According to "Newsweek," 23 million Americans, 12.6% of the population, will fight acute anxiety this year.
Since what we worry about rarely comes to pass, children sometimes think that their worry prevents undesirable events.
We worry about everything because everything is our responsibility. Wrong. Only God is omni-responsible.
Panic attacks. Singer Naomi Judd has struggled with them, as has football great Earl Campbell and "Baywatch" star Vince Van-Patten. In fact, anxiety disorders, including panic attacks (intense feelings of impending doom that often trap victims inside their own homes), are now the number one mental disorder in America. According to "Newsweek," 23 million Americans, 12.6% of the population, will fight acute anxiety this year.
I sympathize. My own life-long struggle with anxiety climaxed two months short of my 41st birthday when I was hospitalized with a blood clot in my shoulder (trauma, by the way, precipitated by my own stupidity as I tried to show some budding weightlifters what I could do at their age).
Of course, anxiety when one faces a life-threatening condition is both normal and healthy. It prompts us to seek shelter or treatment. Yet, in my case, as the threat of the clot dislodging (a chance of only about one in 400 for a shoulder blockage) decreased, my anxiety increased. Three weeks after leaving the hospital I was paranoid, afraid that every bodily sensation was a precursor to coronary thrombosis.
Something good did come of the situation. My acute condition forced me to get professional advise for a problem I had battled since elementary school. The therapy helped as did some books on the subject. I am not cured, but I am improving. Following are some of the principles that have helped.
Anxiety is a learned behavior.
Psychologist Archibald Hart says that we learn anxiety as children. Since what we worry about rarely comes to pass, children sometimes think that their worry prevents undesirable events. This is then reinforced when they forget to worry and something bad does happen. As adults, while we may be consciously unaware of it, some of us really do think that worry helps.
The good thing is that if anxiety can be learned, it can be unlearned. My final two points are things I now try to tell myself when I'm tempted to worry.
It's OK to relax.
In my early 20s I spent my summers leading children on horseback rides in Palo Duro Canyon. I never relaxed. I tried to anticipate every obstacle on the trail and every difficulty with both horse and rider. I was there not to have fun, but to insure the kids' safety.
My problem is that I've approached almost every other task in life (even the mundane) with the same high-level anxiety. I am now learning to give myself permission to relax, to do what those kids did--have fun because someone else was watching out for them.
Learn to trust.
This leads to my final point. Many of us chronic worriers have a God complex. We think that without our efforts, nothing will get done, or done correctly (that's why most of us also are workaholics). We worry about everything because everything is our responsibility. Wrong. Only God is omni-responsible. The truth is that there are others who can and will do things for us (and for themselves, parents) if only we get out of their way and let them.
So my final point is not to minimize all the objects of our worry (there are some scary things out there), but to maximize the objects of our trust. We all have trail ride leaders (our doctors, families, friends, coworkers, and our God) who are both competent and vigilant. We need to trust them.
For more about worry and anxiety, see Our Alaskan Trip.
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