Anxiety, intervention, management: If you asked someone struggling with the “Big A,” they’d likely say those words don’t go well together – especially management. Having been there for decades I assure you the words are a legitimate triumvirate. Let’s get after it…

‘The relaxation response is a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress…and the opposite of the fight or flight response.’ Herbert Benson, MD

Last week we worked through “Anxiety! What You Don’t Know Will Hurt You.” In that first of this two-part series we talked about the biological foundation of anxiety, featuring the stress response system (fight/flight). The purpose was simple: How can any of us hope to manage our anxiety if we don’t understand what’s going-on in our bodies?

‘Course, knowledge and a couple of bucks will get you a cup of coffee. So let’s spot intervention points in last week’s piece and come up with some management strategies and techniques. If you haven’t read the article, please give it a go.

Intervention Point 1: Quit Surviving

Living with anxiety can quickly become the ultimate emotional, mental, and physical fight, survival seeming to be the only goal. But keep in mind that if survival is our only objective we can’t expect things to significantly improve.

Numerous times on any given day an anxiety sufferer may be dealing with a variety of distressing thoughts and feelings, phenomena well beyond the expected symptoms of their particular situation. We’re talking poor self-esteem, symptom-masking, people-pleasing, searching for quick-fixes, and more. And it isn’t long before the workings of the mind become incredibly gummed-up.

When that happens we’ve lost the forest for the trees, and hope for reasoned intervention flies out the window. Not only can we prevent that from happening, we can bring ourselves to a good place when we’re knee-deep in weeds. I posted “The Forest, Not the Trees: 8 Foundational Principles” eight years ago. Give it a read and let those principles help you to clear your head.

Seriously, life doesn’t have to be purely a survival mission.

Intervention Point 2: Learn About Your Anxiety

As long as we’re going to have anxiety we might as well get to know it. Is our anxiety state or trait? What’s our diagnosis? How do symptoms present in us? How are others coping with it? What are the “known-to-work” therapy techniques and meds? Finally, are we ready for action?

I said it in part-one: “And when I crossed the threshold of acceptance I knew my only option was to continue to learn about why and how anxiety presents in me, and how to effectively manage it. Period.”

If I’m wrong, convince me.

Intervention Point 3: Thinking It Doesn’t Make It True

Those who struggle with anxiety are the kings and queens of misinterpretation and overreaction. I call it “interpreaction.” I can’t tell you the number of times in a day I say to myself, “Come on Billy, you know that just isn’t true.” Or maybe, “Come on big boy, you know how you are and what you typically lead with.”

And once I get a good dose of realism, with self-affection, I can move-on with the business at hand. I’ve come to know and accept my defaults and leanings. You can do the same.

Now, here’s why this is especially important. We’re going to be addressing the stress response (fight/flight) system next. Its flow begins when we sense a threat and our eyes, ears, or both send a message to our emotional processing center, the amygdala. The amygdala interprets the input and if it perceives danger it sends an alert to a command center in the brain known as the hypothalamus. Once the hypothalamus gets dialed-in, well, it’s on.

But wait! The amygdala isn’t operating on artificial intelligence and it isn’t being remotely controlled. No, it’s our misinterpretations and overreactions that cause the amygdala to freak. And coming to understand how we make such thought errors gives us the power to intervene. Be sure to read a piece I wrote some time ago, “Stop Depression & Anxiety: 15 Styles of Distorted Thinking.”

Intervention Point 4: The Relaxation Response

what is the best way to stay calm when stressed

In part-one we thoroughly reviewed how the stress response (fight/flight) system works. And I emphasized that it’s the “dance floor” when it comes to anxiety and its perpetuation.

Can it be offset? Sure it can. Enter the relaxation response (RR).

Now, I’m telling you up front there’s a lot involved here and I won’t be able to include everything I’d like. But I’ll provide resources and links at the end, and I strongly recommend you check them out.

Decades ago, after conducting research on biofeedback, meditation, and relaxation techniques, Herbert Benson, MD coined the term “relaxation response.” According to the good doctor, “The relaxation response is a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress…and the opposite of the fight or flight response.”

Dr. Benson proposed that the RR is our body’s inborn counter-balancing mechanism to the stress response and can be used to offset its damaging effects. But we have to keep in mind that the RR occurs automatically in response to physical stressors, but on the psychological side of the fence we have to consciously generate it.

Here are the four elements Dr. Benson submits are necessary to elicit the RR…

  1. A quiet place with eyes closed
  2. A comfortable position with muscular relaxation
  3. A mental focusing device such as breathing, a word, or an image
  4. Passive disregard of everyday thoughts

So I’ve poured the foundation for calling upon the RR, but, again, I don’t have the space to take you further. If you’re absolutely ready to access the RR, the best way to get started is to read Chipur article “Our Stress and Relaxation Responses | How to Call Upon and Nurture Your Relaxation Response.”

Gotta’ Go

I’m way long here, so we need to wrap it up.

I really hope our mini-series on anxiety will serve you well. As we part company, please don’t forget that effective anxiety management begins with learning. And only after coming to understand how and why it presents in us, and doing our intervention due diligence, can we expect relief.

It’s there for the taking.

Those resources and links…

Dr. Herbert Benson’s website Relaxation Response, Harvard Health Publishing’s “Understanding the stress response,” the book Say Good Night to Insomnia by Gregg D. Jacobs, PhD

And hundreds upon hundreds of Chipur mood and anxiety disorder-related titles.

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