What Those Anxious Feelings May Be Trying To Tell You – And Why It’s Important To Listen (Part Two of a Two-Part Series)
In last month’s post on anxiety (Part One), I presented a case study to illustrate how anxious feelings and symptoms may at times be acting as a ‘wise guide’ inviting us to heal ourselves at a core, root level. In today’s post I explore how loss of connection with self and others may fuel anxious feelings and addictive processes. I also review the risks associated with anti-anxiety medications and alternative forms of treatment.
Anxiety and Self-Medication
For those individuals who experienced turbulent childhoods as a result of growing up in a dysfunctional / traumatized family system, the experience of anxiety can begin very early on in life, although it often is not recognized by primary caregivers, teachers, or the family physician (or others who might be able to effectively intervene).
Children, teens and young adults with undiagnosed anxiety may therefore begin to ‘self-medicate’ with substances such as food, drugs, or alcohol, and/or activities such as excessive TV viewing, video gaming, and social media engagement in an unconscious attempt to quiet their distressful symptoms. They do not have the ability to recognize that they are seeking some kind of temporary or permanent relief from anxious, distressed feelings caused by being raised in a chaotic, unstable family system.
Adults who did not experience anxiety when younger may develop an anxiety disorder without being consciously aware of it, and they, too, may begin self-medicating with substances or obsessive engagement with escapist activities.
Having worked in several drug and alcohol treatment centers, I can say with certainty that unrecognized, undiagnosed, and untreated anxiety was often fueling the process of addiction, meaning, the addicted person began using substances initially to escape a sense of internal discomfort that was not recognized as anxiety at the time.
Most importantly, a fundamental experience of disconnection from self and others along with unrecognized anxiety symptoms were identified by nearly every drug and alcohol addicted client I have worked with as being at the root of their addictive patterns and behaviors.
The Pros And Cons Of Anti-Anxiety Medication
With the popularization of psychotropic medications to treat a variety of mental and behavioral health disturbances, most any type of uncomfortable feeling or symptom is viewed by both patient and doctor as something to be reduced or eliminated as quickly as possible.
While psychotropic medication can relieve some of the symptoms of anxiety, it doesn’t cure the underlying problem in cases where the anxiety is being fueled by repressed childhood material and trauma. Hence, although helpful in the short run, it is usually not a long-term solution.
Anti-anxiety medications can also cause side effects and may lead to a dependence on the medication, including increased anxiety (and even depression) in certain cases. Getting off of the medication can be difficult as well if a dependency is developed (this is particularly true when taking benzodiazepines like Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam), Valium (diazepam), and Ativan (lorazepam), which are meant to be taken only short-term).
Even more concerning is the fact that it is increasingly common for family doctors / general practitioners to write out a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication after only a brief discussion with their patient regarding the distressing symptoms being experienced, without recommending that they also confer with a Mental Health professional, such as a therapist or counselor. This is in part fueled by the patient’s limited finances or lack of behavioral health insurance benefits that prevent adequate access to appropriate non-chemical interventions and treatments.
Mindfulness Meditation And The Reduction Of Anxiety Symptoms
While taking anti-anxiety medication to minimize distressing feelings and symptoms is a personal choice, and in some cases is medically advisable, there are other effective interventions that a person suffering from anxiety can pursue, such as seeking help from a trauma-informed licensed psychotherapist who has expertise in treating adults who grew up in dysfunctional and/or abusive family-of-origins (this can include learning Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques to address negative automatic thoughts and self-talk); keeping an Awareness Journal as part of ongoing Psychotherapeutic process (as discussed in the Case Study of Part One of this article); engaging in deep breathing exercises; Yoga; Tai Chi; daily physical exercise; and homeopathic remedies as prescribed by a Naturopathic doctor.
Recent research also confirms that Mindfulness Meditation can be highly effective in addressing anxiety symptoms. Mindfulness is a practice that involves being fully engaged in whatever is going on around you. “It is simply the act of paying attention to whatever you are experiencing, as you experience it”, explains Kate Hanley, author of A Year of Daily Calm: A Guided Journal for Creating Tranquility Every Day. “By choosing to turn your attention away from the everyday chatter of the mind and on to what your body is doing, you give the mind just enough to focus on that it can quiet down.”
In 2013 researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center published a study that confirmed that Mindfulness Meditation reduces anxiety at a neural level. You can learn more about this important study and other similar studies via the below two links:
- How Does Meditation Reduce Anxiety at a Neural Level? | Psychology Today
In recent years there has been a steady stream of research showing the power of mindfulness meditation to reduce anxiety. Until now, the specific brain mechanisms of how meditation relieves anxiety at a neural level were unknown.
- Mindfulness Meditation Appears to Help Improve Sleep Quality – For The Media – JAMA Network
Working Mindfully With Anxiety
As this two-part blog post illustrates, there may be far more to anxiety than meets the eye. While it is understandable why anyone experiencing anxiety would want relief from these extremely uncomfortable symptoms, it may be that the symptoms themselves are pointing to possible solutions to those who are willing to explore their anxiety via mindfully cultivating an attitude of acceptance, curiosity, and patience. Journaling, painting, and other forms of creative expression, as well as psychotherapy and/or sharing in a support group, may offer a means of discovering the wisdom that anxiety has to offer.
Online Resources for Reducing Anxiety Symptoms
The below online resources have all been ‘tried and tested’ by many of my psychotherapy and life coaching clients. The *free online Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course is a particularly generous offering from a fully certified MBSR instructor and one that I highly recommend.
5 Minute Quick Anxiety Reduction – Guided Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): What Is It, How It Helps
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: What it Is, How it Helps | Psychology Today
Mindfulness teacher and writer, Elisha Goldstein, PhD on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, the subject of his new co-authored workbook.
*FREE Online Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Course
Online MBSR (free)
This online MBSR training course is 100% free, created by a fully certified MBSR instructor, and is modeled on the program founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
6 Easy Yoga Poses To Reduce Anxiety
Do These 6 Poses To Ease Anxiety + Save Your Sanity | Rodale’s Organic Life
We go straight to the source for a series of calming yoga postures.
FREE APP: Headspace For Anxiety
Our series of Meditation for Anxiety sessions help you to deal with worries and feel calmer. Sign up to use our Meditation App for free today!
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To learn more about Family Scapegoat Abuse (FSA), it’s signs and symptoms, and recovering from this most damaging form of systemic familial abuse, read my eBook The Invisible Wounds of the Family Scapegoat (available via my secure website; see my profile, below).