How to Manage Persistent Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Living with a chronic illness like Lyme disease can cause persistent anxiety for many reasons. Medical bills, delayed or poor medical treatment, ongoing pain, loss of job, relationships or social activities, along with the stress of trying to complete normal tasks with debilitating pain and illness are just a few things that can cause great anxiety. Anxiety can take over your life to the point where it controls your every decision and steals your joy completely. Here are several things that can help manage anxiety:
1. Uncovering the source of your anxiety begins as you examine the things you say to yourself, or your “self-talk.” Anxiety can build internally when you say things to yourself like, “This is never going to end,” and “No one wants to be around me like this.” When I became aware of this self-talk, I was able to replace those thoughts with more truthful statements like, “I am going to get through this,” and “My friends and family love me. That won’t stop because I am sick.” My anxiety began to fade when I put this into practice. Start by writing down your random thoughts throughout the day. You may be surprised at what you say to yourself. Then think of more truthful thoughts to counteract each negative thought.
2. Stand back and observe the circumstances of your life, like a third person. When you do this, you are able to become more objective about the stressors in your life and realize where you can reduce some of the stress that might be contributing to your anxiety. Ask yourself some of these questions:
“Are there things that I can let go of, that contribute negatively to my life?”
“How is this contributing to the anxiety in my life?”
“How can I better manage the stress this causes in my life?”
“What resources are available to me that I haven’t thought of before?”
3. If you are experiencing panic attacks, try doing the following things to cope in the middle of a panic attack.
–As soon as you feel an attack coming on, take a slow, deep breath and count to 4; hold for 4 counts, then slowly breathe out for 4 counts; repeat until you feel calmer.
–Repeat a statement or mantra that helps to fill you with strength, such as “I can do this,” or “It is going to be okay.”
–Imagine yourself in a place that brings you peace (for instance, curled up in your warm bed, or at the beach listening to the calming waves).
–Turn on peaceful music and listen until the attack subsides.
–Change your environment, if possible (go outside for fresh air, or open car windows if you are in the car).
–Focus on one activity to keep your mind’s attention until the attack passes (for instance, count the items in your cart, if you are at the store, or count the number of pens you have at your desk, if you are at work).
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4. Mental health counseling can also be very effective in helping to determine the cause of and manage anxiety. There may be subconscious belief systems that are causing you inner tension; for instance, the need to be perfect or to please everyone in your life. Oftentimes, once you become aware of these subconscious belief systems, you can then become empowered to change those beliefs into more realistic ones, which will in turn, change your thoughts and self-talk, and decrease the amount of anxiety you are experiencing. Mental health counseling can also help you learn coping methods to deal with pain, a job loss, or other things caused by living with a chronic illness.
5. Antidepressant medications can also help manage anxiety. Antidepressants are commonly prescribed medications for anxiety because they do not cause the same addictions like those caused by medications like Xanax or Valium. If you are taking Xanax or Valium, use it sparingly and only when the anxiety is interrupting your activities. Using it daily can create a physical dependence that is difficult to wean from. Supplements, such as kava kava, St. John’s Wort, and valerian root, also may help with persistent anxiety. Always check with your physician before taking a supplement or combining it with other medications that you take.
6. Try writing your thoughts in a journal regularly. Emotions that build internally can result in tension that expresses itself physically. If you can get these emotions out, either by writing about them or expressing them verbally to someone else, you may find that your anxiety decreases. Especially focus on journaling about your negative emotions. These are, of course, the ones that give us the most trouble. Try to journal when you are angry, sad, or feeling hopeless. Oftentimes, just having expressed those emotions in written form will make you feel better internally.
7. Create a support system of friends and family to help you manage the stress and circumstances causing your anxiety. Choose a close friend or family member you trust to call when you are feeling anxious. Don’t try to manage the anxiety on your own. We are not independent beings. We need each other to help and encourage one another along the way. There is no shame in sharing your needs with another.
Anxiety can be hard to treat, but it is not impossible. Learn to take one day at a time, and let your failures and mistakes be lessons learned rather than storm clouds that follow you through life. Talk truthfully to yourself, and encourage yourself like you would your friend or child. Reach out to others frequently so that you do not feel so alone. Anxiety can be difficult and troublesome, but as you overcome each hurdle life presents you with, you will develop more confidence that will carry you through each day.
Laurie Miller, RN BSN MS, is an author, nurse, wife, and mom who has lived with chronic pain and illness for 9 years. She enjoys reading, spending time with family, and blogging at God-Living with Chronic Illness. god-livingwithchronicillness.com