Crushing Anxiety: From Xanax To Zen
This is a guest post from therapist Linda Esposito and an excellent one it is too.
As I said in my previous post on defining the differences between fears and a phobias, I have suffered (and still can do on occasions) from anxiety and I know the importance of this issue.
If you are anybody you know is on anti-anxiety meds like Xanax, then read this post. It’s a long one, but if you can’t be bothered to spend the necessary 5 minutes or so to get through it, then it’s unlikely you will ever manage to crush your anxiety.
I have a free ebooks you can grab, one on meditation (also available on audio) that you can get by clicking the link.
Crushing Anxiety: From Xanax To Zen
“No one ever died from their feelings, but millions have died from abusing substances in the name of avoiding their feelings.” ~Unknown
Did you know there’s 46 million+ users of Xanax in America?
Chances are you know a few of them.
Maybe you’re among the masses.
Maybe you’re not.
Perhaps you’ve considered a medical evaluation because your low-level anxiety is escalating?
It’s a psychological arm wrestle:
“You know popping pills offers a quick fix for the racing thoughts, the uncertainty, and the social awkwardness.
The best part is the calm. Ah, yes. That smooth, sleepy feeling as the little blue pill melts in your mouth.
While the warmth envelops you like a blanket, there’s nary a care in the fast-paced, tech-obsessed, the-sky-is-falling-world (Not that I know. I’m more of a Vodka girl–for now…).”
But you don’t want to rely on meds. You want a long-term solution, but the motivation isn’t quite there:
“Damn economy. I can’t sleep.”
“When I leave my job, I’ll be happy.”
“As soon as I have 10 life coaching clients.”
“It’s my control issues. I need to let go. Just not now.”
“Life is stressful–everyone’s got a vice. What’s the big deal?”
The problem is the perfect time doesn’t exist. Life is full of unexpected surprises. No one is immune, and nobody ever got ahead by dwelling in anxiety.
Functional anxiety is increasingly common. And many urban over-achievers have perfected this habit as an art form. Take this guest post. I was nervous as fuck when I submitted a rough draft and Tim didn’t respond right away. “Good God–I should’ve spruced it up, pared it down, included studies, infused personality, cut the personality. Why can’t I write like Johnny B. Truant–his shit flows….”
Then I stopped myself. The reality is I’m a psychotherapist–not a writer. “I’ve built a loyal and intrepid following because I serve my psychology straight up–minus the bullshit on the side.
Sigmund Freud be damned, I needed a plan.
I decided to reframe, regroup, and take action. So I did what any self-respecting, non-writer would do: I drafted a revision and hijacked one of Johnny’s brilliant transitions ;).
Anxiety is not always a bad thing. It keeps us on our toes, enables us to push past the paralyzing self-doubt, and propels our creative endeavors to the next level.
Except when it doesn’t.
Low-level anxiety may progress to a generalized anxiety disorder without commitment to lifestyle changes and mental fortitude.
What I’m getting at is taking charge of those things you avoid because they’re difficult and time consuming. Even when your rational mind knows that action is where it’s at
I’d like you to answer the following:
Which would you rather have? Short-term comfort, or long-term satisfaction?
Would you trade in the temporary zen of Xanax, or could you handle the harder approach to take the edge off?
I know it sounds like I’m setting you up. I’m not. I may be a therapist, but I’m here to keep you off the couch. The shrink’s couch, that is.
Because if the threats of toxicity to your liver and chemical dependence don’t cause pause for alarm, two words:
The good news is there’s many healthy alternatives to living the life you want without swallowing the chemical crutch (and acting like a complete ass).
The following 5 tips will calm your anxious mind, increase motivation, and lead to more meaningful relationships.
Black box warning: Inaction may cause serious side effects such as drowsiness, low energy, nausea and vomiting. Less serious side effects may include thinking Tim’s a dishonest wanker, and cursing, “Holy shit. Now I really hate therapists.”
How to Get Rid of the Anxiety Culprits, and Crush It!, instead:
“Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings–always darker, emptier and simpler.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche
1. Anxiety Culprit #1: You don’t know where your feelings come from
Contrary to popular belief, the I can’t help my feelings line is a myth. Before you felt the fear of failure, you experienced a catastrophic thought.
But here’s where it gets tricky–we’re often unaware of our thoughts. Worse, it’s hard to comprehend that which we cannot see. As Tim’s brain book states, we have between 40,000 and 70,000 thoughts per day. Many of them are automatic and rooted in the unconscious.
For example, Lisa wakes up and immediately thinks, “Crap. I hate public speaking. I’m going to blow the presentation.” Her emotions are dread, avoidance and anger. Subsequently, she snaps at her kids, forgets her notes, and walks into the meeting frazzled and unprepared.
Never mind that Lisa is a talented, smart and compelling speaker. Just not today.
Anxiety Crusher: Focus attention on your thoughts, rather than your feelings
This will help train your brain to “think before you act.” A most effective way to stop the negativity train is to track your thoughts periodically throughout the day. This is simple and takes just a few minutes.
Create a document with two columns. On the left side write your thoughts. On the right side, track your emotions. Think individual words such as sadness, rage, and excitement.
After you record your most prevalent negative thoughts for a week or so, you’ll see a pattern. As you become mindful of when, where and around whom you experience negative emotions, you can make modifications to your environment.
Caveat: Please don’t blow this off. I can’t tell you how many thousands of dollars I’ve billed because people don’t pay heed to this vital step as a mood changer. Your mind created the negative thought, and your mind can un-create it.
“Pain is inevitable as long as you are identified with your mind.” ~Eckhart Tolle
Anxiety Culprit #2: You don’t accept uncertainty
“Anxious people dwell on potential negative outcomes and assume (irrational and disproportionate) responsibility for fixing the disasters they imagine will occur. “What’s going to happen?” or, more accurately, “What’s going to happen to me?” is anxiety’s quiet whisper, its horror-show crescendo the thing Xanax was designed to suppress.”
Not knowing what’s next is uncomfortable. But you can’t relax if you live in the past, or fear the future.
Living in the past makes you depressed. You can’t rewrite history any more than Charlie Sheen can recover the 50k spent on Hollywood hookers.
Living in the future causes anxiety and leads to avoidance, procrastination and a lack of focus and productivity.
And all the while, the present moments pass you by.
Anxiety Crusher: Live in the here-and-now
Lean into uncertainty and make lifestyle choices that support a healthy mind and body. Think breathing, meditation, yoga and a detox diet. Say hello to an open mindset. Say goodbye to a closed, inflexible and rigid way of viewing life. Accept the past for the chapter in your life that it was, and have confidence in tomorrow.
“When you say something unkind, when you do something in retaliation your anger increases. You make the other person suffer, and he will try hard to say or to do something back to get relief from his suffering. That is how conflict escalates.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Anxiety Culprit #3: You don’t communicate your wants and needs clearly
A common pitfall is to expect others to read your mind. “He should just get me” is is an invitation for self-sabotage, not to mention, a one-way ticket to More Anxiety.
Check your tendency to “withhold” information. Ask yourself what is the ulterior gain?
For example, John is angry at Sara for booking an over-priced hotel for their weekend getaway. Rather than verbalize his anger, and embarrassment because he’s in the financial red, he gets back at her by acting sullen and irritated on the trip.
Sara cries and accuses him of shutting down, and of not loving her. He feels guilty and makes it up by overspending on dinner. This pattern of ineffective communication keeps them stuck in couples chaos.
Caveat: Keep the crying at bay. If you’re a habitual cryer, ask why?
Does crying ward off conflict?
Does it cause others to feel sorry for you?
What do you avoid as a result?
Every unhealthy behavior has a secondary gain. As a rookie therapist, I worked with clients who were mandated for treatment. Psychological intakes took up to three hours. When my supervisor asked why I was consistently 90 minutes late, I said, “It’s the crying. When I ask personal questions, the client breaks down.”
Me: “I feel bad. Guilty. She has a hard life–I feel sorry for her.”
Me: “I back off.”
After weeks of frustrating supervision sessions, I finally got it.
Crying can be a socially acceptable way of communicating, “Fuck you. I’m not going to answer you. Leave me alone. You’re the reason I’m upset. I’m going to guilt you into feeling just as insecure and incompetent as me.”
And who says Erika Napoletano invented the bitch slap? (http://erikanapoletano.com/blog/the-bitch-slap-ashamed/)
Anxiety Crusher: Commit to open, clear and flexible lines of communication. No Matter. What.
Be real. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Resist the urge to be passive aggressive.
Know that we communicate more via behaviors than words.
Maintain eye contact and wait two beats before you respond. Accept vulnerability, gradually and slowly.
And though it’s tough, man-up with the true feelings.
“Don’t feel entitled to anything you didn’t sweat and struggle for.” ~Marian Wright Edelman
Anxiety Culprit #4: You don’t accept that life is difficult and nobody owes you anything
Life is a bitch. Life is also beautiful. But life is hard.
America is Xanax Nation because we don’t accept that problems are inevitable, and goal-setting can be a drag. We want everything now. We avoid stress like the plague. We think we’re entitled to something to kill the pain.
The tranquilizing effects of Xanax provide relief, and take the edge off of nervousness, panic, and tension.
Medication can also thwart self-improvement and skill building.
Needing help to get over a traumatic and unexpected life event is one thing. Waking up and reaching for an immediate pick-me-up is another.
The point of feelings is to feel them.
Anxiety Crusher: Learn to problem-solve, delay gratification, and self-soothe when upset.
Substitute destructive and unhealthy behaviors with exercise, yoga, meditation, reaching out, and trying new things. Read the newspaper daily. When you find yourself in a funk, be grateful it’s not your life story that’s featured on the front page. For a real ass-kicker, read Viktor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning (also voted by Tim as the greatest self development book of all time)
“Food is the most widely abused anti-anxiety drug in America.” ~Bill Phillips
Anxiety Culprit #5: You treat your body like a garbage disposal
Truth bomb: People who talk about diets and what they eat and what you should eat are some of the most boring people on the planet. Alison Golden aside, I don’t want to talk paleo, green juice, anti-oxidant-this, and kale-that.
But a healthy diet is a physical and a mental health imperative. Especially if you’re anxious. And most definitely when you treat anxiety disorders.
This is the conversation in therapy where the adults subtly spy the wall clock, while the teens sigh, and not-so subtly roll their goth-y little eyes. I get it. And I won’t hold it against you if think I’m a bitch for bringing up the D-word.
So here goes with the anxiety-inducing foods: Caffeine, sugar, soda, carbs, dairy, shellfish, wheat and alcohol, etc. I know–they’re my favorite foods, too. Especially chocolate, which by the way, you could drop in shit, and I’d bend down, brush it off and swallow it quicker than you could say, “Eww!”
Speaking of appetizing, if you’re interested in reading detailed information about why these foods wreak havoc on your central nervous and circulatory systems, increase inflammation, and cause allergies, you can click this link (just not before you have finished the post!)
Anxiety Crusher: Switch out the junk food for natural or raw foods, which contain anti-inflammatory properties.
Think vegetables, nuts, citrus fruits and whole grains. Drink plenty of water. Consume sugar, caffeine and alcohol in moderation. And definitely check out Holistic Dad.
In summary, anxiety is not always a negative state.
You can avoid the habitual Xanax crutch when you pay attention to the sequence of your thoughts. Recognize unhealthy patterns and substitute more realistic thoughts. When you do this, healthy emotions and behaviors will follow.
Communicate clearly, live in the here-and-now, and adjust your comfort level to uncertainty.
Exercise, meditate and eat right.
Life is beautiful, but so very hard, at times. And that’s okay, and so are you.
Linda Esposito, LCSW is the author of How to Think Like a Shrink: What Your Professors Didn’t Teach You About Working with Real Therapy Clients.
Image: ‘To Sleep Forever More’ Courtesy of Dean812