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I’m Feeling Anxious!

by Ruth Gordon, LCSW

It’s really hard when we feel completely overwhelmed, which at times is a unremitting state for me, to gain perspective, calm one’s pounding heart, and believe that, indeed, there will be a future and that all is not lost forever. Of course, there are medications that deal with that, but what to do if tablets are not our route of choice to serenity?

My first suggestion is one you’ve probably heard a million times, but take a few very deep breaths. The reason for this is that deep breathing will relax your system and it is impossible to be relaxed and tense at exactly the same time.

Now that that has been accomplished, how do we tackle the insurmountable mountain in front of us.? The way that I prefer to tunnel through the mess I’m facing is slowly, in a very focused way. First, we must prioritize. It’s really easy to be distracted by some side issue that is easily resolved. We will find, however, that moments spent on tasks that take us away from our goal consume a lot of time, and, in the long run, increase our angst many fold.

I know that a lot of you feel uncomfortable when you are unable to complete a task as perfectly as you would like. Well, perfection is hard to define and perfectionism will delay a livable-with resolution. Decide which parts of your task are essential and non-negotiable and concentrate on those. I’ll give you a silly example from my own, often chaotic, life.

On many a morning I plan to attend to the dogs, wash my hair, iron or steam my clothes, have breakfast, make my bed and be ready for a 9:00 appointment. A reasonable list one might assume. Morning comes and I may receive 3 unscheduled phone calls, two of which require me to consult my schedule and adjust it. Since I really make every effort to avoid having the dogs pee in the house, they must be attended to. Now, a good 45 minutes may have passed so I decide that my hair is clean enough, try to find something that doesn’t need ironing or steaming and rush to get ready. Usually, as I’m attempting to put on my makeup, my husband has something to talk to me about or some task he would like help with. There goes the bed! Finally, if I’m lucky, I have time to put two of the dogs in their cages and just maybe throw together a breakfast drink that I either take into the session with me or wait to gulp down at, let’s say, noon. Now the day is completely off kilter and rarely do I make it as far as straightening the bed. Why do I not get up earlier you may ask? Simple, it’s hard for me to function before 7AM no matter how hard I try. When I force it I’m grumpy, bump into things and am unbelievably inefficient –I’m better off staying in bed.

I have had to give myself permission to let certain things slide, and in doing so, have applied that point of view to other areas of my life. Is it the way I would like it to be? No. However, I can either be a raging lunatic or a fairly reasonable person to deal with. I choose the latter (to the relief of those who cross my path).

In making choices about what to do and how to handle those things it can be helpful to imagine the worst possible conclusion. It’s tax season (as if you didn’t know). Once upon a time, a long time ago, I believed that disaster would strike unless all of my information was compiled in the early part of January. Had you asked me what would happen should I fail to do this, I would have told you that I would probably be chained to a wall in a dungeon, never to return to civilization. These days I am hardly peaceful as I gather up my scraps and endeavor to remember where I put those all-important pieces of paper, but, if I have to take an extension, I do so. The world has continued to spin and the cell in the dungeon is still empty (for now).

Try to remember a time in your childhood when you felt the same kind of dread you are feeling now. Were I a betting person, I would wager the farm that somewhere, back in the days of youth, lies the foundation for the discomfort you feel today. For me, as a kid when I lost the crayons it was my fault. When my own children lost their crayons it was still my fault. I still, and always will, tremble when I am handed a very important piece of paper — don’t give it to me — PLEASE! I know I am unlikely to outgrow this, so, I try to be patient with myself and understand that paper is not my friend.

You may have noticed the delay in receiving this (March) newsletter. Well, now you know what slipped to the bottom of my “to do” list. What saves me from becoming engulfed in unease is that this is my newsletter, after all. Also, I’m sure that no one’s life has suffered as a result of the holdup. So, happy April everyone & I hope to deliver this months’ newsletter in a more timely fashion. Smile — it makes your brain happy.

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Ruth Gordon is licensed clinical social worker in both Massachusetts and Florida. For more information, please visit her listing on the Therapist Directory. This article may not be reprinted, reproduced, or retransmitted in whole or in part without the express written consent of the author.

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