Managing Mantra for Anxiety

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There is so many myths out there about anxiety and how to manage it. To separate the fact from fiction is important.

This ‘anxiety mantra’ series aims to do that and more.

First myth about managing anxiety is that we try to ignore anxiety, ignore what triggers it. The fact is this does not help. It, in fact makes it difficult to effectively manage anxiety.

Thus, first ‘mantra’ to manage anxiety is to train mind to identify the triggers of anxiety.

It may be something or someone in environment outside i.e. external trigger, or could also be an internal trigger, a thought, a memory, or an image.

To identify trigger is the first solid clue and key to manage anxiety. A journal, a quick note in phone could be the starting point to keep a track of them.

‘We will manage anxiety, and will not let it manage us.’

Share if you agree. Share your triggers here to help others identify theirs.

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Right medicine, therapy, self help skills, can completely abolish anxiety. This statement is a MYTH.

Aim of any intervention for treating anxiety, be it in form of self help, medications, expert advice of a psychiatrist or psychologist- is about learning to ‘manage’ anxiety and not really about curing it.

In situations where ‘anxiety’ is a psychological manifestation of an underlying physical condition like thyroid dysfunction, anaemia etc., it completely disappears on treatment of the underlying cause.

Attempts to completely abolish anxiety usually fail and thus, add to distress and despair.

Learning to cope with anxiety and building strategies to manage it is the key.

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‘You are anxious because you are not trying hard enough to fight it’

This statement is a MYTH. This is what we are told many a times about our anxiety. Not only others, we often berate and blame ourselves for not trying hard enough to stop our anxieties.

The truth is more we try to stop or fight anxiety, stronger it becomes.

This is so, because, when we fight or try hard to stop our anxiety, we invest our emotional energy into it. Greater the emotional energy invested, faster is the rate at which the anxiety will grow.

Key is to let the thoughts that provoke anxiety, come and go. Do not invest your emotional energy in them. Do not try to stop them. Do not try to fight them.

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You worry that you are worrying,

You worry when aren’t you worried, because, there must be something you are missing that you need to be worried about,

You can just can’t seem to switch it off,

This is typical of generalised anxiety and ruminations. Of course, this varies in intensity,

For some this cycle is vicious and very exhuatsting,

For others it is milder and seems to be under control, except in stressful situations, when it becomes pronounced,

The trick is to be able to break the this cycle of rumination. Stop, identify the pattern, change it to a more positive thought, and move on. But, this would require repeated action in itself.

Seek professional help whenever necessary.

The mantra is we can learn manage it.

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Anxiety is in mind, it does not affect body. This is a MYTH.

In fact, in reality, the way we are rushing through our daily routines, always busy, fighting off unseen dragons out there, we often miss when our brain’s capacity to withstand or cope with stress starts dwindling.

But, we do notice constant headaches, pain behind eyes, tense neck and shoulder muscles, palms sweating, heart beating a bit faster, sense of breathlessness, tiredness and lethargy, weakness, dryness of mouth, indigestion and heartburn, bloated abdomen, altered appetite, fine tremors in our hands, poor concentration, memory loss.

All these symptoms are often the so called physical representation of anxiety.

The first mantra to manage these symptoms is to first identify that it is anxiety camouflaging as physical symptoms. It can and it does. Camouflage.

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My alertness stops bad things from happening, if I am not vigilant, something bad would happen. And, yes, I have countless examples, because, even when I am at my red alert best, things go wrong. So, imagine what will happen if I’ll relax my guard!

THIS is what many people with anxiety say/ or struggle with in their own mind!

This is a MYTH.

Anxiety makes you hyper vigilant,

Hyper-vigilance is when your flight-fight response is working over time,

Hyper-vigilance makes you continuously scan, environment,

Continuously overworking anxiety systems, diverts all your bodies energy to ‘chase the fear away and to be on guard always,

THIS does not HELP as your mind tells you it would.

Actually, it exhausts you, physically and mentally,

It drains you and leaves you feeling, helpless, weak, vulnerable.

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Its ALL in the ‘BRAIN’ and as real as real can be.

Anxiety is a state of heightened neural connectivity of the ‘emotional’ brain networks.

Heightened neural activity hinders the critical thinking of the ‘rational’ brain, which narrows down the adaptive choices of the actions required to minimise the stress in that moment of time, in simpler words it appears that the rational choices are few and scanty for that person in that moment.

Anxious brain has low threshold for switching om the primitive flight or fright response. Its like an alarm that goes up with every overt or covert trigger, but mainly thoughts. Brain does not always smartly recognise what danger is outside and real and what is inside and a thought or image of that danger. It presses the same panic button in both situations similarly.

Brain identifies thoughts, images, as real as actual situations, thus, EVEN, when it is all in so called MIND, these maladaptive thoughts and images, will trigger brain’s (body’s response) panic button.

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Definitely, seek a specialists/ psychiatrist’s help for anxiety

When it is disabling

When it is persistent

When it is of sudden onset

When it is intense and unbearable

When it is effecting your relationships

When it is effecting your work

When it is effecting your health

When it is effecting your life

When you are self medicating in form of drugs

Keep a low threshold for seeking help, there is no strength in continuing to suffer when there is help out there.

Ending the stigma starts from us.

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‘What if’

‘I should’

‘I should not’

‘I cannot’

‘I could have’

‘I am weak’

‘I would fail’

‘Why did I do that’

‘What will I do’

‘What will they think’

‘This is a disaster!’

PAY ATTENTION to how you talk to yourself in your mind. If the self talk usually starts with ‘what if’, ‘I should’, ‘I will fail’, ‘I cannot’, and other phrases as mentioned above, more than the affirmative positive statements, then, you can be sure that this is where you can find the initial source of your anxiety.

Key is to recognise these cognitive distortions (i.e. thoughts that are maladaptive and anxio-genic) and actively replace them with positive alternative statements.

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First feeling in the morning for some with anxiety could be of momentary happiness and contentment, however, within seconds brain becomes a wrestling ring for thoughts and images of pending work, of activities to

be done, of assignments to be completed, of potential mistakes that would be made, etc, in an intrusive, repeated cycle,

‘draining’ and ‘exhausting’ brain and body, even before the day has begun.

For others with anxiety in morning brain wakes up with the ‘worry recorder’ being switched on automatically, without the preluding feeling of being ‘anxiety free’ or ‘happy’ or ‘contentment’.

This, of course, varies in intensity.

This mental exhaustion triggers ‘low’ feelings and sense of ‘helplessness’.

“I won’t be able to do that much, what is the point of getting up or doing anything at all then” is how anxiety leads to PROCRASTINATION and DISTRESS.

Key is to understand that although, you CANNOT STOP the thoughts, they are AUTOMATIC, but you can tell your brain FIRMLY to stay put, you can DISTRACT yourself with any other activity like music or focusing on breathing, thus DIVERTING your mind, you can REPLACE negative thoughts with POSITIVE AFFIRMATIVE sentences, you can be KIND on yourself and say- “it is only this much that I can do, but I will do what I can’.

It is not always easy to win a battles against anxiety. I say battles because it is not A BATTLE, there are BATTLES everyday. But, the mantra is to remember that we can win. Always.

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Anxiety rarely remains ‘as it is’, it is dynamic- one moment you are okie, next moment you are not, one day you feel settled and in command, next day you do not,

Thoughts appear omnipotent, they appear all powerful and unmanageable, however, mantra to remember is that it is your reaction/ emotional response to thoughts that gives it power,

Anxiety is a recurrent event, it keeps coming back, thus, strategies to manage it are like bricks of the castle wall, every coping strategy is an important brick to manage it. Gather many internal and external coping resources to strengthen your wall.

Don’t avoid things just because they make you anxious. When you learn to tolerate anxiety to situations in a graded manner (least anxiety provoking to more anxiety provoking), you get habituated to anxiety and manage it well.

Be kind and have realistic expectations from yourself.

Appreciate your small victories over anxiety.

Matra to remember is that ‘anxiety’ does pass. In the moment, achieving normalcy looks impossible, but it is there always, just around the corner. Mostly.

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