Some people even think they’re having a heart attack when they experience these symptoms, so a trip to the emergency room would be wise to rule out the possibility. It’s quite stressful for your body, and it takes a toll on your emotions as well.
A Defense Mechanism
Stress is not necessarily evil, though. It’s the body’s way of reminding us we need to keep things in check. Our bodies are fragile and yet also adaptable, ready to cope with whatever comes its way.
The body is equipped with the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which acts as a defense mechanism that helps us in times of crisis. This sympathetic nervous system stimulates the fight or flight response, which helps your body to make a split-second decision to either stand and defend yourself against a certain threat or flee it.
For instance, when faced with a person in an alley who seems to be wielding a weapon, your SNS could either prepare you to take out your umbrella to defend yourself (fight) or run the opposite direction as fast as you can (flight). Basically, the function of the SNS is to do whatever is necessary to maintain that balance, to keep you safe.
Traumas and Triggers
Understandably, your body would be agitated by such an encounter. Suppose you realize shortly after that instead of a weapon, that stranger was actually just holding a flashlight. Your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) then takes over to calm you down, helping you to relax by inhibiting or slowing the high energy functions activated by the SNS. It slows down your heart rate and relaxes some muscles, among other things.
The PNS is crucial because too much stress damages the body. Events like these can leave you traumatized, and trauma can rewire your brain and make your body act as if you’re always in danger, making it nearly impossible to remain in a state of calm. This predisposes you to anxiety and panic. If this persists for more than six months and remains unchecked, anti-anxiety medication may be required to help you keep things in check.
Our bodies have a way of remembering trauma. This can lead to a panic attack, which usually has a trigger. But not all triggers are the overt type. Some are less obvious, and this can make it quite challenging to figure out exactly what triggered your panic attack. This commonly happens when you don’t have outlets for these traumatic experiences, such as having someone to talk to and process these events with.
In these cases, they can build up in our system and implode with a panic attack even without any tangible trigger. A fainting spell is also possible; though this could also have a more serious root cause, in which case it would be best to see a doctor.
What You Can Do
You may begin to think that you’re helpless when it comes to managing your anxiety. The good news is that you’re not. There are many coping skills you can learn to help you keep your anxiety at bay. You have your parasympathetic nervous system to thank for that.
It may take a while, but it is definitely possible to unlearn your body’s response to trauma and retrain it to respond differently to anxious thoughts and feelings. One of the best and easiest ways to do this would be to control your breathing.
Here is a step-by-step procedure on how to do just that:
- First, find a place where you can sit in a comfortable, relaxed posture.
- Next, engage your diaphragm and breathe slowly. Make sure you push out your stomach (diaphragm). You can place your hand on your stomach to ensure its movement.
- Inhale slowly (through the nose) to the count of three. Inhale 1…2…3. Then exhale slowly through your mouth.
- If you were able to do that, increase the count of your inhale to six. Inhale 1…2…3…4…5…6. Then exhale slowly.
- Do this for a minute, focusing on your breathing and just feel the anxiety melting away as your body calms down.
- Continue this exercise and increase deep breathing duration to two minutes, then five, then ten, or twenty if necessary.
This exercise may not be easy to do at first. But just as you are teaching your body to cope in different ways, you are also unlearning some unhealthy learned responses to stress, so it may take a while to get used to. Take it easy on yourself. After all, you’re doing your part to teach your body that it’s okay to calm down.
The Three R’s: A Non-Medicinal Treatment Approach for Anxiety
A guide to the non-medicinal treatment of anxiety can be outlined with these three words: Recognize, Reflect and Redirect.
Recognize – A wise man once said: “Anxiety is a monster that grows when we feed it with avoidance.” This could not be truer. Some people are predisposed to avoiding anxious thoughts with unhelpful coping mechanisms, such as diverting their attention to social media, television or whatever it is that makes the anxiety go away…temporarily.
The thing with avoidance is that it does not solve the issue. It doesn’t even recognize the issue. Not recognizing the issue means not recognizing the need to keep things in check, until the issue has spiraled out of control. A series of persistent anxious thoughts that remain unchecked could lead to a panic attack, which leads to more panic attacks. This is why recognizing that you feel anxious is crucial in managing anxiety.
Reflect – Not all stress or anxiety is bad. In fact, a certain amount of anxiety could keep you out of trouble. For instance, that sudden stress you feel when you wake up in the middle of the night and realize you left your front door unlocked would be enough to make you get out of bed to lock it so you can keep your family safe, no matter how tired you are.
But catastrophic expectations, such as thinking that one day, you are bound to forget to lock the door and an intruder will come in can quickly spiral into panic. Which is why it’s necessary to do a bit of reflection and consider asking yourself, “Is there anything I can do about this now?” If nothing can be done for the moment, then focus on the present. Practice deep breathing and remind yourself to focus on the now.
Redirect – Here come the helpful diversionary tactics. Once you’ve been able to recognize the anxious thought and reflect on it, it’s important to ensure it doesn’t cycle back to being picked up again. Now is the time to focus on positive things like work, your environment or even a memory verse from the Bible that ministers to you about your anxiety. Focus on mindfulness, the here and now, your extrasensory experiences and engage your imagination.
An example of using redirection would be to put on some relaxing music and work with your hands (clean the house, wash your car, clean up your closet) after you’ve recognized an anxious thought and reflected on it. As you redirect, engage your imagination and think about the instruments being used to play the music, consider what it must’ve been like as they recorded the song, think of who the musicians were.
While you’re at it, consider also the feel of your hands working through whatever it is you’re touching – a broom, a t-shirt, a sponge. Feel the texture, weight, shape in your hands. These mindfulness techniques help you focus on the here and now, thereby redirecting your mind and preventing the anxious thought from starting up again.
Growth and Healing Are Choices
One important thing to remember with any treatment approach is that you need to treat yourself with curiosity and kindness. The curiosity will help you look into your emotional world and try to see what drives your trauma, and the kindness will go a long way in your journey of healing.
All your past experiences, good or bad, shape your emotional structure as do your responses to these events. The responses may have ended up as learned (though unwanted) behavior. The key is that once you recognize that there is a pattern of unwanted behavior you may have picked up from some negative past experience, you have the chance to free yourself from being a helpless victim. If that means you need to take anti-anxiety medication then do so – there is no shame in that.
To say that a lack of faith causes anxiety is to oversimplify a psychological condition and undermine faith. In fact, in 1 Timothy 5:23, Timothy is given instruction by Paul to drink wine to ease his stomach discomfort. This shows men of faith taking practical steps to heal physical ailments.
Why should asking for help to ease your minds be any different? After all, God has given you a sound mind to be able to discern where to seek treatment – whether it be a recovery group, counseling or a psychiatrist. God has provided avenues for healing. You must make the choice to move forward.
God Loves and Values You
It is unfortunate that many believers think God doesn’t want us to feel good about ourselves. Blame it on the excesses of the self-esteem movement in the 60s that took Christianity and feeling good about oneself out of context and to an extreme.
No matter what has happened in the past, what’s happening now, and what’s to come, God loves you. He treasures you. Remember what He did on the cross to redeem you. This should be enough to remind you of your worth in His eyes. So stop believing the lies of the enemy. You ARE worth it.
Stop beating yourself up – He has already won. The work is done. Christ is victorious. All you need to do is take steps to manage your anxiety. God wants you to see His goodness in your life.
You are created in God’s image. As God’s image-bearers on earth, shouldn’t you be the best version of yourself so that you can reflect God’s greatness? If you struggle with anxiety, if it holds you back in any way perhaps Christian counseling Newport Beach could help you examine your struggles and provide expert guidance on how to cope. After all, you are not meant to bear this burden alone.
“Depressed,” courtesy of HolgersFotographie, pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Upset,” courtesy of Ben White, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Please, Lord,” courtesy of Diana Simumpande, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stretch,” courtesy of Jacob Postuma, unsplash.com, CC0 License