Living Anxiety-Free

How to Keep Your Nerves Intact

By Editorial Staff

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, October/November 2002.

“When you suffer an attack of nerves you’re being attacked by the nervous system. What chance has a man got against a system?” —Russell Hoban

Many of us stress about our jobs, our families, the traffic, bills, etc. However, worries are easily diminished with a hot bath, a warm meal and some relaxation time. But what if that stress didn’t “just go away.” What if it manifested itself in trembling, a racing heart, dizziness and even obsessive thoughts? When the problem graduates to persistent occurrences for weeks and interferes with social and occupational functioning, it is known as an anxiety disorder, a problem from which, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 19 million Americans ages 18–54 suffer.

Conventional medicine seems to favor a combination of medications (including antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines, and beta-blockers) and psychotherapy, including behavioral therapies. The latter approach includes putting a stop to unwanted behaviors and re-learning alternative behaviors, accompanied with breath training and muscle relaxation, of which massage can be a tremendous help.

Aside from these choices, Freedom From Fear and Anxiety Busters, two web sites devoted to assisting those suffering from anxiety, suggest the following daily strategies:

· Live in the present. Learn to let go and have fun. Try not to be held back by the “what-if’s” and “should-have’s.”
· Learn simple strategies to cope with symptoms, such as taking a walk (even a short 3–5 minute walk helps alleviate pent-up stress) and stretching.
· Set daily achievable goals. Accomplishing even small goals makes the big picture seem more reasonable and builds confidence for future endeavors.
· Be assertive. Instead of using victim words like “can’t” and “never,” use power phrases like “though my anxiety is difficult to deal with, I am learning to control it.”
· Eat well. Because blood sugar tends to drop when worrying, it’s important to eat three meals a day. This can even include an afternoon snack, such as nuts or yogurt, for a quick protein pick-me-up. Avoid caffeine, which can add to feelings of anxiousness.