Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rx for Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the more stressful altered states life can dish out. If the feeling is continual, and applies to everything, always, then you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and you are always on the edge of screaming. It’s very hard to live life this way, with “relaxation” a fantasy word that only applies to other people. Unless you are drugged, it just never goes away, ever. You live in grinding fear of what the future, the next hour, the next minute, will bring. Your very next action could be the one that will send the sky crashing in on you, and you can’t help tensing for it.

Short of a strong right to the jaw, or heavy meds, there are only a few things I’ve ever found that helped much. The list includes music, reading, deep breathing, yoga, meditation, natural beauty, and really good hanky panky. You probably have a few remedies of your own. The other really serious deterrent is living strictly in the present moment.

There are a number of Eastern philosophies that recommend this, and they do so for a lot of interesting reasons. But the one that counts for us is this: if you are only right here, right now, you are not thinking of the future. And fear - which is what anxiety really is - is all about the future: what will happen IF, what will happen AFTER, what will happen NEXT.

The present-moment-only state of mind takes your whole, alert attention, pulling you away from all that speculation. It is a great state to be in if you’re playing sports, because it jacks up your reaction time. It’s the state we should all be in while driving, but mostly aren’t. It is the way not to think yourself to death. It is also the behavior recommended to addicts to get through drug yearnings. One moment at a time, resisting a craving - or dealing with almost any pain - is bearable. It’s the anticipation of an hour or a week or a lifetime that breaks us down.

When you are in mental pain, try to drag your attention OUTWARD again. What color is the curtain? What does the carpet smell like? Savor the taste of your coffee, your fingertip on the table top, the feel of your jacket settling across your shoulders. What is the barista saying to that brunette? How many studs is she wearing? How many people in this room? What is their age range? Do they all speak English? Any with an accent? NOTICE what is around you, react only to what is required this very second, and you will feel better. The voice that tortures you cannot be heard as well when all your senses are engaged and your mind is focussed on right now, right here.

By the way, this is not only useful for Anxiety. Depression is based partly on dwelling on the past (and its failures); if you drag yourself to this moment, and it really is intolerable, perhaps you will be moved to do something about it, which beats the hell out of brooding. And if you are heading towards psychosis, putting your hand out and touching a real wall, smelling the scent of an actual couch, might help more than any words going by (inside or outside your head). It couldn’t hurt, anyway.

Try it. Practice bringing yourself back to this very second as many times as you can remember to during the day. Even if everything you’ve ever dreaded comes to pass, one moment at a time you will outlast it. Nothing is forever. Only for now.

Deborah is a public speaker and the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. She has also published two romantic comedies. All three books are available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, Kindle Editions, iBooks, and other major vendors; or  you can order them from your local bookstore. Visit her web page at www.lafruche.net, or see her catalog at www.lastlaughproductions.net. Her newest project is a guided meditation CD produced with her husband, musician Robert Hamaker.