FEAR, ANXIETY, DEPRESSION:
Simple solutions to complex problems.
Words of Wisdom:
- Fear is incendiary and very contagious. Depression weighs us down so that it is hard to move. Anxiety extends fear into a constant aggravating internal tension.
- Do not let overwhelming fear drive your choices in life. Do not make decisions based on fear or panic.
- The difference between fear and anxiety: Fear is often in response to something sudden. We are afraid during an earthquake. Anxiety results when we worry about it happening again.
- If you are feeling anxious or fearful, stop following the news. Inflammatory rhetoric is in full display in American political discourse lately. Click here to read about how to stay calm and cool in the midst of all the craziness: Deflame.
Fear, anxiety and depression rule our internal world too much and steal life from us. They deplete our energy and our emotions and affect our well-being adversely. Sometimes these feelings are a healthy reaction to the conditions at hand. There is nothing like performance anxiety to propel a performer to practice. It is a good motivating force. Being afraid of an earthquake inspires us to make basic preparations. But when the feelings begin to feed upon themselves is when these natural human reactions become self-destructive.
Medications are prescribed extensively, often using drugs with significant side effects. Much more effective "medication" might come from practicing Mindfulness Meditation, deep breathing techniques or balance improvement.
"...there is always something we can do. We can take a walk until the feeling passes. We can find someone else suffering and help them, taking the attention off our own. Or, finally, we can learn to muster our courage and simply sit still with what we are thinking are insoluble problems, becoming as intimate with them as we can, facing them until we get over our fear." Peter Coyote.
One of the best things you can do if you are experiencing any of these feelings is to improve your physical abilities, especially your balance. If you improve your balance you will accomplish 2 things: 1) You will fall less. 2) Your self confidence will improve, which then decreases fear, anxiety and depression, often substantially.
- Characteristics: When we are afraid we hold our breath, hunching forward into a protective position.
- How fear affects balance: The tension raises our center of gravity making it harder to balance. It rolls our shoulders forward and pushes our head out. That in turn makes our legs stiffen with an increase in fall risk as a consequence.
- Solutions: Breathe. Do not hold your breath. Instead pull your abdomen in. Practice hand and foot exercises to ground yourself instead of focusing on the unknown. improve your upper back posture (bring your head back).
- Fear of Falling: When we have a fall, we often become afraid that we will fall again. The fear itself increases that likelihood. Fear causes us to limit our activities which in turn decreases our strength, makes us stiffer and reduces our ability to balance. Instead, do something about the source of your fear. Take balance classes to improve instead of staying more in your apartment. The classes reduce the possibility of having a fall. The fear of falling subsides and your quality of life improves.
- Fear forms a dreadful basis for making decisions. For instance, a stock market plunge scares us into selling our stocks. We make the decision in the height of emotion and we make the wrong decision.
- Characteristics: We worry, especially about things we can do nothing about. Our eyes move a lot. Our abdomen tenses. Rushing is a significant cause, especially if we are late. Distraction can mask anxiety. Anxiety can be free floating and generalized.
- How anxiety affects balance: Increased eye motion makes balance more precarious. Our center of gravity is raised making us "tipsy". Rushing causes us to make mistakes that often result in falls.
- Solutions: Practice focusing your eyes to keep them from rapidly shifting. Breathe, stretch, meditate. Slow down. Learn to relax. Stop watching the news for a while. Think of opening an imaginary door or window to release the sense of feeling cornered.
- DO NOT RUSH.
- The Role of the Media: On 10/18/14, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat printed a huge front-page headline: “Massive Quake Could Hit Anytime”. This is a classic example of how the media manipulates our uncomfortable feelings. We won't know the answer for a significant time, if ever. There is no solution other than moving, so there is little we can do about it besides get our earthquake kits ready. The main thing that happens is that our level of anxiety increases. (By the way, the online Press Democrat headline for the very same story was much less intimidating: “Study: Santa Rosa could see 7.1 quake on Rogers Creek fault." More factual. Less inflammatory.) If you are feeling anxious or fearful, stop following the news.
- Characteristics: An overwhelming feeling of heavy weight compresses all our physical and emotional processes. It becomes hard to do anything. Life is colorless.
- How depression affects balance: Doing nothing makes our physical abilities deteriorate significantly. Increased sitting weakens the core muscles while exacerbating spinal compression and we stiffen, increasing fall risk substantially.
- What builds depression? Negative thoughts. Anger directed inward. Messages like: "No-one understands me.", “I'm a failure.”, "Life is just downhill." Messages we may have heard from others (especially parents or loved ones) come back to haunt us. We suppress ourself.
- Solutions: Move. Stand up and walk around. When you are depressed, it is often really hard to do this. We feel an overwhelming pressure to keep ourselves pushed down and immovable. The very best solution to our problem is exercise. But we won't want to. We have to use mind over matter. Research has confirmed that exercise improves depression symptoms. For example, every additional exercise class you add to your schedule each week reduces the risk of depression by 50%.
Simple solutions to complex problems:
- Exercise, exercise, exercise. Take a walk. Go out to the garden and pull a few weeds. Help someone else in need.
- Breathe. Taking 10 deep breaths always helps. Our ability to breathe is compromised by all three states of mind. Look below for some easy ways to improve your breathing.
- Mindfulness Meditation is very effective at reducing fear and anxiety. It is also a wonderful approach with chronic pain.
- Diet and hydration frequently play a role. It is always a good idea to have a glass of water if you are feeling lousy. Our uncomfortable feelings often mask dehydration. Sugar and excess caffeine can exacerbate these conditions. Adding foods that are anti-inflammatory can help (have a bowl of strawberries).
- Determine the kernel of what is bothering you and take concrete steps to improve on that underlying situation. For instance, if you feel lonely, find someone who needs help and reach out to them.
- Stretch the muscles that these emotions tighten. In many circumstances that means releasing and stretching the muscles at the back of the shoulders and neck.
The best stress reducer of all.
The Serenity Prayer: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
Do not be troubled if fear or anxiety or depression keeps returning. Think of it the way we think of posture. You learn to stand up straight by bringing your head back and pulling your abdomen in. Next minute, your old poor posture returns automatically. That's OK. Just keep reminding yourself to bring your head back and pull your belly in. Just keep reminding yourself to breathe, to slow down, to move around.