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Talking to others may be best way to handle feelings

March 10, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

There are several ways to battle anxiety, regardless of whether it is caused by the weather, a possible war or some other cause, local mental health experts say.

Often the most important thing for an anxious person to do is to talk to others about how he's feeling.

For some people, this support system might include someone in the family with whom they can talk about their feelings, worries and anxieties. For others, it might be a friend or a colleague.

When people are anxious, they will often feel an urge to withdraw from social activity, but they should try to increase their activities with others, said Mike Shea, administrative director for Behavior Health Services of Washington County Hospital.

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"Get your mind on people who are less fortunate than yourself, whether it is at a nursing home or hospital, or a clothing bank," Shea said.

It would be a good time to take up a new hobby or activity, such as bowling, he said.

Studies have shown that activities, especially those involving exercise, can be therapeutic for someone having anxiety problems, said John Kenney, an area social worker.

Some relax and ease their anxiety level by singing and dancing, or even learning new dance moves, he said.

Much of the anxiety is about matters which are out of local residents' control, be it the weather, the war or terrorism, said Kenney, who is also the disaster mental health services coordinator for the Washington County Red Cross.

It sometimes helps to focus instead on matters that they can control, such as being as prepared as possible for an emergency, he said. He suggested families develop a plan for what they will do in the event of an emergency and compile a disaster kit, he said.

Some people find that being prepared helps reduce their anxiety levels, he said.

Mental health professionals interviewed for these stories urged people to use caution when watching television news because just watching it can cause anxiety.

While people need to be aware of world news, they do not need to fixate on it by watching 24-hour news networks which sometimes "sensationalize" issues, said Mark Lannon, executive director of the Mental Health Center.

"They really exacerbate and magnify our fears," Lannon said. "While sometimes (the coverage) is very good, sometimes it feeds on itself."

"I encourage people to read the newspapers, read the magazines and think about what they are reading but not get caught up in around-the-clock news coverage," he said.

"You want to try to avoid being a news junkie," said social worker Louis F. Ahalt Jr.

"Stay informed but also be focused on the present. Do not allow those daily responsibilities and joys to be lost," Ahalt said.

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