Are you waking up feeling startled or from feeling a zap somewhere in your body? Do you ever worry too much about very simple things like whether a letter is getting to its destination or if you will receive a phone call? For someone with anxiety, these experiences are not infrequent.
The good news here is that, for the most part, anxiety is short-term and temporary. The bad news is that it can return, and for some, it never seems to go away. For some people, as soon as one worry subsides, another seems to take its place. This is living in a world where most everything is scary. If these folks experience a trauma, like a breakup or a job loss, their attention can get locked onto it, and they will worry about their lives 24/7.
Others have anxiety around certain tasks or actions. One of the most common is being afraid to drive on the freeway. Some people are fine driving 60 on back roads, but the thought of a freeway traffic jam or accident keeps them off the highway. The fear that they experience is very intense and unpleasant, and to avoid it, these people often live limited lives.
Most of us are a little uncomfortable on airplanes, but those with severe anxiety about flying would rather spend days on a train going cross-country than spend a few hours in the air. One gentleman with whom I worked on “The Ricki Lake Show” was deeply upset about all the things in life that his fear had kept him from experiencing. He had taken the train from Memphis to L.A. to do the show.
I used a process called desensitization to help him gradually overcome his fear.
First, we met at an airport, so he could experience his feelings about planes in general. Then we were able to sit in a small plane, so he could again look at what he was feeling, examine it and talk to me about it. All of that helped him feel more comfortable. Then we took the big step of going into a flight simulator, so he could experience the physical feeling of flying. As I told him, the simulator was rougher and more uncomfortable than any flight I’ve ever taken, but he was OK with it, and after the show, he successfully flew home and conquered his fear.
In addition to therapy, there are also anti-anxiety medications available, and if you think you need one, go see your doctor for a consultation. There are also many things you can do yourself. Perhaps one of the simplest is to avoid caffeine or other stimulants, for they can bring on or intensify anxiety. You can also learn how to meditate to calm yourself, and you can find activities that help you get back to a state of normality.
If you suffer from anxiety, don’t let it keep you from living a full life. Take back control of your world, and try some of these suggestions. You will be happier for it.
Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, is the author, most recently, of “100 Ways to Boost Your Self-Confidence – Believe in Yourself and Others Will Too.” Email him at Barton@BartonGoldsmith.com.