Treating anxiety starts with one’s own mind.
By Dr. Marisa Tomasic, Ph.D.
Anyone who has suffered from anxiety can undeniably relate that it takes away the ability to experience the joyful moments of daily living. While the majority of people have felt at least mild anxiety or nervousness on occasion, perhaps noticing sweaty palms, racing thoughts, or rapid heartbeat before a job interview or test, others suffer to a much higher degree. The high-intensity symptoms that accompany traumatic events might persist over a long period. This type of anxiety may often appear spontaneously and unexpectedly. Life seems unsettling, overwhelming, and sometimes frightening. Whether in the form of a short burst or a protracted battle, anxiety has a distinct way of sabotaging pleasure, happiness, and peace.
How dare this entity, which is merely a signal that something is out of sync, become the unrelenting monster that it is when it grips us in a stronghold, and the overriding focus tends to be that of survival. Mental, emotional, and physical energies work hard at eradicating, or at least controlling, uncomfortable thoughts, painful memories, or frightening what-ifs. Averting and staving off panic attacks can start to become a regular part of the routine. It’s as if there’s a gargantuan-size neon sign flashing “danger ahead!” as a refuge from what amounts to a perpetual mindstorm.
Doing battle with anxiety is exhausting and depleting. It’s challenging to imagine contentment, let alone joy when trying to handle such adversity. For some, the mere relief accompanying symptom-free moments, or the resolution of an acute surge can give rise to happiness and hope. The process of reclaiming some of life’s joys include treatments developed, prescribed, or conducted within the mental health provider’s office and assimilated into the person’s everyday life. In my previous work providing psychotherapy for anxious and depressed adults, I made it a point to ask about times when they could recall being free, or almost free, of anxiety, and felt more peaceful and joyful. The purpose of this task was to have them acknowledge that they had the potential to feel happier and healthier. In doing so, hope started to resurface from gloom and darkness.
A psychotherapy technique that appears to have the capacity to facilitate pleasure, calm, peace, and feelings of well-being is known as mindfulness, or being present in the moment. Most anxiety sufferers would be quick to acknowledge the extent to which they struggle with being “in their heads,” finding it challenging to be in the present. Whether they are intrusive or racing thoughts, distressing memories, or fears of the future, these thoughts sap our energy and joy.
Connection to the present moment embodies a variety of uncomplicated, easily implemented, activities that can bust stress, produce calm and relaxation, and facilitate the restoration of happiness. While researching simple stress- and anxiety-relief backed up by science, I identified at least 50 ideas that appear to meet these criteria. A few moments of prayer or meditation, smiling and laughing, physical movement, looking at or smelling flowers and herbs, singing, and listening to music alleviate stress and promote relaxation. In essence, they have the potential to assemble a foundation from which happiness can evolve.
The anxiety associated with PTSD is not always predictable and can arise at unexpected times. It keeps us in our heads with worry thoughts, interferes with our productivity, and steals our joy. Being prepared and open to manage it with the help of trained professionals and our own playbook of what works for us is a formula for recouping health and well-being. Anxiety is a signal that something is out of harmony and sync. Understanding this, and knowing that we can feel good again and experience peace during the healing process, can provide welcomed reinforcement in reclaiming what this joy thief has taken.
Dr. Marisa Tomasic is a licensed counseling psychologist with a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh. She has a practice in Mt. Airy, N.C.