3 Ways To Combat Anxiety & Agoraphobia
Anxiety can grip our lives so tightly, that we feel like we're in a prison with no parol. We think that we'll never get out and that our lives are always going to be this way. To preface this next statement, please know I am not a therapist or medical professional, however, I'm a firm believer in treating the mind---not loading someone up with medication. I'd like to think that I have more 'qualifications' since I'm on the other side of the psychiatrist's sofa, having experienced anxiety, as opposed to someone just reading about it. I have suffered long enough with this. Ever since I was sixteen years old, I always thought I was having a heart attack. Do you know how much time and money went into visiting the ER just because I 'thought' I was having a heart attack? And yes, it is always best to get a full work up by your doctor or cardiologist, but once they give you a clean bill of health, know that it's anxiety playing its cruel tricks on you once again.
It took me over 30 years to finally understand the "mechanics" of anxiety. Never deny the feelings or symptoms. It's your primitive innate "fight or flight" mechanism that kicks in for no reason---a false alarm---the boy who called wolf---whatever you wanna call it. You get my drift. "But, but, but---what if?"
You wake up with your heart pounding out of your chest and feel a sense of doom. You try to immediately get rid of it by either splashing cold water on your face, or drinking some ice cold water. Ever wonder why those tips and tricks don't seem to alleviate it?
Because whatever you resist, persists. It's the fear of fear itself. It's the fear of dying in your bathroom alone. It's your fear of passing out in a public place or fainting from not getting enough air into your lungs. Remember, you can't faint from a panic attack, because your blood pressure is most likely elevated due to the panic.
Face It Head On
Our bodies are so fascinating! Our brain is linked to our nerves. Sometimes when we have tummy issues, like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) from stress and anxiety, it can trigger a vasovagal response. The vagus nerve is responsible for the regulation of internal organ functions, such as digestion, heart rate, and respiratory rate, as well as vasomotor activity, and certain reflex actions, such as coughing, sneezing, swallowing, and vomiting. IBS can trigger your heart to race to the point where you think you need medical attention. This is actually one of the reasons why many laxative treatments will indicate "rapid heart rate" on their list of side effects. It has nothing to do with their product per se---but everything to do with how your vagus nerve responds to the drastic "clean out."
Sounds crappy, huh? But it gets better. When you you feel a myriad of symptoms like, palpitations rapid heart rate or shortness of breath, feel all of these "feels." Embrace what is happening. It's like the riptide. The more you resist the riptide, the more it will pull you under. It sounds super difficult, but the effort you put into this method works. Tell yourself that you're excited about this feeling. Think back to when you were excited to go on a scary carnival ride. Your heart was pounding, but you were with your friends to experience this exciting new adventure. That's your adrenaline pumping---which you don't even question. You expect this to happen. But what happens when this suddenly takes place while you're alone trying to relax? You think the worst. You think something's definitely not right.
One of my favorite authors on anxiety named, Barry McDonagh told a story about this man who was driving in his car. He was stuck in traffic and all of the sudden, he felt like his legs felt cold and numb. He immediately thought he was having a stroke or something sinister. So he pulled over and realized that the air conditioner vent was only opened near his legs, and nowhere else. He started laughing because he felt silly---yet relieved it wasn't anything serious.
I know this sounds silly, but do me a favor and scratch your head right now. Do you hear that sound? It sounds like someone rustling in a haystack, right? (Unless you're bald.) Now what if this sound happened when you *weren't* scratching your head? Wouldn't you think something is seriously wrong?
So when you feel these sensations (and that's ALL they are) --- face it head on. Let it happen. Even tell it that you want more of that feeling. Do this for about ten minutes. Give it a countdown that if the anxiety doesn't do its best to bring me down in 21 seconds, then it needs to leave. This paradoxical approach will literally diminish it. Then follow it up by tensing your entire body up for 10 seconds, this means tensing up your hands, feet, arms, legs, stomach, etc., and then after 10 seconds, as you release the tension and breathe out, you'll find yourself feeling much better and relaxed. This resets the vagus nerve to diminish the adrenaline flowing in your body. It lets your body know that there is no immediate threat or danger. It eliminates the "fight or flight" response.
Prayer and Meditation
Did you know that the Bible tells us not to fear 365 times? Isn't that pretty cool? So you can read a scripture about conquering fear every single day of the year. God tells us not to fear, because fear is the opposite of love. Fear and anxiety is the breeding ground---the simmering cauldron so to speak---of all the resentments, bitterness, anger, and destructive behaviors that constitute and give rise to hate. Fear can make us react in a self-defense mode, which is the cause of many fights and arguments. For instance, when someone has too much fear and anxiety, they can sometimes lash out and regret it later, having said something they truly regret. This is why forgiveness is so important. Most of us walk around with so much heartache and pain from the past. Once someone "triggers" that feeling in you, it can come out as if they did something so catastrophic---when you are simply reliving a tragic time in the past without consciously knowing it. This is also called a "trauma response." Another example of a "trauma response" is saying, "I'm sorry" way too much---even when it's not needed. I'm guilty of doing that, and diligently working on eliminating that from my vocabulary, unless it's appropriately needed. Eckhart Tolle explains this as the "pain-body. The painbody takes many forms and manifestations: hurt, hate, depression, self-hate, anxiety, fear, alienation, despair, emotional drama (making mountains out of molehills), blame, even physical illness. The painbody can be active or dormant. In this way and many more, the painbody is like a virus.
Prayer is so powerful! In fact, I dare you (even if you don't have faith) to sit down while your heart is pounding through your chest, and just talk to God. Pray about it. Sit for a moment. Sit with God. Be still (let it go) and know He is right there with you. What's the worst that can happen? He picks you up when you fall? If you have faith, you know that He will be the first one you see ~if~ your worst fear came true. So why fear it anymore? Let it go. Meditate on His word. I'm not talking about sitting on the floor with your legs pretzeled up chanting---I'm talking about reading passages from the Bible and letting it sink in. You don't have to read chapters at a time---sometimes you can even open up to a page and the right words will present themselves to you.
"Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand." ---Isaiah 41:10
God's presences calms out panic. God's care is the antidote to our despair. God's power resolves our problems. This also works when you pray for someone else. If you know someone going through a hard time---pray for them. Pray to cover them with perfect health, spiritually, emotionally and physically from head to toe in Jesus' name---and watch what happens. God even reminds us to pray for our enemies. If you had a falling out with someone close, pray for them. Even if you never speak to them again, this will create a sense of peace between that person and yourself. It'll also take away the bitterness and resentment that comes with a severed tie.
Do It Afraid
Have you ever had a panic attack or felt a lot of anxiety where you just decided you were gonna stay home and 'coddle' it all day? If your safe place is in your bed or on your sofa---I challenge you to get into your car or just walk around your neighborhood. Do something you don't feel like doing, because of the fear. This initiates the courage to keep doing it more. Think about this: say you had a panic attack in the grocery store. You're most likely going to avoid the grocery store. The same applies to any place you experienced anxiety, whether it be the doctor's office, sitting in the salon getting your hair done (the feeling of being trapped), or driving in traffic. This is also what CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is based on. Visualize yourself getting in the car and going back to the "scene of the crime" with a smile on your face. You see yourself doing well, getting things you need and waiting on that long checkout line where your heart usually flutters the most. Ground yourself. Look at the impulse shopping items, like the tabloids---read the headlines, and read every brand of bubble gum in front of you on the shelf. Notice the cashier sliding each item of the person checking out. Listen to the "bleeps" as you also notice the sounds of person behind you rustling inside their purse for their wallet. Pay full attention to your surroundings as if it were entertainment. Eavesdrop on a conversation---I know it sounds bad---but do it! It'll get your mind off the "I gotta get outta here!!!"
If you have agoraphobia, keep this in mind: if you walk out of your house right now, remember you can go right back inside. Now take it a step further... Try going to the mailbox. You've accomplished getting the mail. The next day, try walking down the block, and always keep in mind, "I can always turn around." Film yourself for progress if need be. But keep at it. Some days will keep you on the front steps or at the mailbox, but remember, you can try again at a later date. The more you conquer each block, the less the fear will grip you. Now get in the car. Drive to the gas station if you can, and remember, you can always turn around. But if you were able to get gas---huge accomplishment! Don't belittle the progress or the "seemingly small task" that someone else may think it is. This is a huge feat for you. Little by little, you will want to visit a store, or a friend, or even drive past your comfort zone. Visualize yourself driving with your favorite music on, windows or sunroof open, feeling the air against your skin. Have fun with it and then when you achieve this task, reward yourself with a little something when you get back home.
Keep in mind that our worst fears usually never come to pass. Don't do what I did for the past 30 years and waste your life away on fear and panic. It's an expensive hospital bill. And again, when in doubt, check it out, but never second guess yourself if you have a clean bill of health. Know that the anxiety can manifest itself into physiological responses---even psychosomatic symptoms that'll have you dialing 911.
Don't forget, you have angels watching over you. Keep praying and never give up! I have faith in you.
For more of Deb's articles, please visit: www.debrapasquella.com or join her on Facebook and Twitter. Check out her cooking blog at DebsCucina.com for some of her famous recipes and check out her Instagram full of food videos!