by Mitch Meyerson and Laurie Ashner
"Last night I slept for eight hours but I still feel tired."
"I worry constantly; I'm so self-critical it's ridiculous."
"I get these headaches, my stomach hurts; right now I can feel something
weird in my lower back..."
"I was driving down the Edens and my heart started to race for no reason, and I thought, "Oh my god, I'm going to black out right here, I'm going to lose it." But I was okay after a minute or two. What in the world is wrong with me?"
Sound familiar? Exhaustion, the jitters, the inability to concentrate, a queasy stomach--most of us feel some symptoms of anxiety in a world that grows more complex and unpredictable by the minute. For the most part, anxiety is situational. Your heart pounds before you give a speech. You're nauseous when your wedding plans go awry.
But what if anxiety has overtaken so much of your life you can't remember the last time you weren't worried about one thing or another? Is this something you have to live with?
Diana was a woman who thought that she had been given some kind of inexplicable sixth sense. "I could walk into a room and immediately know who was depressed, who was angry. It was like I had radar for other people's feelings."
Trouble was, this sensitivity threw her off balance. She'd go into a year-end review expecting to be fired, and come out with a promotion. Relationships turned her into a bundle of nerves. "What did he mean by that?" she'd think after her date made an offhand comment. "I would analyze everything."
What Diana suffered from wasn't a hopeless sense of insecurity, but what therapists term generalized anxiety disorder. People like Diana feel anxious and tense all day long, regardless of what they're doing, and their symptoms persist continuously for six months or longer.
What causes prolonged bouts of anxiety?
According to David D. Burns, MD, author of The Feeling Good Handbook, the root of much anxiety is usually unexpressed negative feelings about some problem in our lives. "You may not be completely aware of these feelings because you push them out of your mind," Burns writes. "When you deny your feelings and avoid the conflicts that are bothering you, you will start to feel nervous and panicky. When you confront these problems, your anxiety will frequently diminish or disappear."
New research suggests that subtle imbalances in brain chemistry may also play a significant role, especially in those people who experience prolonged worrying for exaggerated reasons. This theory remains highly debated in the medical field, but it is probable that a combination of factors--biological, psychological and social-- are involved when anxiety is an intense, everyday occurrence.
What can you do if you suffer from anxiety?
- Rule out physical causes by visiting your doctor for a check-up. Excessive caffeine, medication side effects, a thyroid disorder, low-blood sugar, etc. can cause that shaky, sweaty feeling. Eliminating stimulants and increasing your physical exercise can be immediately beneficial.
- Take a searching self-evaluation. What are you struggling so hard to control in your life? A relationship? Another person's actions? Someone else's problems? How everyone else feels about you? What would happen if you let go? Do you believe that anxiety and worrying will help you? In other words, if you turn yourself into a nail-biting wreck over a presentation you're working on, do you believe this will insure a better job? Many people are reluctant to give up the worry habit because they believe something terrible will happen if they stop.
- There isn't one stress management strategy, but many. Find one tailored to your nature. Anyone can tell you to go out jogging, but if that's not something you're going to follow up on, it's useless. Sean, 37, recalls going to a meditation seminar years ago. "They told me all I had to do was chant a mantra for twenty minutes. I was so tense, I couldn't sit still that long. Subsequently, I did nothing about my stress for the next five years, feeling I'd failed."
- Take a tip from the Taoists who believe that moderation leads to balance and harmony. Struggling to meet extravagant expectations for months at a time, then giving into dismal do-nothing despair is hardly a middle way. You can't do it all, but you can do your best. Your best is good enough.
- If anxiety is debilitating, seek treatment. Anxiety disorders are among the most easily treated of psychiatric problems. "I felt so tense all the time, I thought it was just part of my personality," one woman admitted, explaining why until recently, she never sought treatment. "My friends used to tell me to stop being so sensitive. It took an objective person to point out that this wasn't something I could control automatically and I didn't have to live like this."
Neither do you.
You'll find numerous suggestions for ways of coping with anxiety on the Recommendations page of the site.
Find tremendous support from other women experiencing menopause-related anxiety.
Numerous transcripts and other areas of the site address the issue of menopause-related anxiety. The comprehensive Power Surge Search Engine will provide more links to information about anxiety.
Mitch Meyerson and Laurie Ashner
Laurie Ashner has authored numerous books. Among the newest, she has co-authored with Power Surge guest, Alan Altman, M.D., Making Love The Way We Used To: The Secrets of Midlife Sexuality