I truly believe everything happens for a reason. A recent weekend was the perfect example. I was able to experience and witness the inner workings of an individual’s mind that was riddled with anxiety directly related to a recent traumatic event. I spent hours differentiating how this person and I deal differently with stress and conflict, and no matter what advice I offered, it was apparent that this person was continuing to struggle as if they were locked inside their own mind. The more they thought about the trauma, the more stress they endured; it was a toxic cycle of obsessive thoughts followed by fear. All I could do was offer love and support, and the more I thought about this individual, the more I realized how our medical society falls short in treating anxiety and related disorders.
The human reaction to fear
As humans, we are naturally driven by fear, anxiety, stress, and peer pressure to perform to the best of our abilities in order to prevent failure. Many of us live in fear of failing—failing at our jobs, failing in our relationships, failing within society, or even failing as individuals. For many, the fear may not be the driving force to succeed, but rather the driving force to become obsessed with thoughts leading to actions that can hinder our happiness, self-worth, and overall success. Anxiety is often prompted by some sort of fear or stress factor that enters our life and results in a flight-or-fight physiological mode in our bodies. Anxiety for most people is normal, short-lived, and can be overcome, but for many, anxiety can take over their life, hindering relationships, work performance, and personal happiness.
Anxiety disorders in the United States
General anxiety disorder and all other anxiety disorders affect approximately 30 percent of adults in the United States and is the leading cause of mental illness. Other anxiety disorders include panic disorders, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, specific phobias, acute stress disorder, social phobia, and agoraphobia. In general, treatment consists of psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. I personally have treated many individuals with anxiety by prescribing medication and referring them to a therapist or psychiatrist, but we often fall short in addressing the lifestyle modifications that can also help resolve symptoms of anxiety.
The importance of gratitude
The power of positive thinking and gratitude can help replace toxic negative thoughts harboring anxiety. Even when our lives are turned upside down, there is always a positive outlook an individual can take, but it is their choice whether to engage in this type of thinking or to continue to engage in their anxious thoughts. Expressing gratitude for your health, your safety, your job, your best friend, the roof over your head, or the ability to walk, talk, and accept human touch is one of the easiest ways to gain a positive outlook on life. Even if you feel like you have nothing left in your life, there will always be some individuals who are better off than we, and we will always be better off than some others—it is a spectrum, and it's your choice to look at which side of the spectrum you are on. Choose wisely.
Lifestyle modifications for overcoming anxiety
Although medications and psychotherapy are considered the first-line treatment approaches for anxiety disorders, there are other avenues to keep symptoms at bay. These may seem easy at first to conquer, but for many, adopting these as part of an everyday lifestyle may take years.
Remember that everyone's mind is uniquely different, and the treatment for this disorder is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Offer support, listen, and comfort someone you care about in the most positive way possible. Your personal approach for dealing with stress may or may not be beneficial to another individual.
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