learning to chill out
April 12, 2008 6:34 PM   Subscribe

what has worked for you if you consider yourself overall an anxious person? i rarely suffer from any severe anxiety symptoms, panic symptoms or find that my anxiety is getting in the way of carrying out my daily activities, but rather it feels as if my general mood is of of rather high anxiety about a great many things and about nothing in particular, and has been so for years now.I come from a long line of worriers. i cant remember the last time i really relaxed in any kind of deep way. almost to the point where i cant even really remember how that felt, the world seems so colored with stress. I perhaps shouldn't even be using the term anxiety. by and large i do not meet any of the clinical criteria for this as a clinical definition maybe it really is the world we are in right now. i eat well, get plenty of rest and exercise, meditate. I take no medications. Drink a beer or glass of wine now and then. What has worked for you if you were once feeling like this?
posted by dougiedd to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
It is common in anxiety disorder to have so called "floating anxiety" like a "great many things and about nothing in particular." Anxiety disorder does tend to be hereditary as well, so it makes sense that you come from a long line of worriers. You say that you don't meet the clinical definition. Have you seen someone about this?
posted by snookums at 6:55 PM on April 12, 2008

IANAP (also IANYP) but you do sound like you could have generalized anxiety disorder, which does manifest itself as high anxiety about nothing in particular. Even if you didn't want to do the prescription route, a good therapist could teach you about cognitive therapies. For a do-it-yourself route, I suggest Dr. David Burns' Feeling Good Handbook. It has helped me a lot after being recommended to me by a therapist who was working with me on my mild OCD tendencies...
posted by lleachie at 7:01 PM on April 12, 2008

What mostly worked for me is becoming a Christian. Seriously. Part of the belief system consists of taking one day at a time, and not worrying but trusting God. Part of it is learning that I don't HAVE to let my thoughts and worries run away from me. So, kinda like Holy Ghost cognitive therapy, if you will. Of course I do believe I get divine help with all the above.

Anxiety sucks. I'm glad you asked the question and hope you find a good answer.
posted by konolia at 7:23 PM on April 12, 2008

Ditto on the "generalized anxiety disorder" possibility. Wikipedia entry on it.... It's worth asking your Dr. about. What you described sounds pretty much along the lines of GAD.

In addition to the "Feeling Good" book lleachie recommended (and I also have and would recommend too...), two more to check out are Mind Over Mood and The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. They are similar in some ways to Feeling Good, and help you work through your negative thoughts (i.e. anxiety) and training yourself to refute them.

I've been diagnosed with GAD (which means nothing to me really, doctors seem to like to throw out diagnoses like crazy...) and the cognitive stuff in those books has helped me. If you go to a psychologist they would likely do the same sort of thing. And at least for me, I went to a psychologist because I'm not disciplined enough to work through a workbook on my own.

If you go to a psychiatrist you'll most likely be prescribed some sort of benzodiazepine (like Klonopin or something similar) on a long-term basis. But I'd try other things before subscribing to a drug for the rest of your life...

And of course, IANA-anything-medical-related.
posted by theposterboy at 7:27 PM on April 12, 2008

Best answer: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down. Just reading your askme made me out of breath.

No wonder you feel anxious. You sound like someone who just doesn't have any kind of "off-switch." Meditation won't help if your brain is still going 65 MPH the whole time you're sitting still. Excercise won't help that much if it's weightlifting or running or anything else that lets your brain work on overdrive while you're doing it. Talk therapy will help, if you find the right therapist, someone who will help you slow down, not just drug you. The right therapist will help you to find your "off switch."

Finding a good, meaty distraction will help, too. Take up something that will mentally tax you, something so engrossing and difficult that you feel mentally exhausted afterwards. Read Joyce. Learn how to draw well. Learn another language. Take up physics as a hobby. Pursue a martial art. Find your off switch. We all have one.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 7:43 PM on April 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

I became a pothead. It worked wonders for anxiety!
posted by PowerCat at 8:08 PM on April 12, 2008

Thirding the Feeling Good Handbook. Actually, Burns has another book called When Panic Attacks, which covers all sorts of anxiety (not just panic). I'm a chronic worrier and found it astonishingly helpful.
posted by futility closet at 8:09 PM on April 12, 2008

In addition to the cognitive stuff others have mentioned, I'll put in a vote for Buddhism. Not the meditation in itself, but the mindset--non-attachment, all that. I got a lot out of the talks here.
posted by PatoPata at 8:18 PM on April 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've been in therapy for three weeks now for very similar problems and it seems to be helping. I'm also doing a little meditating and I've found that it helps to keep it very simple at first. Like "I'm going to sit here for fifteen minutes with my eyes closed. I'm going to try to still my thoughts and concentrate on my breathing, but the only thing that I have to do is sit here for fifteen minutes." Helps with the physical symptoms of anxiety immensely for me.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:07 PM on April 12, 2008

how's your schedule? you don't have to be rigidly regimented, but exercising regularly, at the same time of day, can help a lot. to the point where you're breathing hard--it regulates your breathing and has a calming effect. anything that forces you to breathe deeply and regularly can help tamp down that rogue anxiety reaction--singing in a choir, swimming, yoga, meditation, reciting poetry out loud, or prayer.

i don't know your gender, but any time i find myself needing to wait in line, or for the copy machine to finish, or for the traffic to clear, i do kegel exercises and time my breathing to them. that helps (and is good for the plumbing and lower back and core support--no kidding.)

also, good sleep hygeine (always waking up at the same time, and trying to go to bed at the same time every day) helps me. finally, daylight helps me a lot. if you live in a cloudy climate, or don't get a chance to get outside much before dawn, consider a sun lamp.

i have found lexapro to be very helpful for me, but obviously that's for you and your doctor to decide.

i like the suggestion above to take fifteen minutes and just close your eyes and breathing slowly--in for a count of 3, out for a count of 5, or whatever works for you.

finally, mixing up your routine a little bit helps. definitely stick to a sleep and exercise routine, because that has some effect on your biology, but mix up the activities of your day--go somewhere right after work, or take a walk at lunch, or take your breaks at different times, or go home by different routes. sometimes we can get so sucked into our routines that the slightest deviation can make us feel off balance. building some variety into your day will help you cope with change a little better.
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:36 PM on April 12, 2008

@ konolia what really helped me was being agnostic. When I was a Christian I was constantly anxious that I wasn't good enough and worried about all the problems of faith and religion.
Now that I am out of the fold so to speak, I find that I feel much less anxious because I have a whole section of my life that is free from the burdens of faith and religion.

Anyhow, now that I got that out of my system... I find that yoga helps me relax when I am anxious about something I can't put my finger on. For the times when I am anxious about something specific I have found things that will occupy my mind helps (for me it is sci-fi and fantasy books). Sometimes, however, these activities are not compatible with what you need to be doing (work, homework, cooking dinner). I am not good with those situations other than just soldiering through. A professional source (psychologist or books) might have some good suggestions.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 10:09 PM on April 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

What worked for me was reading this passage in G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy:

"It is not enough that the unhappy man should desire truth; he must desire health. Nothing can save him but a blind hunger for normality, like that of a beast. A man cannot think himself out of mental evil; for it is actually the organ of thought that has become diseased, ungovernable, and, as it were, independent. He can only be saved by will or faith. The moment his mere reason moves, it moves in the old circular rut; he will go round and round his logical circle, just as a man in a third-class carriage on the Inner Circle will go round and round the Inner Circle unless he performs the voluntary, vigorous, and mystical act of getting out at Gower Street. Decision is the whole business here; a door must be shut for ever. Every remedy is a desperate remedy. Every cure is a miraculous cure. Curing a madman is not arguing with a philosopher; it is casting out a devil. And however quietly doctors and psychologists may go to work in the matter, their attitude is profoundly intolerant -- as intolerant as Bloody Mary. Their attitude is really this: that the man must stop thinking, if he is to go on living. Their counsel is one of intellectual amputation. If thy head offend thee, cut it off; for it is better, not merely to enter the Kingdom of Heaven as a child, but to enter it as an imbecile, rather than with your whole intellect to be cast into hell -- or into Hanwell."
posted by keith0718 at 12:59 AM on April 13, 2008 [6 favorites]

Deep relaxation is one of life's great joys

You got some good advice earlier - I just wanted to emphasise what sculpin wrote. Don't feel guilty about wanting that relaxation. It's good for you and for the people around you.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 2:35 AM on April 13, 2008

I am worrywart. I am a control freak about my self and my environment. I preplan everything, with backup plans galore. I analyse my actions and those of others as they affect me to try and predict what will happen and prepare for it.

In short, I am constantly anxious. All the time.

What has helped for me is a set of specific relaxation triggers. I light a particular candle in a particular candle holder. I sit down in view of the candle with a cup of hot, non-caffienated tea. I read a good book, looking up to the candle at intervals, concentrating only on the now, the quiet space, the candlelight. I set a timer to the end of my relaxation time, so I don't have to worry about how much time I've got left, or anything like that; I am free to exist in the moment.

I find it helps. Some days, not enough. But a little, at least.
posted by ysabet at 3:15 AM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I started being this way after some difficult experiences that basically trained me that every little thing had to be watched because if not dealt with at the right time and in the right way, it would become disastrous. In that situation, it wasn't far from the truth and I really did need that hyper alertness (which also made lots of other things impossible for me). But now, thank goodness, it's past, yet I find that my worrying habit stuck with me. I'm also looking for ways to untrain myself; it's not easy. Recognizing that (now) it's a habit, rather than an actual coping mechanism at least helps me have an intellectual check on myself now and then.

Good luck!! And thanks for asking, this is a helpful thread for me as well.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:54 AM on April 13, 2008

I have recently come to the realization that I have been "self-medicating" my anxiety through a series of repetitive manual hobbies I've taken up since the age of seven: knitting, cross-stitch, studying Japanese (writing out Japanese characters far more often than was really pedagogically necessary), sewing, doing sudoku and picture sudoku, etc. What these have in common is that they keep my hands busy and moving quickly, and they require me to concentrate but don't require me to be smart.

I don't think that works especially well as a long-term solution, but in the short term it does distract me.
posted by Jeanne at 4:31 AM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

How well do you sleep? I find when I am in an especially anxious mode I sleep poorly, which increases my anxiety because I am not well rested, lather, rinse, repeat. When that happens I break the cycle by avoiding alcohol (which makes me sleep badly-- I think that's a general thing) and taking an herbal sleeping pill concoction that has valerian and st. john's wort in it. It really, really helps. So even if you're sleeping, it might not be a really deep restorative sleep.

Good luck. Anxiety sucks.
posted by miss tea at 5:25 AM on April 13, 2008


If you're like me, your brain was wired differently at birth and it'll always be that way. PAXIL corrects that.

My doctor kind of urged me into it when he recognized I was self medicating my general anxiety disorder by binge drinking every weekend for decades. At the time, I was in my mid forties, and what was always foremost in my mind was "when will I have an social oppurtunity to have some beer". Gee, if we go out for pizza on Friday then I can have one. Or, there's a birthday party, boy I wonder if they have beer.

Since taking PAXIL, I still drink but it's not foremost in my mind. Also, I'm a much less angry individual. I take 40 mg a day and it's so subtle I feel as if I'm not even taking it.

My doctor and I agreed that I'll probably be on PAXIL for the rest of my life.
posted by qsysopr at 7:19 AM on April 13, 2008

Bikram Yoga. Initially, it will wear you out to the point that you can't muster the energy to worry. Gradually, breath control, biofeedback, and endorphins will give you tools to maintain that state of mind in rest. If nothing else, it serves as ninety minutes where you can block out the world of worries for 90 minutes.

You'll get fit quick, too.

Physical fitness and exercise positively influence brain chemistry.
posted by GPF at 7:31 AM on April 13, 2008

Don't be afraid of SSRIs. If you have an anxiety disorder, which it seems you do, you have different brain chemistry. It's exactly as if you had bad eyes and needed contact lenses. When you see the difference, you'll almost want to weep. You should consult a psychiatrist to make sure that this is actually the case, because, you know, Internet diagnosis, but I suspect it is.

Since SSRIs are not magic happy pills, I deal with anxiety in a variety of behavioral ways too. The trick I rely on most is to stop and ask myself questions about what I'm thinking, such as:

1. Is there something that I could do right now to address this feeling of worry?
If so, do it. If it's not feasible, GOTO 2. If there is no such thing, GOTO 3.
2. Is this an SEP (Somebody Else's Problem)? If so, do something to bring it to that person's attention, and then you've done all you can do. If that's not feasible, or it isn't one, GOTO 3.
3. Let me give myself 2 hours (or some such time) not to worry about this. I'll promise to take up worrying about it at that time. (At which time, you will generally address it with a clearer head, if it still seems to need attention at all.)

This really helps me prioritize between generalized anxieties and problems that need addressing.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:51 AM on April 13, 2008

At the end of last year I got laid off, which kinda freaked me out. I got a new job in the new year, but after a few weeks the new company had layoffs - since that point I've been carrying around an essentially irrational 24/7 anxiety about losing my job again. Like you, it doesn't immobilize me or lead to severe episodes; it's just a constant weight that's tying me down but is often difficult to discern.

Anyway, I talked to my doc about it and he gave me Xanax.

I don't like to be medicated and I know Xanax can be habit forming, so I'm taking a very small dose (0.25mg) and not on a regular basis - just when I need to turn the volume down or it feels like a good time to let things go. It's such a low dose that I don't really feel it, but it's *just* enough to flip me out of that world of perpetual anxiety and enjoy some of my free time, and also give me a perspective. I think that's the most important part - that you become so used to your state that you're not even aware that you should do something about it.
posted by forallmankind at 9:20 AM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Bikram yoga helped me but other yoga helped me more. (Also, careful with the first backbend if you do Bikram.)

Everyone else's ideas are better, but here's something funny and on topic: I just watched 21 and realized that my life is easily as stressful as someone who is gambling hundreds of thousands of dollars and might get beat up by thugs any minute. It was a great way to max out my capacity for stress and to put things in perspective. I plan to try this with other movies.

Someone talked to me about how physical stress is what your brain does when it feels your life is threatened. So, there are a couple of things related to that fact. One is to bring yourself into the present, where you're probably well-fed, warm, comfortable. Tapping on your body, particularly one side, then the other (I think this is an EMDR thing), gets your head to snap out the clouds and into the comfortable present moment. Then, you have to talk yourself out of the "yeah, but LATER, I could lose my job..." by reminding yourself that you really have no idea what's going to happen in the future.

You could remind yourself that by worrying, you're probably actually shortening your lifespan.

Also, I listen to Bob Marley and Cypress Hill while I work, to remind myself I don't have to take stuff as seriously as I do. :)
posted by salvia at 5:54 PM on April 13, 2008

Response by poster: thanks for all of the kind suggestions. i failed to say i am a primary care doctor.
i especially appreciate the idea that meaty mental tasks are important. as one friend put it, if your mind is like a diesel locomotive pulling a 100 tons all the time and you take that load off bad things can actually happen
i also like the simple suggestions to find some brief time to use relaxation triggers
thank you all
posted by dougiedd at 7:26 PM on April 16, 2008

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