Article by Irving Schattner
Post design and edit by Christy Zigweid
Photo by ADD via Pixabay made using @WordSwagApp
Worry zaps precious energy and motivates us to act against our best interests. When worry takes hold, our mental filter becomes clouded. Our mental filter allows our brains, when properly activated, to focus on relevant life-sustaining tasks and growth-seeking opportunities. When clouded, our mental filter negates what’s truly relevant and important for healthy growth and development.
Our brains function like computers - storing, processing and sorting through data at lightning speed, often on automatic pilot or on a subconscious level. However, when we are riddled with anxiety and worry, our capacity to think and act rationally is impaired. It’s as if our brains, our human computers, are offline.
When this occurs, our logical, reasonable, analytical and problem-solving higher self (mediated through our fore-brain) is hijacked by our mid-brain. Our mid-brain contains our amygdala which regulates our emotions and survival instincts.
Functioning at optimum level, the amygdala governs healthy emotional regulation and our fight-or-flight response. The amygdala can help us to assess real dangers and take appropriate action. On the other hand, if you suffer from excessive anxiety and worry, your amygdala is most likely functioning in an overactive state, assessing danger when there is none or overestimating the probability of danger.
Worry, Anxiety and Stigma
Excessive worry or anxiety can lead one to feel great shame and fear of stigma. The whole world seems normal while you may describe yourself as “crazy” or “abnormal.” Uncomfortable with having physical discomfort noticed by others around you, may lead you to cover-up or avoid your anxiety and worry for fear of being stigmatized, criticized or judged as somehow different or strange. This fear of evaluation by others keeps you on guard, suspicious and even judgmental of others. You may go so far as to avoid situations and people that trigger worry or panic, thus limiting your ability to participate in meaningful opportunities to challenge the very negative thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that are reinforced through continual avoidance.
Avoiding discomforting physical symptoms associated with anxiety and worry further reinforces avoidance. As your avoidance takes on a life of its own and generalizes to new, even unexpected, situations, so too your belief in your ability to gain mastery over your life diminishes markedly. You start to feel boxed in, hopeless, and desperate for anything to take the pain away. Some people turn their worry and anxiety into isolation, depression and even anger. Others turn to various forms of addictions – sexual, chemical, gambling, codependency – as well as other self-sabotaging behaviors to self-soothe.
Feeling shameful and stigmatized by one’s worry, anxiety and depression can lead to the belief that one is “doomed to suffer through their discomfort and that change is not possible.” This negative view of one’s status makes it difficult, if not seemingly impossible, to take steps that can result in a shift in thoughts, belief and, ultimately, behaviors that challenge the status quo and foster change.
In order to change you must acquire increased awareness and clarity into the nature of your discomfort and be willing to take action. Awareness and insight into the nature of your discomfort and what fuels it the first part on the road to overcoming your distress. The second part is acquiring the skills to take action. These two components often require the expertise of a trained psychotherapist to guide you through the process of change. Willpower or letting time pass most likely will only prolong your misery and keep you from moving forward.
A Few Tips for Reducing Worry
These are just a handful of things you can do to reduce anxiety, fear and worry. Try them and see what happens. If they happen to work, continue to do more of the same. As you progress, you can continue to introduce other skills that will, at the very least, help you gain some respite from your troubles and, hopefully, open the door to a new way of looking at and approaching life’s challenges.
About the Author - Irving Schattner, LCSW
Guest Post by Joseph S. Fusaro
Edit and Post Design by Christy Zigweid
Picture made using @WordSwagApp
It was the spring of 2013. It had been 3 years since my last psych inpatient stay for schizoaffective and general anxiety disorder and to this day, I still say my symptoms were from excessive cigarettes, Adderall, benzos, and the 6-10 joints I was smoking a day. I never had a problem with any of these meds before, but after 2 years, they stopped working and I would go from ADHD and general anxiety straight into psychotic and schizophrenic episodes.
But, before I get into 2013, I need to explain what happened after my last inpatient stay in 2010. Held against my will for over a month and a half, I learned the hard way that sarcasm mixed with psychosis is really a bad idea in urgent care; a sentence of 45+ days and a monthly shot of Haldol is what one gets for not being compliant. I could not stand the fighting, the older lady defecating on the floor in her room for fun, the nightly argument of what terrible 1980’s movie would be played, the medication line, the bedtime, and the patronizing of patients from the guards and nurses aids. I hated that they gave me a handful of downers and then told me I could not sleep during the day. I would skip out of every group activity and the guard would open my door, knock, and tell me to wake up, then stare at me while he or she feverishly took notes on my current state to give my doctor.
I was so exhausted I knew I had to comply because I never wanted to go back there.
After this stay, even though I started to make up with friends and family and being a little more social (I was now getting out once a month instead of once a year), I was prescribed a month long injection of Haldol which was literally stealing the life and soul from my body. (I later found out from a drug rep at a NAMI event that Haldol was a drug from the 1950’s and they only give it to people in the public hospitals that have no money. He said it was outdated and dangerous). I could not eat. I could not think. My muscles were spastic and twitchy, and I know that I was at the beginning stages tardive dyskinesia, even though my psychiatrist denied it. He would stare right at his notepad, never my eyes, and say, “You are still shaking, but that is normal.” I would think, “Well doc, I felt a hell of a lot better when I was on anything except this garbage in a vile.”
Every time I went to a psychologist I would tell him that I am one bullet or handful of pills away from death. I was numb and in serious physical and mental pain from the Haldol. I could not socialize. I had major, major depression that he was ignoring. I guess, in his eyes, as long as I was not psychotic, we were winning this health war, but I felt very different. I had to make a change. I had to make a change myself because there were too many people making decisions about my life. There were too many outside sources ripping the book that was my life apart.
I finally could not take it anymore and in the winter of 2012, I made a decision which looking back now, may have saved my life.
I decided to find another psychiatrist. I told him the whole truth of exactly how I felt every moment of every day; how extremely depressed I was, how much trouble I was having thinking and focusing, and how I needed something to help me sleep at night. I conveniently left out my other psychiatrist and the medication I’d been on. I believed in my sick and tired mind, this new doctor would prescribe me things to balance or offset the garbage my original doctor was forcing me to take. And, to my amazement, it worked. The new doctor prescribed me Adderall (a lot of Adderall I must say). I also got my best friends Xanax and Clonopin back. This felt like Christmas. I filled my prescriptions right away and before I even left the pharmacy, I had 40 milligrams of Adderall sliding happily down my little throat. I swear before they even hit my happy stomach I knew this was going to work. The Adderall was going to counteract the Haldol and I was going to be free again. Well, at least until they stopped working again, which after a year or two of overdoing it, they always stop working.
While this was not a cure-all, just a Band-Aid over a Band-Aid over a 30-year-old bleeding infection, I was feeling okay for a short time. I was still far from healthy, but it got me out of bed every day. It started going to family events and hanging out with friends. For a year or so I thought I had found the answer to my mental illnesses.
I thought that I was finally on the ever so famous and glorious “road to recovery.”
While I was more active and social, there was one issue holding me back. I could only be around people or hold conversations for a maximum of 2 hours. After this, I would lose all interest and focus and my brain would start to take a launch into space. While I had to keep my visits with others short, the more I went out, the longer my visits became.
When I had to go to a family wedding in Florida, things started to take a nasty turn. I was extremely nervous. I had not been on a vacation or a plane in years. I had not seen my family or been around people for more than a couple hours in years. In my mind, there was only one way to power through all of these strong emotions and that was with Adderall and benzos. What I have learned time and time again with this combo is that: 1. It only works if you can keep them to minimal dosages and 2. You cannot take them at the same time or alternate them (Adderall is for days and benzos are for nights). So yeah, I totally abandoned that theory for my trip. Coincidentally, the drugs then abandoned me.
Somehow I made it through the trip, but my sleep schedule got completely screwed up. From the moment I got home and laid on my couch, I knew I was entering a bad phase. When I was just about to fall asleep, I had a dream that someone was whispering in my ear and I knew that the lack of sleep caused the racing thoughts and nightmares to begin again. Now it was just a matter of damage control for me. Could I keep this from becoming mania or psychosis? I knew if I just took my Seroquel every night I would pull through. What I did not calculate was that if I was taking between 40-100 milligrams of Adderall every day I was going to need a lot more Seroquel.
I was a mess and didn’t have any answers, but was not ready to admit defeat.
Days started going extremely fast. I would wake up at 7 or 8 am and take an Adderall, then I would go back to sleep for a couple of hours and wake up at 11 am or so in pain. The only thing that eased my pain was another Adderall. I used to always know when mania was starting because I would write with vigor. I wasn’t writing poetry, prose, an article, or even thoughts, just my opinions on anything and everything. I could connect the dots to anything. I could tell you why the sun came up. I could tell you why I fell off my bike when I was 7. I could tell you why birds lay eggs. Then I could tell you that all 3 topics were scientifically connected…via the power of God. I was working on a book that I called Loose Associations, which if I ever decide to put it together and release it will probably only make sense to 1% of the 1% of people that live with schizophrenia. I did not have these psychotic symptoms all the time, but I can assure you for my stints of psychosis I was not even in this galaxy. I lived in a world of telepathy gone mad. I lived in a world of nuclear war gone everywhere; friends were at war with friends, and family was at war with family. I was on the lookout for it 24/7 and hiding from it any way I could. I thought that alone, I was chosen out of every person in the world to fight and end this war so that the “regular people” did not have to be bothered. I thought that I was named Commander and Chief, then given a sword and horse. All of the Justices, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings, and Queens looked at me and said, “We need you, Joseph. God speed, kid,” and sent me off to save the world. I later found out while I was in my internal war that I had scared the life out of everyone; my family, friends, doctors, and pharmacists.
After an all-night battle with myself, I walked out of my room at 1 pm and decided I was going to take the day off and watch a Mets game for the first time in a few days. Wait, it was the last day in June? I had not sat down to watch a game in over a month? I did not have any proof but I could sense that one of my friends had told my family that I was a mess and it was only a matter of time before my family called the police on me.
I knew what was coming. I needed to leave and get out of here now. Was there any way I could get from my house to the airport without anyone noticing? I checked my Twitter app and what I saw was my latest post was at 4:15 am. It had happened again, my mind had won again. I left an embarrassing trail of every thought that crossed my mind (which I thought were kept on my private on my public profile) and every battle I’d fought. I’d left thumbprints of every moment, fear, and illness via likes and posts. I can distinctly remember the few random replies from people who wanted to start a political or racial war with me. They had no idea that I was fighting this war and disease internally. They had no idea I was in shock and awe of the things I was reading, watching on the news, and thinking. They had no idea I was fighting a war for peace. My tone was that of fear, not anger or rebellion.
I could sense my what-had-become-routine-pickup-by-the-police coming every time. You’d think I would have known by now that when I started to sense someone was going to call my doctor or police behind my back, I would stop taking the controlled substances that made me walk around my house talking a mile a minute to the air. And when I heard the siren, I sighed, knowing what was coming. My heart and cheek bones swelled up with emotions. I could feel the air around me thicken, and I slowly started to drown in the embarrassment and anxiety. I’d done it again; blamed everyone else for my addictions and dependence. The officer knocked and said, “Hey Joe, can you come outside with me for a second? I just want to talk. I promise no one is going to take you from your home.” (They always make you go outside for their safety. I knew that he was lying. He came here with one intention and that was to take me from my home to the home). At that point, I could deal with one more embarrassment for the sake of my well-being. I tried desperately to stutter my way out of it for a few minutes and he became impatient. But, this time, I was given an option: “You can come gracefully with me or we can call an ambulance and strap you down. Joe please, just walk with me.” So I did. I gave up.
All I could think was that I had let everyone down again and the next week to a month was going to be the same pain from a few years ago that I thought I was done with. It was going to hurt so much. I was going to be so sick. And on this Independence Day, I was surely guaranteed to be alone and far from free.
That Independence Day hospital stay was my last and from that day forward, I have stayed sober and reduced my meds down to just Seroquel for sleep. For some strange reason or by the grace of some force that is stronger than me, I found a great doctor in 2013. He was the first doctor that I could tell had faith in me. He encouraged me to tell my family and friends how I truly feel and to try and repair my relationships. He taught me breathing exercises and self-compassion. He taught me about eating healthy and getting sufficient rest. He not only prescribed me medication but he made me believe in me, which is something I wish a doctor would have taught that six-year-old kid with depression.
As of 2014, I can feel the change of seasons again. Holidays feel like special days again. I have friends and family I can call if I am having a bad (or even a good) day. Now that I am focused on the right things I am finding that I attract more of the right people and the right lessons. I can honestly say for the first time since I was a kid, that I am happy. Every once in a while I still feel a little behind the game when all of my friends are getting married and having children, but I know that I have been so patient for so long that if I keep the right attitude good things will happen. I now know that I cannot search tirelessly for patience, peace, or love to add to my life because I already have it. I just take a deep breath, smile, and think, yes I am happy, but I am not done yet.
I may have lost everything but I did gain one thing: I have a constant desire to spread a positive message that there is hope for those with mental illness. There is no reason to feel ashamed and you are not alone. This is all I have and I am making it my responsibility to shine a light on mental health.
About the Author
Worry, anxiety, and addiction are often interwoven. For some people, it’s constant pressure and increasing anxiety that serve as the catalyst to developing an addiction. For others it works in the opposite way: having an addiction creates stress and anxiety – be it fear of disappointing loved ones, legal consequences, or a tough path of recovery. The key to successful recovery is learning how to cope with underlying mental health problems and the addiction itself.
Worrying and Addiction
Worry and addiction are cyclical in their relationship to each other. Individuals who suffer from chronic worry often experience physical discomfort such as sweating and rapid heartbeat. There is also the emotional discomfort such as feelings of fear and panic.
Those suffering from anxiety may turn to addictive behaviors as a way to self-medicate and escape. On the flip side, the need to get a "fix" from an addiction creates anxiety, so it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.
A person suffering from addiction may become so focused on the euphoria they experience that they may constantly worry about how, when, and where they’ll be able to obtain their drug of choice. This is not limited to just drug abuse. In addition to drugs and alcohol, other behaviors such as spending, eating, sexual activity, cleaning, or even exercise are potential addictions for some people when the behaviors become excessive and uncontrollable.
Raising your awareness about worry and anxiety, as well as your personal triggers, can help you break the vicious cycle of worry, anxiety, and addiction.
Image via Pixabay by AdinaVoicu
Raising Awareness about the Risks of Excessive Worry
Experiencing concern about various situations in your life is normal and healthy. Excessive worrying, however, leads to anxiety. Learning to identify your triggers and acknowledging situations in which cannot cope can help you make healthier choices.
Symptoms of excessive worry include:
Recognizing these symptoms is the first step. When you learn to identify triggers, you can turn to alternative coping methods, which can help avoid giving in to your addiction.
Coping with Distressing Thoughts and Feelings
People who do not constantly experience severe anxiety and worry may think it’s simple to deal with. They may think it’s as simple as forgetting about what has been stressing you, but it is not. There are, however, some strategies you can rely on to help you learn to develop alternative coping mechanisms.
Worry is unavoidable, as it can stem from relationships and experiences. It’s a natural state of mind on some occasions, but it doesn’t have to be a destructive force in your life. These tips can help regain control:
Worry will come, but it doesn’t have to perpetuate an addiction, nor is it necessary to be dominated by worry and anxiety while recovering from an addiction. You can take control of your life and improve your sense of well-being.
About the Author
Sarah Lockwood is a concerned parent and former social worker. Having worked with the public for decades and after watching her own daughter struggle with addiction, Sarah knows all too well the devastation that can be caused by drug and alcohol abuse. Sarah’s daughter is now in recovery, but her experiences with substance abuse inspired Sarah to get involved with ThePreventionCoalition.org. She plans to spread awareness and support through her work for others dealing with addiction. While Sarah devotes a lot of time to the Coalition, she makes sure to relax and enjoy the small things in life, as every day is a gift.
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