by Joan Shepherd, NP
Just another word about anxiety.
We survived as a species because our brains have the ability to respond to what they perceive as dangerous. The brain perceives danger—usually either a Lack or Attack of some sort—and it prepares the body to react appropriately. In some cases, that means running away; in some cases, it means freezing and hiding; and, in some cases it means to stay and fight like hell.
Many people seek treatment for anxiety or self-medicate because they do not like the way they feel when their body is responding to a ‘dangerous’ situation. The racing heart, the tightness in their chest, the lightheadedness, the choking sensation….
It’s not unusual for me to hear from patients who are going through a detox that even before they became dependent on opiates, benzos or booze, they experienced anxiety. “I have anxiety,” they say. Their parents often nod in agreement, “He’s always been anxious—even as a kid.”
Well, that’s ok. We all have anxiety. We are all programmed to have these responses. It’s healthy and normal—unless you are letting these responses take up more than their fair share of your life. If you are allowing these feelings to get in the way of you acting on what you value most, then, there’s a problem.
Because, if anxiety is running the show, your life will become more and more constricted. If you believe you cannot tolerate the discomfort of anxiety symptoms, you will become an expert in avoidance. And, your life will become smaller. You will choose not to act in ways that support what you value.
But, you can learn to live with your anxiety, without defining yourself by it. The strategies for doing this are beyond the scope of this article, but it’s important for you to know, you do not need to live within the tiny prison walls you’ve created for yourself.
Courageously choosing to stop using an addictive substance may open the floodgates to increased anxiety at first. That’s why it’s so important to have a good plan going forward. Support and help are out there everywhere.