#3 in a series for Mental Health Awareness Month
Mental health is something we all have, just like physical health, and it needs to be taken care of at the same level as our physical health. Our bodies will send us signs (aka, symptoms) to let us know that something’s not right. For example, a sore throat that comes on quickly along with difficulty swallowing and fever may indicate strep throat. You wouldn’t wait too long to get into the doctor’s office to get it treated so you could feel better. Waiting too long could complicate things and a more complicated illness could result. Mental health issues can begin in much the same way, starting small and then becoming more complicated, complex, and difficult to treat. Are you listening to the signals your body and brain are sending you?
Anxiety is one of the most common reasons people seek counseling. Not all anxiety is pathological, though. We all experience it to varying degrees. It becomes problematic when it intensifies into fear and panic and interferes with our ability to function in everyday situations. It can be generalized or very specific. Anxiety impacts our thoughts, physical sensations, and behaviors.
The mental component may include excessive worried and/or fearful thoughts about numerous things, problems with concentration, an impending sense of doom or dread, and racing thoughts.
The physical sensations that are most commonly experienced include stomach & intestinal discomfort, tense muscles, shaking & trembling, sweating not brought on by physical exertion or heat, rapid heartbeat, a lump in the throat, dry mouth, numbness or tingling in hands, exhaustion, and even chest pains.
The most common behavior associated with anxiety is avoidance. People who struggle with any type of anxiety will actively avoid whatever the feared situation, place, person, or thought.
There are several different ways to treat anxiety. If you see a medical doctor medication will most often be the way it’s treated. If you see a therapist there are several different treatment options that could be used such as cognitive behavioral therapy, somatic approach, mindfulness or values based approach, and others. For many people, a combination of medication and therapy are often used to treat anxiety.
It is worth noting… for anxiety to get better addressing avoidance is a must.
Depending upon their training, some therapists will provide homework between sessions. This homework may involve accepting, confronting or exposure to the fear producing thought, person, situation, etc. Also included sometimes is accepting, tolerating, and then reducing the physical sensations through various techniques. Additionally, some therapists will recommend addressing the thoughts that accompany the feelings and sensations. This could include acceptance of the thoughts, instead of forcing them out of your mind. Or, it could be identifying the kinds of thought you’re experiencing that may be contributing to the anxiety and then work on changing the thought to something more truthful and balanced.
There are numerous books and workbooks that can be helpful. I’ve included a very small selection below. As always, I do not receive any compensation for making specific recommendations. These are products that my clients have provided positive feedback on.
The Dance of Fear by Harriet Lerner (Book, adult)
Unwinding Anxiety by Judson Brewer (Audible, adult)
Rewire Your Anxious Brain by Mars & Pittman (Audible & Book, adult)
What to do When You’re Scared & Worried by Crist (Book/workbook, child)
What to do When You Worry too Much by Huebner & Matthews (Book/workbook, child)
Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive Compulsive Behavior by Schwartz (Audible, Book, adult)
The Anxiety Workbook for Teens by Lisa Schab (Workbook, teens)
The Shyness & Social Anxiety Workbook for Teens by Shannon & Gordon (Workbook, teens)
Mindfulness for Teen Anxiety by Willard (Workbook, teens)
The next time you feel anxious or notice you’re worried try this. Find a comfortable position, it doesn’t matter if you’re sitting or lying down. I invite you to close your eyes; but, you are also welcome to keep them open. Now, slowly and deliberately inhale through your nose while you count to four. Pause and hold for a count of four. Then, slowly and deliberately exhale through your mouth with lips formed into a small circle (as if you’re going to blow bubbles), lengthening the exhale. While you are inhaling and exhaling I will invite you to mentally count through this process: In 2, 3, 4… Pause 2, 3, 4… Out 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8… Pause naturally. This is one round of breathing. Do at least 3 rounds of breathing. You may not be able to double the exhale the first time you try this. That’s okay! Just do what you can. I recommend practicing this exercise at least 3 times a day and 3 days a week to start. Then, you can slowly add a day until you are doing it 7 days a week. It’s important to note you want to breathe deeply from your belly, not your chest. Variation: place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest, applying very gentle pressure while you breathe.
Lastly, If you have concerns related to anxiety I have included a screening tool you can complete and take to your physician or therapist to help guide your conversation.
Please read each statement and select the box that most applies to your experience in the past two weeks. This screening tool is not intended to diagnose. If you have concerns, contact your doctor.
|Not at all
|More than half the days
|Feeling nervous, anxious or on edge|
|Not being able to stop or control worrying|
|Worrying too much about different things|
|Being so restless that it is hard to sit still|
|Becoming easily annoyed or irritable|
|Feeling afraid as if something awful might happen|