Manage anxiety and take back control of your life.
BY MICHAEL SCHUTZ, MD
Q: I have a high-stress job and have a lot of anxiety about it. I get chest pains and I sweat whenever there’s a big project at work. When I find time to meditate, I find that helps, but what can I do to manage it from moment to moment? — J. Finn, via the web
A: Anxiety is a complex issue. It’s a very distinct emotion that manifests physiologically. That sweaty palm, dry mouth, heart racing sense when we feel pain, fear or unease—all of that is anxiety. It is a normal emotion that everyone feels when you encounter a difficult or unusual situation that creates stress. It can also be an overreaction to these circumstances that can interfere with one’s normal daily activities. How we manage these feelings makes a huge difference.
Anxiety comes from a variety of reactions to different social situations, fears or panic, or a general feeling of a being out of control in certain circumstances. Anxiety can awaken emotions that have nothing to do with the present situation but may remind us of a prior anxiety- provoking experience.
The full list of symptoms includes:
– Feeling of panic, fear or unease
– Sleeping problems or fatigue
– Difficulty concentrating
– Dry mouth and cold, sweaty or tingling sensation in hands or feet
– Racing heartbeat or shortness of breath
– Muscle tension
A number of factors that predispose us to Anxiety include:
– Shyness in childhood
– Lower socioeconomic group
– Stressful life events including divorce, loss of a spouse
– Family history of anxiety
Some other conditions are associated with anxiety and can reproduce the same physiological reactions:
– Post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD
– Phobias or irrational fear of different things or circumstances
– Obsessive compulsive disorder
So what can you do about anxiety? First, you might think of giving yourself a break. If not an actual break from work, then a mental break where you let a few seemingly important items on your to list go by the wayside. Striving to be perfect can, in fact, be a major source of anxiety. You want a perfect job, home life, body type, time balance, and luxury possessions all at once? In the process of trying to put together that kind of mythical perfect life you’re going to give yourself a lot of anxiety. Making the best effort you can in life is obviously important, but not everything will work all the time. Allow yourself the room to be imperfect. You are not in control everything so concentrate only on what you can control.
On a day-to-day basis, here are some simple things you can do to manage anxiety:
Take a time out. Count to 10, take a deep breath or practice other relaxation techniques such as yoga, massage, or meditation.
Get enough sleep; try for at least 7 hours.
Dehydration can create anxiety, so drink plenty of water.
Pay attention to food or drink sensitivities that might alter your mood. Consider keeping a food log to examine any possible cause-and-effect relationships.
Avoid foods with caffeine or alcohol.
Eat a breakfast with protein and complex carbohydrates to maintain a more steady blood sugar level and keeps you feeling fuller longer.
Try to avoid situations that have provoked anxiety for you in the past.
Get involved in community activities that can help you develop a feeling of connectedness.
Talk to someone either personally or professionally and don’t bottle up your emotions until they overwhelm you.
If these strategies do not work, professional help and medication is available to help control the symptoms.
Anxiety is a part of life that we all experience. How we address this is the most important thing. Lifestyle changes and behavior modification can help to a great degree but one may need counselling or other assistance to return to a feeling of wellness.
Dr. Michael Schutz is a urologist practicing at the Jersey Urology Group in Somers Point, NJ.