Working Mindfully With Anxiety: Anxiety Symptoms As Health-Seeking Signals -Part Two

Rebecca C Mandeville, MA

Rebecca C Mandeville, MA

Therapeutic Life Coach and Organizational Consultant at ChainFree Living Coaching and Consulting Services
Rebecca C. Mandeville is a licensed psychotherapist, therapeutic life coach, educator, and author specializing in emotional healing and living authentically as one's true self. She is the founder of ChainFree Living (http://chainfreeliving.com), an online hub offering free resources and community peer-support to people who wish to consciously experience their innate wholeness. Her book, 'You Are Already Whole: On Discovering and Being Your True Self', will be published in 2017.
Rebecca C Mandeville, MA

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Viewing Our Anxiety Symptoms as  Health-Seeking Signals Inviting Us To Heal

In last week’s post, Working With Anxiety – Part One, I presented a case study to illustrate how anxious feelings and symptoms may at times be acting as a ‘health-seeking signal’, i.e., a ‘wise guide’ inviting us to heal ourselves at a core, root level. In Part Two, I expand on ideas presented in Part One, taking a closer look at how loss of connection with self and others may fuel anxious feelings and addictive processes; the risks associated with anti-anxiety medications; and how those suffering from a generalized / chronic anxiety disorders might benefit from engaging in alternative forms of treatment, including Mindfulness and Meditation practices. I also include links to additional resources pertaining to issues covered in this article.

Rebecca C. Mandeville, MA

Self-Medicating To Feel Different / Better

Loss of Connection With Self and Others: Anxiety And Self-Medication

For those individuals like ‘Jeremy’ (refer to Part One, linked above) who experienced turbulent childhoods as a result of growing up in a dysfunctional and/or traumatized family system, the experience of anxiety can begin very early in life, although it is often not noticed by primary caregivers, teachers, the family physician, or others who might be able to appropriately intervene. Children, teens and young adults with undiagnosed anxiety may begin to ‘self-medicate’ with substances such as food, drugs, or alcohol and activities such as excessive TV watching and video gaming in an unconscious attempt to quiet their distressful symptoms without even realizing that they are seeking some kind of temporary or permanent relief.

Adults who did not experience anxiety when younger may develop an anxiety disorder without being consciously aware of it, and they, too, may begin self-medicating with substances. Having worked in several drug and alcohol treatment centers, I can say with certainty that unrecognized, undiagnosed, and untreated anxiety was often fueling the process of addiction, meaning, the addict began using substances initially to escape a sense of internal discomfort that was not recognized as anxiety at the time. In short, a fundamental experience of disconnection from self and others along with unrecognized anxiety symptoms were identified by nearly every drug and alcohol addicted client I have worked with as being at the root of his or her addictive patterns and behaviors. To learn more about loss of connection with self and others, read my article, below:

The Pros And Cons Of Anti-Anxiety Medication

 

As discussed in Part One of this article, medication can relieve some of the symptoms of anxiety, but it doesn’t cure the underlying problem and it’s usually not a long-term solution. Anti-anxiety medications also come with side effects and may lead to a dependence on the medication. With the popularization of psychotropic medications to treat a variety of mental and behavioral health disturbances, most any type of uncomfortable feeling or symptom is viewed by both patients and their doctors as something to be gotten rid of as quickly as possible. It is increasingly common for family doctors to write out a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication after only a brief discussion with their patient regarding the distressing symptoms being experienced, without recommending that the patient also confer with a Mental Health professional, such as a therapist or counselor.

Mindfulness Meditation And The Reduction Of Anxiety Symptoms

 

While taking anti-anxiety medication to minimize distressing feelings and symptoms is a personal choice, and in some cases is medically advisable, there are other effective interventions that a person suffering from anxiety can pursue, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy; keeping an Awareness Journal as part of ongoing Psychotherapeutic-based Intrapsychic / Family Systems work (as discussed in the above Case Study); engaging in deep breathing exercises; yoga; daily physical exercise; and homeopathic remedies as prescribed by a Naturopathic doctor.

Recent research also confirms that Mindfulness Meditation can be highly effective in addressing anxiety symptoms. Mindfulness is a practice that involves being fully engaged in whatever is going on around you. “It is simply the act of paying attention to whatever you are experiencing, as you experience it”, explains Kate Hanley, author of A Year of Daily Calm: A Guided Journal for Creating Tranquility Every Day. “By choosing to turn your attention away from the everyday chatter of the mind and on to what your body is doing, you give the mind just enough to focus on that it can quiet down.” In 2013 researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center published a study that confirmed that Mindfulness Meditation reduces anxiety at a neural level. You can learn more about this important study and other similar studies via the below two links:

5 Minute Quick Anxiety Reduction – Guided Mindfulness Meditation

Working Mindfully With Anxiety

As the above discussion illustrates, there may be far more to anxiety than meets the eye. While it is understandable why anyone experiencing anxiety would want relief from these extremely uncomfortable symptoms, it may be that the symptoms themselves are pointing to possible solutions to those who are willing to explore their anxiety via mindfully cultivating an attitude of acceptance, curiosity, and patience. Journaling, painting, and other forms of creative expression, as well as psychotherapy and/or sharing in a support group, may offer a means of discovering the wisdom that anxiety has to offer.

For additional resources pertaining to Mindfulness Meditation as an alternative, non-medication based treatment for anxiety, you may explore the ‘Headspace’ link below. And please feel free to share your experiences of anxiety in the comment section – I’d love to hear from you.

© 2016 Rebecca C Mandeville MA

Working Mindfully With Anxiety: Anxiety Symptoms As Health-Seeking Signals – Part One

Rebecca C Mandeville, MA

Rebecca C Mandeville, MA

Therapeutic Life Coach and Organizational Consultant at ChainFree Living Coaching and Consulting Services
Rebecca C. Mandeville is a licensed psychotherapist, therapeutic life coach, educator, and author specializing in emotional healing and living authentically as one's true self. She is the founder of ChainFree Living (http://chainfreeliving.com), an online hub offering free resources and community peer-support to people who wish to consciously experience their innate wholeness. Her book, 'You Are Already Whole: On Discovering and Being Your True Self', will be published in 2017.
Rebecca C Mandeville, MA

What Those Anxious Feelings May Be Trying To Tell You – And Why It’s Important To Listen (Part One of a Two Part Series)

What if anxiety is more than a clinical disorder to be treated, but serves as a barometer of our overall mental and emotional well being? This article focuses on anxiety as a ‘health-seeking signal’ inviting us to reconnect with the truest parts of ourselves that have been neglected or repressed. Included is a recent example from my work as a licensed Psychotherapist illustrating how anxiety at times acts as an important messenger inviting us to heal psycho-emotional wounds sustained in childhood and adolescence, if only we are able and willing to tune in and listen.

-Article by Rebecca C. Mandeville, MA, MFT

What Is Anxiety?

Clinical signs of anxiety
Clinical signs of anxiety

Anxiety is commonly believed to be an automatic, ‘built-in’ response to perceived threats, and is often referred to as our ‘fight-or-flight arousal’, or ‘fight or flight response’ as a species. Therefore, it stands to reason that children who grew up in chaotic, possibly traumatic home environments where their fight or flight (arousal) response was frequently activated are susceptible to developing various kinds of anxiety disorders even prior to the onset of adulthood. Hence, it is a concern that physicians and psychiatrists whose patients report feeling anxious typically prescribe anti-anxiety medication but do not always recommend that their patient also see a qualified Mental Health professional to explore the possible root cause(s) of the anxiety as well as to identify possible additional or alternative (i.e., non-prescription) treatments.

Signs And Symptoms Of Anxiety

Although anxiety can take on many forms, the below are signs and symptoms commonly associated with this behavioral health disorder:

  • Excessive Worry and Rumination
  • Irritability / Anger
  • Sleep Disturbance / Insomnia
  • Poor Concentration / Forgetfulness
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle Tension / Mysterious Aches and Pains
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Blood Pressure Spikes
  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Heart Palpitations / Chest Pain / ‘Panic Attacks’

Psychotherapy As A Means Of Successfully Treating Anxiety Disorders

What if anxiety was not always something to be avoided and/or medicated away, but was instead something it would benefit us to be curious about? One way that I invite my clients to explore this possibility is to ask them to tune into their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations the next time they notice they are feeling anxious. What is happening right then in the moment? Was there a possible ‘trigger’ initiating the anxious sensations? As the following Case Study illustrates, this simple exercise can provide surprising insights regarding what a person’s anxiety ‘signals’ might be trying to convey.

The Wisdom Of Anxiety: A Case Study

Journaling when anxious can be helpful
Journalling when anxious can be helpful

I once had a client (whom I will call ‘Jeremy – not his actual name) share with me in session that he had recently felt extremely anxious when he entered a hotel lobby on a business trip. He attributed this to what he thought was the ‘Generalized Anxiety Disorder’ (GAD) he had been diagnosed with by his family doctor years before, prior to beginning his psychotherapeutic work with me. I suggested early on in therapy that he begin keeping an ‘Awareness Journal’ and to write in this journal whenever he was feeling particularly anxious. During one such onset of extreme symptoms that occurred during a business trip, Jeremy realized while writing in his journal that he had started to feel anxious when he saw a certain type of old-fashioned couch in the hotel lobby he had just walked into. Upon further reflection in his Awareness Journal, Jeremy suddenly realized that the retro-style couch looked nearly identical in style and in color to a couch that was in the living room of the home he had lived in as a child. Needless to say, this gave us much to explore in this and future sessions as he began to remember and share traumatic events from childhood that up until then he had unknowingly repressed.

Over time, the chronic, ‘generalized’ anxiety Jeremy had been suffering from for years receded as he continued to work diligently in psychotherapy to reconnect with the wounded, ‘lost’ parts of himself he had unknowingly disconnected from during childhood while growing up in a chaotic, unpredictable, alcoholic family system. He eventually chose to stop taking his anti-anxiety medication under the supervision of a physician and is able to self-manage any anxious sensations that arise via deep breathing exercises and Mindfulness Meditation practices I introduced him to in therapy, along with Somatic-Psychology techniques (for more information on the use and efficacy of Somatic-Psychology in the treatment and healing of trauma refer to Bessel van der Kolk’s book The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma). Jeremy also continues to self-reflect in his Awareness Journal, which has become a critical aspect of his ongoing psycho-emotional healing and growth. (Note: Details of specific client cases have been changed to protect privacy).

Anxiety and Psychotropic Medication

lossy-page1-303px-Prescription_medication_being_dispensed.tiffWhile taking psychotropic medication to minimize symptoms is a personal choice, and in some cases is medically advisable, there are other effective interventions that a person can pursue, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy; Family Systems work (as discussed in the above case study); deep breathing exercises; yoga; daily physical exercise; holistic / body-oriented therapies (such as Hakomi Therapy and The Feldenkrais Method); Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction; accupuncture; massage; medical cannabis (now supported by research); and homeopathic remedies as prescribed by a Naturopathic doctor,

Recent research also confirms that Mindfulness Meditation can be highly effective in addressing anxiety symptoms. Mindfulness is a practice that involves being fully engaged in whatever is going on around you. “It is simply the act of paying attention to whatever you are experiencing, as you experience it”, explains Kate Hanley, author of A Year of Daily Calm: A Guided Journal for Creating Tranquility Every Day. “By choosing to turn your attention away from the everyday chatter of the mind and on to what your body is doing, you give the mind just enough to focus on that it can quiet down.” In 2013 researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center published a study that confirmed that Mindfulness Meditation reduces anxiety at a neural level.

Working Mindfully With Anxiety

As the above brief discussion illustrates, there may be far more to anxiety than meets the eye. While it is understandable why anyone experiencing anxiety would want relief from these extremely uncomfortable symptoms, it may be that the symptoms themselves are pointing to possible solutions to those who are willing to explore their anxiety via mindfully cultivating an attitude of acceptance, curiosity, and patience. Journalling, painting, and other forms of creative expression, as well as psychotherapy and/or sharing in a support group, may offer a means of discovering the wisdom that anxiety has to offer.

A Special Note of Caution: It is recommended that a person experiencing frequent anxiety symptoms get a complete physical to rule out disorders like Graves (Thyroid) Disease, hormonal imbalances, and other medical conditions that can cause extreme and/or chronic anxiety.

Read Part Two to learn more about Anxiety, Addiction, Self-Medication, and Mindfulness Meditation and also access free resources:

http://chainfreeliving.com/2016/06/08/working-mindfully-anxiety-part-two/

Take my free brief quiz, ‘Are You Living As Your True Self?’ (hiding our real selves behind a mask can also cause us to feel anxious).