuquerque experience.  I used the tools, and my trip a couple weeks ago went off without a hitch.

Get a check up with a knowledgeable doctor, and above all, pray!  Our heavenly Father wants to hear from us, “with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”.  Philippians 4:7 continues “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

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