- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Anxiety Can Shorten Your Life?
Heart and Mind Series
The word anxiety has an interesting origin. If we take it back to a root word "angst", it is Germanic and it transfers the idea of fear. Going back further, the word "angst" has existed since the 8th Century, from the Indo-European "angho" which communicates the idea of "restraint" or "choking".
Imagine that you are "Choking Yourself".
This is not a pleasant thought. It is an even less pleasant image. As if in a bad dream, you are locked up in a nightmare. You are tossing your head back and forth, trying to free yourself from those hands that are around your throat. And then you stop, and the camera that is controlling this dream pans down to your chest and arms. The lens slowly enlarges the view. It is you. It is your arms choking you. This image, I draw, simply to help the sufferer realize that it is not the ghosts, the memories of defeat, the enemies of the past or the bruises that you are remembering; it is an action that is "on automatic" that you have not learned to turn off. And so, I use the "choking yourself" picture to alert your very intelligent mind to see what might seem silly or unreasonable. In a sense that is really what we are dealing with. It's just that prolonged anxiety is such an uncomfortable state to be living in.
Pulling away from this vivid, and maybe all to familiar idea, we stop and we say to ourselves. Let's think this through another way!
- Things to fear because they are animate, concrete, real, something that has hurt me in the past; an actual stated threat. "Meet me after school." "Should I drive the car, I have been drinking." "That siren is meant for me. I must stop."
- Anxiety or Angst is a resident nonspecific fear that seems to be so versatile that it can apply to a specific possibly arriving fearful object, or just a vague powerful sickening feeling that you are "choking" with a burden. At times you can point to something you are fearing, at times, it just sits there like a case of flu, congesting you. Disabling your normal state of happiness.
- Mixing the concrete with the vaguely possible, the recent with the past, the mildly painful with the traumatic, those things that we have really seen, and those things that we have deeply imagined, one can see how, in this modern world, we could end up with large and medium and small cases of anxiety. All of which we would love to be able to deal with in a conscious and non-fearful way.
Prolonged Stress Can Result in a Highly Sensitive Amygdala
The amygdala in the center of the brain, and not very large, acts like a measuring instrument in our Limbic System. "Threat" is an interesting word. As we walk around in our daily lives, we as humans encounter situations, issues, events or happenings which, with our judgment, we perceive through our eyes and sense organs to be a) not threatening, but pleasureable, b) not threatening, and neutral, c) possibly threatening, but not near and because it is far off, not measured d) threatening, fear inducing, possibly dangerous, e) definitely threatening and requiring a powerful protective and defensive or attacking response from us.
The process of observing the former examples involves the cerebral cortex involving the eyes, amygdala and occiptal lobe -- where visual processing takes place.
A "shut off" button does not exist with this process. It is sensitive to perceived "danger", especially that which your system determines seems to be "uninterrupted danger".
When the Senses See "Uninterrupted Danger"
Individuals who have undergone prolonged periods of stress or distress have developed a highly sensitive amygdala, meaning the cortex plays a minimal role in determining when to shut off the "fear response." As a result, a person stays in a state of constant anxiety because the amygdala remains set on overdrive.
Conscious Deliberate Mindful Attempts to use the "Shut Off" Button
Many don't wonder whether they are suffering from anxiety, but for those who are honestly dealing with too many symptoms, that are not overly severe, you can take a read out on your own states for a sense of where you are: Trouble going to sleep, Too Many Awakenings, General Irritation for no reason, Extreme muscle tightness, Noticing Inner Panic,
Trouble going to sleep, or too many Awakenings
General Irritation for no reason,
Extreme muscle tension,
Noticing inner Panic,
Nauseous or Dizzy,
Heart jumps or Palpitates,
The "Heebee Jeebies" - extremely jittery,
Lingering internal Images that frighten you
These symptoms are just a sampling of states that can warn the sufferer of deeper concerns regarding anxiety. If you have all of them, or many of them, I would view that more seriously than if you only have a few. But this is a very good road map for following "nervous" states such as panic and anxiety.
Instead of preferring a cure or solution, I will say first of all that there are anti-anxiety medicines for which you can receive a prescription after a doctor's examination. I have no recommendations between those solutions. Your doctor can provide an array of test information, literature and other collateral information that come with the prescription and examination.
Theanine, Passion Flower, Valerian are just some examples of herbs that many use to address their anxious states. NIacin, Niacinimide, GABA and other supplements have a sedating or calming effect.
Vitamin Stores, Herbalists and other "naturalistic" stores and practices will also feature teas that are proprietary and made of mixes of herbs and teas that are designed for the idea of calming the central nervous system, relaxing the body and the digestive tract.
Chamomile Tea is famously relaxing and is very soothing to the system.
Physical Efforts that are directly relaxing
Yoga and Tai Chi
There are modern young hard working people who suffer from anxiety. Sometimes their exercise is inflammatory, stress increasing and extremely competitive.
While there is nothing wrong with those kinds of activities, often they do not do anything for a reduction in anxiety, except for the pure benefits of general exercise. Yoga and Tai Chi are Asian based systems that many people are discovering to be of tremendous value to their psyches, and their bodies - increasing flexibility and better sleeping states, lowering blood pressure and giving one a sense of equipoise that they had not previously had.
Walking and Thomas Jefferson
"Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far." This is attributed to Thomas Jefferson, who, though science was not festooning the public with great health tributes, he nevertheless perceived. He received a special bone walking stick as a gift and used it for years on Monticello.
Walking increasingly is not only being credited with weight loss benefits, blood pressure effects, and blood fat benefits. More and more there is attribution of affecting tumor growth, increasing the benefits of immune system function and the vastly important elements of inflammatiory and anti-inflammatory. As far as anxiety itself is concerned,
The Mayo Clinic puts it clearly: "Walking probably helps ease depression and anxiety in a number of ways, which may include:
- Releasing feel-good brain chemicals that may ease depression and anxiety (neurotransmitters and endorphins)
- Reducing immune system chemicals that can worsen depression.
- Increasing body temperature, which may have calming effects"
Alcohol is not helpful for anxiety. And yet, so many of those who suffer from anxiety turn to it. When I was a pastoral counselor, a husband under lots of anxiety from work-related issues came to me and asked if alcohol could make anxiety worse. He was not an alcoholic, however, he was increasing his drinking because it made him "relax". This of course is the legendary answer for alcohol consumption. I did some research before we talked and discovered some now well known facts. At the time, 25 years ago, when we discussed this, it made a lot of sense for him, and allowed him to deal with his anxiety, instead of BOTH anxiety and alcohol abuse.
I told him that the doctor who discovered Serotonin, before the name was chosen, called it "the calming chemical". Alcohol limits serotonin in the brain. This "feel good" brain chemical, when you are short in it actually causes feelings of anxiety. For years alcoholics have been causing low blood sugar in themselves just be increasing the booze and skipping the burger. When you have low blood sugar, you get many of the symptoms on the list above. Dehydration, also caused by alcohol just makes you feel lousy. It makes you feel sick, light headed, tired and weak, and so anxiety builds as your sense of illness builds. When your nervous system gets "hyper" (an alcohol result), you get sleep "bugaboos", reaction to light and loud noises. Lots of alcoholics have had palpitations. It makes them scared. It makes them anxious about their heart. This is when sudden worries make regular consumers of alcohol a part of the "whenzitgunahappen" brigade! The Husband dropped alcohol as a "self medication" and then together we addressed his anxiety.
There are books about this topic and you can avail yourself of them. The key point I would like to emphasize is that you need to think of yourself wholly. Do not think of anxiety as a dietary issue, just a stress issue, or perhaps a genetic issue (it does affect family members). Think of yourself as the whole person that you are. Love yourself enough to measure your life in increments. Most of all, do not ATTACK your life, schedule, diet, goals and agendas as if you could conquer anxiety. Approach yourself with a gentleness and thoughtfulness and a plan that will hopefully involve all of the aspects of your life. This in itself could leave to a lessening of these tensions. Then make a little list of big ideas and anticipate alleviating your pain.