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What we do with anxiety determines whether we control it or let it control us

August 08, 1997|By Jeanne Rhodes

Mind-body interactions probably are the most important consideration in the pursuit of health and wellness. Many times our lives have been ones of intense seeking without knowing exactly what it is we're looking for. Searching for happiness outside ourselves through material possessions, jobs and security for the future often blocks from our awareness the love, joy and peace of mind which already are bountiful and available within each of us.

We often look at outside events as creating our problems when the actual cause of our stress and anxiety is the way we think about these events. Our thoughts are powerful life-determinants.

Everyone experiences anxiety to varying degrees, but what we do with our anxiety determines whether we will keep it under control or let it control us. There are two types of anxiety - one is produced by outside circumstances - an argument, an auto accident, a physical attack, etc.

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The second type of anxiety which is the most prominent is created internally and usually begins with a simple negative thought. There are many ways negative thinking can cause stress and anxiety. For example, negative "what if" thinking creates a cycle of more negative thoughts - what if I lose my job, what if she/he is angry with me, what if I get sick, what if I fail, etc. The cycle begins with a thought (what if) which triggers anxiety feelings, which in turn brings on additional negative "what if" thoughts. One negative thought creates the next. Soon you are like a hamster on a treadmill going around and around in circles feeling more stressed and anxious all the time. The increasing anxiety and stress activates the secretion of a hormone called adrenaline, in addition to cortisol, both of which start racing through your body creating a "fight or flight" response.

Although the anxiety is all in the mind, these stimulants cause our hearts to pump faster, the stomach to contract as blood moves away from it causing an upset stomach, nausea or cramping. Your fingers and toes may become cold and even tingle as blood rushes out of them and into the arms and legs. There is nothing to be done with your overstimulated system, so it turns on itself. Sometimes, you may even be just a step away from panic. All of this we do to ourselves through negative thinking, especially negative "what if" thoughts.

How to control stress

The good news is that this kind of stress and anxiety is under your control. Since you created the negative thoughts, you can learn to stop them.

First, focus on the fact that the past is over and no one really knows what will happen in the future. In addition, try a new positive twist on "what if" thinking to break the negative cycle and to stop the flood of hormones to re-establish a natural calm: What if I succeed? What If I get the promotion? What if I choose to feel calm and peaceful? What if I do a great job? What if she's not angry with me?

You can change negative "what if" thinking to positive thoughts and substitute them whenever negative thoughts pop in your head.

This is not easy to do, but persistence and repetition will bring you to a calmer state. Although you probably will not be totally calm, it is important to acknowledge your smallest progress and give yourself a pat on the back. This is critical in establishing a new behavior.

Although you will experience small successes, know that you will feel some stress or anxiety, but once you get through it, your skills will assist in taking you to a new level. You'll be gaining the inner strength that will make it easier to try again. This method of reducing stress and increasing inner peace has been used successfully by many people. Why shouldn't you be one of them?

Jeanne Rhodes is a nutritionist, wellness consultant, author and director of Rhodes Preventive Health Institute in Hagerstown.

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