There's plenty in this world to be concerned about, but worry and stress may do more harm to you than good. Maybe you're worried about your grandkids, worried about your health or have suffered a loss recently. Or, you're fearful about the world situation in general. These concerns are understandable.
Taking some steps to reduce your stress and dealing with anxieties can help lighten the burden of your fears and help you breathe easier.
Take some time and consider what really is the source of your concern. Depending on your situation, maybe a conversation with your doctor, a counselor or spiritual adviser would be helpful.
Licensed mental health counselor Susan Philo said the first step is to identify the source of your fear. "Start with what's driving the anxiety. What is the perceived threat?" According to Philo, when the fight or flight response isn't addressed and we don't feel there's a way to cope or reduce the threat, it becomes a nagging constant anxiety. "We don't feel we have the resources to reduce the threat, the perceived threat. What's the cause of it? It's a perceived threat, it's not necessarily real." The f
irst thing is to figure out what the threat is, define it. "Maybe they're worried about the grandkids but they can't say what they're really afraid of. What can they actually do about it? Name and corral the threat. Then there's a lot of things you can do."
Some of her suggestions are to practice mindful breathing, prayer and meditation. "Whether it's faith-based or meditative breathing, it's a deliberate focus. Another way of coping is deep breathing. You can't be anxious when you're doing it, it's physiologically impossible." According to Philo, when we're in fear, breathing is shallow. "Deep breathing will take you out of your anxious brain. You can make a change and choose to breathe deep into your diaphragm. Practice that. Choose to practice that every time you're waiting for something, practice the deep breathing." After that, when something does make you anxious, you have a trained response to use.
"Then gather the resources you have, gather information. Often we have anxiety about the unknown. Talk with your friends, family and agencies. Go to see a counselor, two or three sessions. Many people are afraid of the money but counselors are not that expensive. Most insurance plans cover a few visits. The counselor can give you some tools to cope." According to Philo, the whole point of seeing a counselor is to learn to help yourself.
"Or you're thinking that you don't need to see a counselor because you're not mentally disturbed. But the optimal time to go to a counselor is before it gets bad. Look at your lifestyle. Do you have time to engage in activities for a sense of purpose?" She also said balance in life is very important.
In her time as a counselor, 10 years, people's level of anxiety seems worse, she said. "It seems worse because we've experienced a failure of those over us, those that govern us, to respond to threats." There seems to be a greater sense of fear now, Philo said, and many factors influence it: recession, war and the 9-11 attacks.
Assess what you do and do not have control over. Remember the Serenity Prayer? And find your sense of humor. "The antidote for anxiety is humor. We need to laugh. There have been times in history that have been just as serious or worse and somehow we find a balance and live the best we can." Find laughter, maybe your situation is so bad, it's almost ridiculous, you can find something to laugh about, she said.
If you're stressed or in fear, look for the cause, then determine what to do about it. Cynthia Witman, nationally certified mental health counselor, NBCC said, "A person's brain will register a perceived threat. The useful thing to do is be conscious of this message ... Listen to what the message is and to what your survival brain suggests to do." Then, unless you have to take immediate action, use your rational mind to review your situation.
Once you've determined rationally whether the pull toward fear and anxiety is realistic, then "solution" on as many levels as you can. "Develop plans to address the situation emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, physically, financially, socially," Witman said. Sometimes a solution will involve one aspect of yourself, sometimes several and often all aspects.
Grace Reiber Licensed Clinical Social Worker added, "Don't isolate yourself. Make an effort to be out and around people. Do things you enjoy, like going to concerts, even if you don't feel like it."
"Another thing: Make sure your health is good. Get a checkup from your doctor and make sure your body is working right. Get blood tests done." And exercise. "It's hard to do, to get out of the chair," when you're not feeling right, but exercise can improve your outlook.
In spite of the fact that we are seemingly electronically connected all the time with our computers, we are more disconnected than ever, she said. Communication has become less personal, she said. We e-mail instead of making a phone call and the result just isn't the same. "We can hide behind that," she said. The effect is more isolation.
At Walla Walla Community Hospice, Arlene Whitney, medical social worker said, "Choose joy. Why look at the weeds, when you could be looking up at the sky?"
"Get outside, look around and take time to look away from what's inside stressing you out. If you have the ability to walk, go walk through a beautiful place." The exercise will help de-stress you, as will just drenching yourself in the beauty of nature.
Also seek out social support, according to Whitney. "I think it was the University of Michigan that tested what helped with longevity. It's not what we receive, it's what we gave. This is how you get beyond the ‘poor me.' Look for someone who needs help; it helps us get off of ourselves. A faith community, meditation or worship, is a big help, too."
According to Whitney, as people age, often they let go of obsessing with changing the whole world. "Come to the realization that there's probably not a lot they can do to fix the world. Enjoy your kids and grandkids. Enjoy the good things. There are plenty of things to worry about, but you could have been out walking or in the garden. Get your hands in the dirt. Or when it's berry season, go pick some berries. Look at the good things."
Karlene Ponti can be reached by calling 509-526-8324 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.