I have two questions: One, have you ever had deer in your back yard? My wife and I have a back yard that backs up to woods. We have deer in our back yard on a regular basis. In over 15 years of living there we have never harmed or tried to harm our back yard visitors. (if you are a hunter don’t stop reading, this is not an anti-hunting article). In fact, we make sure there is plenty of seed for them and the other wildlife that grace our property. Yet the deer are always on high alert in our yard. They eat and quickly look up in fear to see what made the little noise they heard. Sometimes the noise is me opening the window or clearing my throat as I watch them. I want to tell them, “don’t be scared–it’s just me! I would never hurt you…in fact the food you are eating is from me!” Though I know if I tried to explain that to them they would start running because of my voice. I think it would be nice if they could read. I could write them a letter and post it by the bird feeder for all to see. It may say something like:
Please be at ease in this yard. The owners of this property are friendly and have no intention of harming you. So, when you see us at the window or coming out our door you can simply tell yourself—EVERY TIME, “It’s just the owners. I have seen them before and I know they are not a cause for alarm—there is no danger when I feel or see them.”
Question two: Have you ever felt anxiety or had panic attacks? Feeling anxiety and/or panic is not a pleasant experience. Those of us who have or do suffer with it know it is a terrible feeling. Some physical symptoms can be shortness of breath, chest pains, nausea, stomach pains, fainting sensation, jittery nerves or a feeling like your skin is crawling. Emotionally one may feel scared, confused, frustrated or maybe angry. Spiritually some feel they are not trusting God who tells us in scripture, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (NIV Philippians 4:6).
Anxiety is the body being on high alert—like the deer in our yard–usually for no reason. In other words there is no real danger, but our bodies are acting like there is danger! Research has shown anxiety symptoms can be relieved by changing our thinking! Yes, there are medications and they can be helpful—and often needed. Medications don’t change one’s thinking and that is what is KEY to relieving anxiety. Many times anxiety leads to panic because a person believes the symptoms are dangerous. People may tell themselves, “I’m having a heart attack” or “I’m going to pass out” etc… Or a person may keep asking, “What is wrong with me? Something must be terribly wrong!” There are many good books about how to relieve anxiety. There are DVD’s and all kinds of resources out there to help bring relief and in some cases complete extinction of symptoms available. As a therapist I recommend them to people. What often happens is people learn that anxiety is the body reacting to some thought (maybe even subconsciously) that says “danger.” That is why calming the body down through relaxation and breathing is vital to anxiety relief. A third and crucial component is consistent, repetitive self-talk. If our mind is racing with thoughts about our anxiety symptoms we need to tell it, “it’s ok, it is JUST ANXIETY!” I say “just” not to imply that anxiety is not uncomfortable, scary, annoying and downright debilitating. It is those things for some of us and more! If you have been medically cleared by your doctor—so you know you don’t have heart, lung or gastrointestinal problems—it is just anxiety. It is NOT a real danger. So maybe writing a letter to your anxiety and posting it someplace you will see it and can read it often is a good tool to use to remind your brain of the facts. You might write yourself a letter that says something like:
Dear Self (or Dear anxious self),
Please be at ease. The feelings you are having—though disturbing—are NOT dangerous. You know this because your doctor has checked you out and found nothing wrong with you—you have been given a clean bill of health. Therefore these feelings are here because your brain is telling your body something bad is about to happen or is happening. That is NOT true, these are just thoughts and thoughts do not have power to go outside your head and cause disasters, or hurt a loved one or leave you broke and homeless. Circumstances in life may do those things, but thoughts are only mental activities. I am labeling these symptoms the same way I label hiccups or hear burn or any other known thing that happens in my body. I know what it is: anxiety brought on by a mental activity. I know there are things to do to relieve these symptoms: breathing, relaxation, distracting activities and reasonable self-talk.”
I realize there is a wide range of severity of symptoms and anxiety disorders. If you are on the high range of intensity or have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder you should seek professional help. A good team of people can help you work through this. If you are on the milder end you may want to try the letter to self —and other techniques to calm/relax your body.
– Dave Chatel, MA, LLP