Chronic illness can plague us with worry. Dr. Laurie explains how to relax.
Some of my clients are anxious all the time -- it is as chronic as their disease. Others have an attack of nerves now and then.
Sometimes we don't realize that worry has crept in. The little thought starts to circulate, "Uh oh, I'm having trouble with the stairs. This is going to turn into a full-blown attack."
But what they all have in common is a desire to "get rid" of the feeling -- to banish butterflies, a tense stomach, racing thoughts, or clenched muscles. Often that's the question they bring up first -- How can I calm down? How can I stop being so worried, or nervous, or tense?
It is a reasonable question. Worry takes a toll on our bodies and on our minds. We are less productive and less happy when anxiety stalks us.
But anxiety can also be a gift.
"What?!" I can imagine you thinking. What kind of gift could anxiety ever bring?
I am not thinking of the ongoing, unrelenting kind, but those first signal flares. Most of us know we are anxious, not because of what we are thinking but because of what we are doing or how we feel. Our memory starts to fail -- "What am I dong in this room?" Our tight throat or unfocused mind may be telling us something. Sometimes we don't realize that worry has crept in. The little thought starts to circulate, "Uh oh, I'm having trouble with the stairs. This is going to turn into a full-blown attack."
The thoughts may slide in under the radar, but the clenched jaw or headache shows up and waves, "Hey! You are worrying!"
Once you notice what's going on, you can address the sneaky and misguided thoughts.
Another "gift" from anxiety is it helps you pinpoint what really matters to you. Maybe you are anxious about a conversation you need to have with your partner or friend.
Have a little Q and A with your feelings. "Am I anxious that they are going to reject me?" No, that's not a worry. "Is it that I think they'll be mad?" No, that doesn't feel quite right either. "Maybe I'm anxious because it is hard for me to tell the truth about what I need." Yes! That's it -- I'm worried about being vulnerable.
OK, now your anxiety has shown you the way and what you need to address in yourself so that you can feel safe to talk about important things.
A major effect of living with a chronic illness is that there are so many things to worry about -- so many scary reports and symptoms. The anxiety can become so constant that it is hard to separate out what specific situations are fueling the latest bout of worry.
Yet to spend a little time sorting and querying inside yourself is worth the effort. Once you understand what worries and scares you the most, you can begin to take a more reassuring tone with yourself. When you learn to dial the worry back, you create different thought habits.
One of the habit changes may be to take a different approach to the worry. Instead of resisting or banishing our anxious feelings, what if we opened our arms and said, "Yes, tell me what you know -- let me listen instead of wanting to push you away"?
Then you spend some moments deeply breathing, allowing the anxiety to be absorbed by the strong loving pulse of your heart. You can be grateful that your body can let you know when it is scared or nervous, but you don't have to remain in that state.
It's a message. And when it is received, you can let it go.
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