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Manage anxiety and stress with Mindfulness

answered 11:16 PM EST, Thu September 08, 2011
I have always been a bit of a hypochondriac but it’s been something I’ve managed to control more or less. But a few months ago I had a mild cardiac scare and ever since then my anxiety over my health is just off the charts.

My arrhythmia is medicated and stabilized but there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel flutters of panic, such as when my heart rate goes up even a little bit, or when I feel a little indigestion, or even just as I lie in bed and just monitor my heart rate compulsively.

I think this anxiety is getting out of control, it is far more debilitating to me than the heart disease is, but if I can help it I do not want to add more medicines to control it, as I don’t think that adding more drugs can be a good idea if I already have a number of heart medications to take each day.

In the past I have learned to control my hypochondria by simply ignoring my worries, sort of by strength of will, since I knew that 99% of the time whatever I was worried about would turn out to be nothing. Now though, when I actually could suffer a heart attack at any time, I don’t think that ignoring my symptoms is a wise idea any longer. On the other head, this constant monitoring and worrying is driving me crazy.

What can I do to get control of my anxiety without resorting to drugs?

Art Matthews Says...

My first approach with clients is to ask them about their lifestyle to make sure that I'm addressing the person as a whole and not just a symptom, which is what often happens when people see a physician for medication.  I want to know about their sleep, their diet and activity, what are their relationships like, are they fulfilled at work, what traumas have they experienced and what stressors are they experiencing now.  We discuss how to get back to taking care of themselves first and making time for some things that have been eliminated from their lives (usually rest and recreation).  

Next I explore some of the internal world of the person: how are they valuing themselves and their family/friends/career/the world/the universe.  Developing an awareness of distorted thinking or inaccurate perceptions can help people "right themselves" like bailing out a boat that has taken on some water.  

Something that I've been turned onto lately has been around for centuries in the form of Zen and Buddhist philosophy called Mindfulness. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed what he calls Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction at a time when Mind-Body medicine was just gaining credibility in the U.S.  The approach involves meditation, building awareness and intention and has been studied and proven to be highly effective for many people dealing with physiological and psychological conditions ranging from chronic illness/pain and cancer to anxiety and personality disorders.  

To learn more about Mindfulness, you might consider reading (or listening to) Dr. Kabat-Zinn's book, Mindfulness for Beginners.  He also has videos on YouTube.  I haven't found a particularly good directory of Mindfulness Therapists, but these therapists are out there and may even practice in your area.  Try doing internet searches in your area for therapists, counselors or psychotherapists and insert the search term "Mindfulness."  Also consider therapists trained and experienced in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). 

Some good self-help techniques can be controlled breathing exercises, yoga, and stretching.  Look into purchasing Dr. Andrew Weil's audio recording "Breathing: the Master Key to Self-Healing and follow the breathing exercise "The Relaxing Breath" (cut #7) and "Make Breathing Deep, Slow, Quiet, more Regular" (cut #5).

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Page last updated Sep 08, 2011

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