4 January 2013

Nigeria: Dealing With Anxiety

As we enter another year, many people are anxious about what it holds for them. Some parents are already intensely worried about how to make ends meet during the year, security for themselves and their loved ones, work place demands, payment of children's school fees, and many things.

People often experience a general state of worry or fear before confronting something challenging such as a test, examination, recital, or interview. These feelings are easily justified and considered normal. Anxiety is considered a problem when symptoms interfere with a person's ability to sleep or otherwise function. Generally speaking, anxiety occurs when a reaction is out of proportion with what might be normally expected in a situation.

Anxiety is a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying. These disorders affect how we feel and behave, and they can manifest real physical symptoms. Mild anxiety is vague and unsettling, while severe anxiety can be extremely debilitating, having a serious impact on daily life.

Anxiety disorders may be caused by environmental factors, medical factors, genetics, brain chemistry, substance abuse, or a combination of these. It is most commonly triggered by the stress in our lives. Environmental factors include: Trauma from events such as abuse, victimization, or the death of a loved one, stress in a personal relationship, marriage, friendship, and divorce, stress at work, stress from school , stress about finances and money, stress from a natural disaster, lack of oxygen in high altitude areas among others.

Anxiety disorders are of different types. A very common type is Social Anxiety Disorder. This is a social phobia characterized by a fear of being negatively judged by others or a fear of public embarrassment due to impulsive actions. This includes feelings such as stage fright, a fear of intimacy, and a fear of humiliation. This disorder can cause people to avoid public situations and human contact to the point that normal life is rendered impossible.

Usually anxiety is a response to outside forces, but it is possible that we make ourselves anxious with "negative self-talk" - a habit of always telling ourselves the worst will happen.

We all spend too much time worrying about things that sometimes will never materialize. And this worry only makes our lives unnecessarily complicated and painful. However there is hope.

Below are strategies given by Tejvan Pettinger which when implemented can help each of us diminish our worries and anxieties, and thereby be free to enjoy life to its full potential.

Delay worrying

This is a simple technique to stop our worries. If you find yourself concerned over a situation in the future, you can try telling yourself, "let me worry about this tomorrow; there is no need to worry about it today because it won't happen for quite a while anyway". Whenever the problem comes to your mind, just try this technique - delay worrying for another day. The fact is that most worries never occur; delaying them is just a clever way of dealing with our negative mind. The nature of our mind is to create problems and things to worry about, but this is a way to forget about them. If you keep ignoring your worries you may later realize they are not going to occur anyway.

Take action

When we worry about things we can become paralyzed by fear. Rather than just worrying, think very carefully about what practical steps you can take to avoid the problem. For example, if you worry about your finances consider how you could reduce your spending, increase your income and consolidate your debt.

If you just worry and feel powerless the problem will not go away, but will continue to lurk in the back of your mind. By taking action and working towards a resolution you will feel much better. Some problems shouldn't be ignored, they require action; however, for other worries there are no steps that you can take because the worry is mostly imaginary. If you realize there is nothing you can actually do, this is a very good reason to stop worrying about it.

Be careful what you wish for

When we think about something intensely we give this idea greater power. In some form these ideas are more likely to materialize. If we worry over making a mistake, we can increase our chances of doing this. We therefore need to be careful what we think about; if we worry over a negative outcome we increase the chance that it will occur - Our worries can become self fulfilling. If we remember the power of thought, we will be more careful about dwelling on painful outcomes. Rather than worrying about a negative event, focus your attention on how difficult situations could be resolved and think how you would successfully deal with the problem.

Keep things in perspective

Try writing a list of all the things that you are currently worried about, then examine how much they really affect your life. Are you worrying about important things in life or merely side issues? If your worries are insignificant issues then give them the importance they deserve.

Control your thoughts

The key to reducing anxiety and worry is learning the ability to control your thoughts. Sometimes we feel powerless over our own thoughts; it is as if we are slave to them. Whatever thoughts may come we identify with them and accept them as true. However, this is a big mistake. Our own thoughts are often wrong. Also we do have the ability to decide which thoughts to pursue and which thoughts to reject; if we are determined we can prevent thoughts taking hold and throw them out of our mind. If we give importance to controlling our own mind we will be less subject to pursuing endless worries and anxieties.

Don't be vain

It might be harsh, but alas true, that we often worry about what people think of us. We worry endlessly that we might not meet society's expectations; we worry about whether people will like us. With this mental outlook we start to give too much importance to our ego; it means we are constantly looking for appreciation and the admiration of others. If we don't get this appreciation, we start to worry that we are no good. If we can develop greater self confidence and inner poise, then we will not worry about what others believe or think.

We need to give less importance to the opinions of the world. Even if we get criticized, we should not worry because we should not identify our self worth with the opinions of others. This is not easy to do overnight, but, if we can detach ourselves from judgments of others we will gain greater inner peace and avoid worrying over the relatively insignificance of people's judgments'.

Analyse them

Another approach to dealing with worries is to carefully analyze whether they are actually justified. Ask yourself why am I worrying about this? Could I be wrong? Suppose you are worrying about someone's reaction to what you did at work; it is likely that you are imagining the worse and assigning false motives to the other person. By analysing and stepping back from the problem you can evaluate it's importance and this is an effective way to diminish the power of our worries.

How is anxiety diagnosed?

A psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, or other mental-health professional is usually enlisted to diagnose anxiety and identify the causes of it. The physician will take a careful medical and personal history, perform a physical examination, and order laboratory tests as needed. There is no one laboratory test that can be used to diagnose anxiety, but tests may provide useful information about a medical condition that may be causing physical illness or other anxiety symptoms.

Treatment plan for anxiety

Anxiety disorders are treatable and with the right help, you can learn how to cope with anxiety. Seeing a therapist or a psychiatrist can put you on the path to healing. Just as a diabetic patient would seek treatment for the disease, you should seek treatment for your anxiety disorder. Some treatments include Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), relaxation and medication

Finally, there are always things to worry about, but, as it has often been said, worrying is not going to help. Either take practical steps to deal with the problem or don't waste your time worrying about unnecessary things. If you keep ignoring worries, eventually they will go away. The key is to live in the present moment; when we worry we are thinking of the future or past and this prevents us from enjoying the present moment. To reduce worries and anxieties is not to ignore problems - it means we work toward solutions rather than just thinking of bad outcomes.

Nwielua, a Health Informa-tion Officer and clinical psy-chologist contributed this piece from Abuja.

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