I’m currently treating a 52 years old man suffering from anxiety for some years. Director-Founder from his own company. Anxiety has been part of his live however it started getting worse the day that he took the car and he had the uncomfortable feeling of losing control while driving. That’s when he knew something was wrong and decided to call me for an appointment.
Anxiety is a common symptom in our society. However the fact of being common doesn’t make it a reason of concern. It is something serious and needs attention.
It can’t be diagnosed apart of subjective information from the sufferer. We can’t find anxiety on your blood test (as long as you have an abnormal increase of cortisol in your blood) and it is not something easily “catchable” when looking at a person.
Chinese Medicine can diagnose anxiety. The body tongue usually is pale colour with thin coating. The pulse usually is empty or weak on the Heart and Liver positions. Pale colour through the body and the upper and lower body ALWAYS are unbalanced: upper is warm to the touch whereas the lower is cold (feet). Along with the rest of signs such as lack of appetite, bad sleep, restless leg syndrome, need to exercise to calm the mind down drive to develop what we call it a Disorder of the Heart Qi due to a Liver Qi, Yin and Blood deficiency. If the person has been suffering anxiety since a child, then we need to add Kidney Yin deficiency too.
However, Dear Reader, I am not going to talk about energies, Qi or Chinese Medicine terminology which you’re not familiar with. Let’s talk about anxiety as such, on its most simple and most discerptible meaning.
The common cause of anxiety is FEAR. Fear can be classified on 2 types: fear to external things, like cats, snakes, spiders or rats; and internal ones, something like feeling palpitations or your blood pressure rising up. This last fear gives you a feedback back. You can’t run away from it: If I am afraid that my heart beats are felt very fast, once you notice it then you get nervous, hence your beats speeds up and you feel more fear. There it is when the circle starts. Some people think they are dying and that the escalating sensation of fear is unbearable.
A panic attack is something else: the person is afraid of his own internal sensations. The stress of life or external fears can lead a person to have panic attacks: the more stress you have, the more likely you are to become afraid of something internal as well. But anxiety and panic attacks are different things.
People suffering from anxiety usually avoid what they are afraid of. This is the first big mistake as the only way to overcome anxiety is to face the feeling of panic. It is not cope with but winning the battle against it.
In-depth, when anxiety happens you become afraid of internal sensations, fear itself, and the only way for to make anxiety disappear is to stop being afraid of those internal sensations. In order to do so, the only way is to get to know them well, get used to them, almost become friends with fear. That’s what Chinese Medicine and Qigong is always encouraging those who practice it: embrace what cause you the most disturbance. There is no choice but to spend a lot of time with the sensations that cause you anxiety. I often see people in the clinic who have insomnia because they are afraid of not being able to fall asleep. The best indication for them is to purposely stay up all night until they learn to be sleepless but comfortable.
Therefore, in order to make it clearer: you have to voluntarily wake up the thoughts that cause you fear and learn to tolerate them. That is having short-term suffering to reduce it in the long term. A patient of mine summed up the method in: “this is about learning to suffer in order to stop suffering”. I understand it sounds better than it is, but I ask you to understand the point.
What happens if you don’t face your anxiety and fears?
Fear is going to increase, panic attacks are going to increase, and, normally, life is becoming more and more limited because anxiety makes walls surrounding your freedom and breaking little by little your self-confidence. I have known some number of people who practically did not leave the house, for instance.
Unfortunately anxiety affects both men and women and the number of cases diagnosed are in crescendo because we have a worse emotional well-being, and epidemiological data show it. Poor emotional health is progressing decade by decade although we have more self-help books and tools than ever.
In the last two decades anxiety is becoming an epidemic condition which the number of diagnoses have progressed very clearly and not necessarily because the diagnostic methods are better as anxiety was already well diagnosed more than 20 years ago.
Why do we suffer from anxiety?
In my opinion, for two reasons: the first is that life is increasingly self-demanding. Today, to be a decent person, you have to meet more requirements than ever: be slim, be popular, be elegant, have a good job, take great vacations… And this is perception is growing with social media far from helping. The second cause is that we have less and less education in values. A few decades ago religion, or social or popular education, gave a clear and quite beneficial philosophy of life. Now there is a lot of technological education but very bad philosophical, psychological or even spiritual education. The moment you need that tool the most you don’t have it, therefore it becomes the perfect storm for someone to develop anxiety.
Help someone with anxiety is very hard because anxiety is a very particular symptom and very difficult to treat it. There is medication that relieves the anxiety but it doesn’t heal it. Therefore you have to support the person with anxiety but without protecting him/her too much. It is a constant contradictory therapy as it is the most difficult help manoeuvre of all: you have to hold back, you have to push him/her to face his fears. As it comes naturally to us to protect loved ones (or my patients), but in this case, we cannot protect them from their own ghosts, we even have to encourage them to do so.
Photo by Tonik