Archives

You are currently viewing the tag Anxiety

An Arsenal of Awesomeness for Anxious Times

Creative Ways to Deal with Anxiety

After writing Got Anxiety? and Anxiety and Traditional Chinese Medicine, I decided the last post in this series should list some ways to begin dealing with anxiety, starting with some suggestions from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) standpoint, and then moving on to some other cool stuff. Please note: These posts are not meant to be exclusionary in regards to using conventional medicine, including medication and all schools of psychotherapy, to help alleviate your anxiety. If it works for you, you have my full support. 

Treating Anxiety with Traditional Chinese Medicine

My meditation rarely looks this cool. It's mostly comes in the form of 5 minutes of quiet breathing while I sneak away to "go to the bathroom." Or something.
My meditation rarely looks this cool. It mostly comes in the form of five minutes of quiet breathing while I sneak away from the chaos to “go to the bathroom.”

1. It’s super basic, and super easy. Apply pressure to Kidney 1 (see link for picture). This point will help ground out the frenetic energy in your head. It can also clear heat and calm the Shen/Mind.

2. Start your day with prayer or meditation. In TCM, prayer and meditation are cooling, and since anxiety most often involves an element of heat, this is a great way to ground yourself and cool the hot thoughts.

3. Get some acupuncture. We’ll figure out what kind of anxiety you’re experiencing, and treat accordingly. In TCM, it’s acknowledged that some constitutional types are more prone to anxiety than others. There are lots of great herbal formulas to treat the root of what you are dealing with (the energetic “origins” of your anxiety). Once we assess your constitution and your energetic imbalances, we can also suggest more individualized dietary advice.

4. Read about the Spleen, since the “emotion” associated with the Spleen is anxiety/worry/pensiveness/rumination.

 Other (Hopefully) Helpful Suggestions

1. See a therapist. A friend of mine, a psychologist with a big brain and a great sense of humor (and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), has told me lots about how effective CBT can be in treating anxiety. Call a licensed CBT therapist for a free consult and see if their style jives with you. Please know that there are many different approaches in the world of psychotherapy in regards to treating anxiety, and if you’re interested in seeing a therapist, don’t stop until you find the right one – you’ll know when you’ve found her.

2. Be nicer to yourself, dudes and dudettes! Negative self-talk? It happens. A lot. A constant berating voice telling you that you’re not good enough? Consider patting it on it’s negative little head, then kindly shhh it. If that doesn’t work, sometimes getting up from where you are to engage in another activity is helpful in regards to stopping that little punk from spouting it’s self-deprecating lies. Think of that voice as a pre-verbal baby. Since babies can’t rationalize, it’s sometimes helpful to just distract them away from playing with the toilet paper roll rather than screaming “NO! BAD GIRL! STOP THAT!”

In other words, consider doing an activity that might take you out of your head and help connect you with your physical body or imagination.

A man in a movie theater notices what looks like a zebra sitting next to him. "Are you a zebra?" asked the man, surprised. "Yes." "What are you doing at the movies?" The zebra replied, "Well, I liked the book."
A man in a movie theater notices a zebra sitting next to him. “Are you a zebra?” asks the man. “Yes!” says the zebra. “Wow! What are you doing at the movies?” asks the man. The zebra looks at him and smiles. “Well, I really liked the book.”

3. Be honest. Spend time seeing people with whom you can feel happy around, and take some time when they ask “How are you?” to tell them the truth. But whatever you do, don’t spend the whole day talking about what’s wrong, and promise yourself to take some time to do what brings you pleasure.

4. Know that all families are flappin’ crazy! Family, simply by being family, can create a strange, especially chaotic species of  anxiety. Family dynamics are complex and deep-seated.  Know you’re not alone, and know this doesn’t mean your family sucks and that Penelope’s family is way better. Who’s Penelope? I DON’T KNOW! Because people with perfect families don’t exist!

5. Read. People have been swashbuckling with anxiety for a long, long time. Screw those people who tell you self-help books are for losers. All sections of the library are self-help, dabbit!

6. Laugh a lot. If you can’t laugh when you’re anxious, laugh when you’re not. Or if you’re just not feeling funny, but you’d like to laugh, try laughter yoga. I urge you to watch this video. Tell me you didn’t laugh!!!

Treating Anxiety With Sage Advice

Check out these awesome quotes:

From When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times by  Pema Chödrön

-You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.

-No one ever tells us to stop running away from fear…the advice we usually get is to sweeten it up, smooth it over, take a pill, or distract ourselves, but by all means make it go away…. So even if the hot loneliness is there, and for 1.6 seconds we sit with that restlessness when yesterday we couldn’t sit for even one, that’s the journey of the warrior.

Here are some other good ones:

-When I get up in the morning… my real concern is to discover whether I’m in a state of grace. And if I make that investigation, and I discover that I am not in a state of grace, I try to go [back] to bed. A state of grace is that kind of balance with which you ride the chaos that you find around you. It’s not a matter of resolving the chaos—because there’s something arrogant and warlike about putting the world in order—but having a kind of escape ski down over a hill, just going through the contours of the hill. —Leonard Cohen

-Let a man once overcome his selfish terror at his own finitude, and his finitude is, in one sense, overcome. – Santayana

-Kierkegaard once claimed that anxiety is our “best teacher.” He was correct, to a point. By underscoring the tensions in our minds and goading us to action, anxiety does indeed teach us. But as the chronic sufferer discovers, the best teacher is not anxiety itself but the ceaseless, lifelong effort to think clearly and act well in spite of it. To do that you need certain qualities — the ones my brother Scott isolated in his book of wisdom: simplicity, mindfulness, pragmatism, stoicism. It would take me 10 years, six therapists and countless hours of self-torment to see this. -Daniel B. Smith (from his article on anxiety published in the NY Times – The Maniac in Me.)

My anxiety came as panic attacks when I was in my mid-twenties, finally settling in and manifesting itself, two or three times a day, as a real fear of dropping dead within the next few minutes. It’s lasted all my life. That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news: I am 81 years old. Never has irony been more appreciated. – VM from Lucerne, CA (pulled from the comment section of The Maniac in Me)

 

I hope, from the very center of my heart, that something in these series of posts helps you feel more safe, more grounded, and more at peace. And if you do take something from this post, consider it practice, and keep practicing. Like the author John McPhee says – “You put an ounce in a bucket each day, you get a quart”. Imagine what you’ll have after a couple of quarts! Let’s do the math… oh, you’ll have 1.89271 more liters of self-confidence that you can do this!

So… here’s to practice, peace, and pleasure.

 

This is the last post in a series of 3 on anxiety. See Got Anxiety? and Anxiety and Traditional Chinese Medicine for more information and a couple more baddish jokes.

 

 

 


Anxiety and Traditional Chinese Medicine

The Physical Experience of Anxiety

If you’ve read Got Anxiety? and now you’re here – thanks for reading. Now let’s get visceral and talk about the ways in which anxiety can manifest from a purely symptomatic standpoint. The first thing to know is that anxiety is protean by nature – in other words, the subjective experience of anxiety can change quickly, and the symptoms can disappear as quickly as they arrived. Some describe their anxiety as a “hamster wheel thinking” or being “stuck in the brain” while others describe it as a Pu-pu platter of more physical symptoms that can include increased heart rate, tense muscles, shallow breathing, nausea, stomachache, headache, crab rangoon, beef teriyaki, and fried wontons. (What?! I said Pu-pu platter!)

Take a break from the hamster wheel with acupuncture.
Take a break from the hamster wheel with acupuncture.

Anxiety also varies in intensity. Some people have low-grade anxiety that they live with day to day, and some feel relatively fine until they experience what they call a panic attack. No matter how you define anxiety, the one thing that holds true is that no matter how it feels, anxiety sucks.  It’s a state of being in which calmness and peace feel like they are hiding in a cave, 3000 miles from where you live, surrounded by thistle. Which, needless to say, yet worth saying – totally blows.

Anxiety According to Traditional Chinese Medicine

Anxiety, from a TCM perspective, always involves the Heart and the Shen. The word “Shen” is a keyword in TCM.  It indicates the activity of thinking, consciousness, insight, emotional life, and memory. In English,  the closest word to Shen would be “mind.” When someone comes into the clinic looking bright-eyed and bushy tailed (and is not a squirrel), I might say “Hey, Clyde, your Shen looks bright today!” In other words, Clyde seems like his mind is free and clear, and it manifests on his face, especially in the clarity in his eyes.

In TCM, it’s also acknowledged that anxiety can come from both a known cause (i.e. PTSD in a veteran or a survivor of abuse) or an unknown cause (I feel like a chandelier is going to drop on my head and kill me even though there is no chandelier in sight), and is usually aggravated by tiredness and/or general stress.  The cool thing about the way TCM treats anxiety is that it always looks for a differential diagnosis. In other words, we know that anxiety looks different according to the individual, and it’s protean nature is acknowledged within TCM.

The kind of anxiety that you are experiencing is an important differentiation in TCM

The following are some basic examples of ‘types’ of anxiety, as well as their ‘energetic’ origins.

Panic attacks are the WORST. This image seemed to be the most accurate representation of the one's I've experienced. Like this feeling of impending doom suddenly cracking the earth beneath your feet. The positive side - by talking about my experience, I learned how to manage them.  Acupuncture also greatly reduced their frequency.
Panic attacks are the WORST. This image seemed to be the most accurate representation of the one’s I’ve experienced – this feeling of impending doom suddenly exploding through into your physical reality. The positive side – by talking about my experience, I learned how to manage them – since learning breath work, I’ve haven’t had one reach the status of “full-blown.” Acupuncture also greatly reduced their frequency.

1.Heat: Agitation, restlessness, feelings of desperation, rapid movement and speech, red face, heat sensations, panic that moves in an upward direction. What it actually feels like: Some dudebag just threw kerosene on the already big bonfire that is my collective worries and now I’m off to the anxiety races – insert flaring of thoughts/obsessions/worries and occasionally, a panic attack.

2.  Qi Deficiency: Preoccupation/rumination, obsessive worry, palpitations, insomnia, fatigue, poor appetite, all of things worse when tired. What it actually feels like: I am so tired. Life is too much. How can I handle this? How can I handle this? How can I handle this?  I just need to sleep? I’m not sleeping. I’m not sleeping. I’m not sleeping.

3. Stagnant Qi: Feeling stuck on a thought, irritability and depression, moodiness, muscular tension, GI issues (constipation/loose stool), sensation of fullness or discomfort in heart and stomach. What it actually feels like: I want to crawl out of my skin or hop on a train to some tiny village in Mexico and never look back and I’m angry because I can’t do this and worried because I’m so angry and if I don’t go for a run tomorrow I might literally implode. And why is my neighbor blasting country music at 10pm? You know what I’m going to do – I will run him over when I leave for work tomorrow and I’ll never have to hear his stupid music again. Rahhhh!!!

4. Blood Deficiency: Insomnia, palpitations, fatigue, dizziness, poor memory, feelings of vulnerability and being overwhelmed by life. What it actually feels like: My brain is fuzzy, I need to sleep, there is just too much to do, why are people so mean, is a giant shoe going to drop down from the sky and squash me like a bug?

5. Yin Deficiency: Preoccupation/rumination, tired but restless, insomnia with sensations of heat, occasional night sweats. What it actually feels like: My kids are crazy, my partner is crazy, I’m crazy, when will I get a moment to myself, oh crap, I forgot to pay the electric bill, I need a glass of wine, oh crap, here comes a hot flash, I need to sleep, I’ll never sleep, the car needs an oil change, my parents are getting old, I need 2 glasses of wine.

Do you recognize yourself?

No? Good.

Yes? Let’s look at what we can do to help.

 

This is the 2nd post in a series of 3 about anxiety. If you are interested, check out the 1st post in this series – Got Anxiety? See the 3rd post, An Arsenal of Awesomeness for Anxious Times here


Got Anxiety?

The Age of Anxiety?

A couple of years ago, if someone were to ask me to name the most common complaint that I treated in private practice, I’d have told them that fatigue and back pain were the two things that I saw most often. Then I’d begin preparing myself to field the question that naturally ensued (“So, does acupuncture actually work?”)

At the time, the majority of the patients I treated were insured, middle-income women and men between the ages of 40-70. Most of them had multiple children and were living the typical American lifestyle – they worked hard, played hard, slept little – and the insidious cultural expectation to be a smiling, agreeable Superperson despite their lifestyle had left many of them with a crappy back and some serious fatigue.

When your mind trips on itself, falls on it's face, gets back up, trips on itself, falls on its face, gets back up, trips on itself, etc.
When your mind trips on itself, falls on it’s face, gets back up, trips on itself, falls on its face, gets back up, trips on itself, etc.

But I’ve since changed my answer. Now that I work in the community acupuncture clinic, where 100-150 people from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds come through our doors every week, an assessment of what plagues the average person was bound to be more accurate, and holy mother of Bob, a definite pattern emerged in regards to what people are looking to heal.

Anxiety, hands down, is the most common complaint that I see in the clinic. 

Ya’ got some?

When I first noticed that anxiety was spreading through my chart notes like kudzu, I wrongly assumed that it was mostly women who were experiencing it, since they were the ones to actually state aloud that they were seeking help to deal with it. However, upon closer inspection, I quickly realized that almost everyone, regardless of sex, was checking off “anxiety” and “feeling overwhelmed by life” on our intake form. This was perhaps one of the biggest aha! moments I’ve had since working as an acupuncturist. It was also a moment of great connection for me – I thought, WHOA NELLY, everyone has anxiety! It made me feel connected, in a slightly sweet but uncomfortable way, to know that at times, we are all vibrating at the same frenetic frequency.

So – within the past year, I’ve become highly interested (a.k.a. obsessed) with learning more about anxiety. If anxiety is a problem that plagues my patients (and at times, myself), then I want to treat it to the best of my ability.

When I started looking more closely into ways to treat anxiety,  I found that there were lots of people talking about it (on the web, at least, where you can remain anonymous). In person, most people don’t like to say that they have anxiety – especially men –  since many fall prey to the inane expectation to act tough, yo.  The conversations I found on the web were both revealing and problematic – the exchanges were mostly concerned with identifying the symptoms of anxiety, as opposed to how to deal with it. It seemed that individuals were relieved to find out that there are other individuals out there in the world experiencing the same awful physical/mental symptoms – connection was instantly made over the sentiment of “Ohhhhh, yeah! I feel sh*tty in those ways, too!”

Remember, you're not the only one awake at 2am. It's okay to talk about your anxiety - and if someone tells you that it's not, then they have cement for brains and probably a hotdog heart.
Remember, you’re not the only one awake at 2am. It’s okay to talk about your anxiety – and if someone tells you that it’s not, then they have cement for brains and probably a hotdog heart.

In short, what I discovered was this –  people were happy to find that they were not the only ones out there who suddenly FEEL LIKE THEY ARE DYING. Dialogue about panic attacks was rampant in the anxiety forums.

I was glad to see connection happening. Even if people were breaking bread over how they suffered, at least they were breaking bread. What was disheartening was the second phenomenon I ran into, which could be summarized like this: Are you experiencing these uncomfortable symptoms (insert long list of everything from heart palpitations to irrational catastrophic thinking to extreme nausea and dizziness)? You are? Well then, you’ve tested high for anxiety. You also may have a panic disorder – contact your physician or a licensed therapist.

Okay. Contact your physician and then what? Get some pills? (Note: I am not anti-anxiolytic, but many people I meet don’t want to start taking a medication for an issue they barely understand themselves). And what about those people without health insurance? Or those with insanely high deductibles who only have catastrophic coverage? Or those  single moms with 3 kids and a full-time job and not a flippin’ moment to spare? We’re back to square one, folks, which is that anxiety is everywhere and it sucks and there isn’t a ton of (free/accessible) support in regards to how to deal with it. Some lucky people might have the resources – coverage that includes mental health and the free time to see a therapist regularly. But let’s be honest. Most don’t.  So… now what?

Faire et se taire? Translates into shut up and get on with it. Admittedly, this is not always bad advice for some situations. But for anxiety? That’s about as effective as telling the Hungry Mouse to board the Starving Cat to the Island of Cheese. Ya’ like that? (I just made it up.)

Anxiety Has Always Been Around, Right?

Yup. Anxiety ain’t new. And if anxiety is as old as the upright monkey, then perhaps we should start asking old people more questions about how they deal with it! Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist and director of the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging, did exactly that. He created the Legacy Project, a study of almost 1,500 people ranging from their 70s to over 100. The focus of the study was to ‘pick the brains’ of our elders. One of the questions in the study asked participants to name their biggest regret; Pillemer was shocked by the answers. He had expected to hear about secret love affairs, shady money exchanges, bar fights, crashing grandma’s car  – but the participants almost unanimously answered: “I wish I had not spent so much time worrying.” So… our elders had anxiety when they were younger, and as they aged, calmed down enough to reflect upon the fact that they wished they didn’t have so much of it. Hmmm….

So, read on, because I’ve learned some interesting things about anxiety. And I am happy to share everything I come across if it helps people start dealing with this issue in a productive, creative way. We’ll start with they ways in which Traditional Chinese Medicine conceptualizes anxiety – because guess what? The TCM perspective on anxiety is non-judgey, accepting of difference, and offers some outstanding suggestions about how to deal with it.

Now that seems somewhat grounding, no?

 

Check out the next two posts in this series on anxiety, Anxiety and Traditional Chinese Medicine and An Arsenal of Awesomeness for Anxious Times