From Anxiety to Zen

Getting you on the other side of anxiety

Welcome to Xanax Nation: 46 Million Were Here

Why Xanax doesn't make your problems go away

Did you know there's 46 million+ prescriptions written yearly for Xanax in the United States?

If you think I'm exaggerating, google "How can I get Xanax?" and see what comes up.

Self-Medication Nation or not, the point of this article is not to mock our penchant for sedation.

Nor is it about separating "us" from "them."

Or therapists vs. clients.

We're all in this together.

And we all have issues.

I'm a psychotherapist whose core specialty is working with stressed out, sleep deprived individuals.

In the spirit of coming clean and good citizenship, I might be a visitor of Xanax Nation myself, were it not for the relaxation at the bottom of that innocent-looking pink Cosmopolitan.

Be that as it may, Absolut Vodka has nothing on Big Pharma when it comes to profiting off others' pain.

Rather than label Pfizer (Xanax' manufacturer) as the mob family of the 21st century, let's acknowledge the truth.

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Pfizer can only supply where there is demand. Call them morally bankrupt, but their solution to quick-fix us is hardly a crime against humanity.

And they sell a good argument: Pop a pill to feel calm, confident, and in control.

Why bother with expensive talk therapy, boring meditation, the Mediterranean diet, CrossFit, and gratitude?

Which is not to say there aren't people who are genuinely, medically anxious. Or depressed.

But the majority of Xanax users are not experiencing traumatic, life-altering situations. The "Worried Well" are not so desperate and psychologically bereft.

Why Reach for Xanax Now?

Is life harder, or are we just softer?

What about technology, the economy, and the fast-paced city slickers?

Does society secretly reward the over-achieving Anxious Alans and Nervous Nancys because it assures our Gross Domestic Product?

Obsessions with productivity, Apple, and NYC aside, I believe there's another reason.

We choose anxiety.

Not that we're content with it, but it's preferable to something else.

The truth, perhaps?

When I was a rookie therapist, my clinical supervisor pulled me aside: "Look. Most people don't like to think. They just want to make the pain go away. They're not curious about why they're suffering. But you can't change without identifying the root causes."

The Problem is Your Problems Are Not Going Away

Expecting instantaneous relief is cheating reality and denying that life is full of problems.

So what's a Type-A citizen to do?

Start with small, intentional problem-solving steps.

The ultimate destination is to understand why you think the way you do, and why you behave the way you do.

And that comes with time.

The good news is there's natural ways to manage your anxiety so it doesn't manage you.

I've identified four phases clients typically go through to find calm. The following examples are intended as an outline only.

Getting On the Other Side of Anxiety

 Phase I: Get Curious About Your Worries

Calm is an inside job. Long-lasting results start with the 'why' behind your fears. Continuously asking questions will train your brain to think differently.

Why am I anxious?

There's a reason you're fearful. Even if you don't know exactly what that is—you have an idea. Also, your DNA may predispose you to be more anxiety-sensitive.

Back in the cave dwellers' day, we had to hunt for food and evade wild animals. To aid our survival, our bodies went into fight or flight mode. The modern-day problem is our survival is rarely threatened. But our brains haven't evolved and signals to fight or flee remain.

One reason Xanax and the other members of the benzodiazepine family are popular is because they suppress the output of neurotransmitters that interpret fear.

What can I do differently the next time I feel nervous?

Breathe slowly and deeply. Try the 4-4-4. Inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four, and exhale for a count of four. Repeat often.

And healthy lifestyle habits are a must.

Phase II: Practice Mindfulness

When my mind races with uncertainty, what can I do instead?

Mindfulness promotes acceptance. It's about being in the present moment. Living in the past causes depression. Fearing the future creates anxiety.

The only time we have is now.

Daily meditation, visualization, and calming exercises are key.

Phase III: Meet Your Neighbor, Anger

This one's tough. And time-consuming. Anger is the hidden emotion underlying anxiety. The tendencies to swallow anger, or hold it in until it explodes did not happen overnight. And the cure won't come tomorrow.

But you can start here:

1. Make a list of situations and people who make you angry.

2. How would your ideal, calm self respond? Get specific about which words and behaviors you'd use, and practice doing these things instead.

3. Monitor your progress consistently. The goal is to communicate openly and honestly.

Phase IV: Boundary-building

This is the sweet spot. Especially if you take on too much responsibility at home, at work, and in your relationships. Now's the time to stand up for yourself and just say 'no,' already.

Boundary building means tightening your limits around who and what stays in your life, and who and what gets the proverbial boot.

Think of your physical, emotional, mental, financial, sexual, and moral values.

Make a list of what behaviors you're comfortable with, and which ones you're not. Identify how you'll respond the next time someone crosses the line.

Consistent limit-setting means more mental energy to spend on enjoyable activities.

In summary, Xanax is a crutch.

Reducing anxiety is about making relaxation, healthy relationships, and meaningful experiences a daily priority.

And we all make time for what's important to us.

Until we collectively commit to managing stress differently, three things are guaranteed:

1. We'll remain chemically tethered.

2. Future generations will suffer because anxious adults create anxious children.

3. The only population segment exempt from daily worries about college costs, job security, and financial stress will be the descendants of Big Pharma.

Linda Esposito, LCSW is a psychotherapist helping adults and teens overcome stress and anxiety.

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