You know we are doing a lousy job at addressing anxiety when over 47 million prescriptions of Xanax are handed yearly. I highlighted more sobering data in my previous post. With such an unraveling situation on our hands maybe it's time to press the pause button and try to understand our suffering better. How else can we heal a set of symptoms (often clustered under the word “disorder”) if we do not understand what's causing them in the first place? We simply can't, as per the law of cause and effect. We can squash symptoms with quick-acting pills (this is sometimes desirable, needed, wanted), but like weeds whose roots have not been pulled out, they keep coming back, at a huge cost to our health it turns out! If that's not insane. Asking why we feel anxious may not seem like a shortcut to healing, it isn't. But the truth is there is no shortcuts. Symptoms of anxiety can be managed quickly. Healing happens over a period of time. If you're interested in healing let's dig a little deeper.
Why Are You Anxious?
Chronic jitters, general anxiety, social anxiety, phobias, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, separation anxiety....From the everyday I-don't-know-where-my-life is going to full blown panic attacks, anxiety exists on a spectrum from mild to acute, from sporadic to chronic.
Could it be:
The chaotic times we're living?
Chronic sleep deprivation?
Poor gut health?
Too much coffee?
The constant assault on our senses?
The breakdown of communities, families, our government?
Poor access to healthcare?
Having a parent who suffers from anxiety?
Our refusal to look at, lest embrace, our mortality?
Yes, yes and more. What causes anxiety is seldom straightforward. Causes can be environmental, lifestyle-related, physiological, emotional, spiritual. Often it's a combination of those.
For example, you've heard your company is downsizing. This puts you on edge. You begin to fear losing your job, not being able to pay the bills, maybe even ending up on the street. Your mind is overthinking negative, anxiety-producing thoughts and it's keeping you up at night. You're self-medicating with ice cream or alcohol. The little sleep you get is restless. Naturally you wake up tired and seeing things a shade darker than the previous day, with no energy or even desire for the run that could precisely serve as a stress-reliever. Instead coffee gets you going, followed by another cup or two midday.
Could anxiety develop from a few weeks of this scenario? You bet.
Even more so if you experienced a traumatic event in the past. Trauma, by the way, comes in many forms. Obvious trauma for most people are war, natural disasters, physical or sexual abuse, terrorism, and catastrophic accidents. No question those will create deep wounds in anybody's psyche. However, less obvious forms of trauma can be equally injurious to someone's mental health: giving birth or being born in an emergency (and potentially coming close to dying), an emotionally absent parent, a sudden break-up or job loss, the loss of a loved one, a life-threatening illness, a risky surgery, a stay in jail, having to tip toe around a partner, parent or boss's explosive temper (relationships you can't just run away from). All those will also upset the equilibrium of the nervous system, creating a fertile terrain for anxiety to come on faster and bigger when given a “chance”.
Get To The Root
The bottom line is each person has to inquire into the cause of their anxiety. Your story is unique and no one can unravel it for you. While the process is intellectual at first, much appeasement comes from knowing why you feel the way you feel. Healing begins there. If you realize that trauma is playing a central role in your anxiety, seek out the help of a qualified therapist, you'll be glad you did. I speak from experience. Most importantly when you know what's causing your anxiety you can direct your effort towards healing efficiently.
If you need help identifying what it is you do or don't that's causing you to feel anxious, working with a coach would help. Because that's the thing, aside from past trauma (which may require psychotherapy), many if not most causes of anxiety lie in our daily habits, therefore the remedies lie in our daily habits.
It is how we sleep, eat, exercise, relax (or not). It is how we think, what we feed our minds and who we hang out with. It is not one thing. Ah, wouldn't it be nice! No, it is the 10,000 choices you make everyday that either foster a balanced nervous system and the capacity to calmly respond to life, or keep you stuck in fight or flight and reacting.
Anxiety, by the way, is pure reactivity.
So how do you heal an imbalance that has multiple causes? With a multi-faceted approach tailored to the unique individual who is suffering. It's a holistic, sometimes integrative approach to healing. I will explore what that looks like in my next post.