7 Steps to Deal With Anxiety From How Michael J. Fox Deals with Parkinson’s

I recently read the latest issue of WebMD with the article about Michael J. Fox who lives with Parkinson’s Disease. The more I read how he chooses on a daily basis to deal with his disease the more I realized that it really doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with cancer, diabetes, parkinson’s or anxiety. Oftentimes the answers to getting through are the same. His brand of dealing is pragmatic and down to earth.

So, these  7 tips are lifted straight from the December 2014 issue of WebMD from the article Future Focus. I added a few of my own comments in italics.

1. Accept what you cannot change…When I saw it (Parkinson’s) as just one of the things I was dealing with, trhen I could see the room around it. Straight from the 12 steps this is one of the most powerful tools for dealing with anything. When I accept that I have anxiety and that may mean I have unexpected heart racing or sweaty palms and I don’t fight the feeling, the disorder gets so much easier to deal with. When I live in denial or fight my disorder I live in fear of attacks, am ruled by the symptoms and am out of control.

2. Practice patience. When Fox does have a down moment, “I just wait it out.” Most of the time I don’t have to react to my anxiety symptoms. Whether it’s shallow breaths or a crazy/busy mind if I can just sit quietly and observe what’s happening and say “Huh, this is anxiety stuff. Interesting.”, the feelings subside fairly quickly. If I invest in the anxiety feeling I will make them grow and snowball. 

3. Embrace family ties “My family makes me a better person because they take me out of myself. ”  Anxiety people are great at ruminating. If you’re spending time with little ones it forces you to be in the moment, if you’re spending time with people who need your help, you’re putting your problems into perspective and dealing with the most pressing problems. Whether it’s family or volunteering, getting out of yourself is the best way to let that ruminating mind take a rest.

4. Let go of judgment. “When there’s no ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, it just is what it is.  This is the hardest part for most of us to practice. I urge my students and clients to release their judgments about themselves and how things should be. This goes along with acceptance. If I can just say, “huh, this is anxiety, interesting.” I’m less likely to think “Oh no! My heart is racing and I’m sweating and shaking. People must think I’m a freak. Oh no! Please stop!!” Anxiety loves that kind of thinking, it’s what helps her grow and find a place to live. So letting go of judgment just helps us deal with what’s happening and not try to push it away.

5. Turn assets into liabilities. “Being small growing up, I had to make an extra effort in things I did, and it opened up so many possibilities for me. ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’ was obvious to me from an early age. ” Having anxiety means that our minds already works differently than other folks’ minds. How can that be an asset? I run my own business and am consistently having to problem solve and I never quite come up with the same answer as the other guy. It’s been a huge help in sticking out from the crowd. 

6. Say yes. From actor to author and head of a foundation, Fox is open to possibility. “Being yourself and takings risks-what’s the downside?” Well, for us anxiety folks the thinking here is a little different. We can probably come up with a long list of downsides, but the more we say yes the fewer the downsides. In DBT this is called building mastery. The more things you say yes to the more things feel a little less scary and the more your life opens up. Recently I was asked to speak to a group of mental health professionals about DBT and Yoga for Anxiety. I was terrified. This is my least favorite group to speak to, not because they’re mean or judgy, but because I have fears about my own level of expertise. I’m not a doctor or a clinical psychologist. I’m a yoga therapist with anxiety and I read a lot and I’ve managed my disorder for a long time and I’ve taught for 15 years and I’ve put together what I’ve seen works. I teach from my experience, not from my PhD. It’s about my own feelings of not being enough. But I said yes and the event was amazing. I allowed myself to be scared and move forward anyway. I was open with them about my nerves and they appreciated it (it was a talk about anxiety after all). And now, the next time I’m asked, it’ll be a little easier to say yes.

7. Live well. Fox doesn’t drink, watches what he eats and exercises. “I can’t run marathons anymore, but I hike and have a dog who walks me.” Living well is a form of self-love and self-care. More importantly for anxiety people living well can be the difference between feeling panicky everyday or having an occasional racing heart that you barely notice. Choose foods that help you stay calm, limit sugary and highly caffeinated substances. I wrote about Eating for Anxiety today.  Keep alcohol to a limit and if you can’t, eliminate it from your diet. Exercising every day keeps my brain fairly calm and the quality of my thoughts more on the positive than the negative or ruminating side. Get out into nature. Connecting with nature, whether you sit under a tree and meditate, walk along the shore or play soccer at the local field is essential for anxiety minds. Nature keeps us in that mindful space and keeps us right-sized. And of course, PRACTICE YOGA. Sometimes feeling like I HAVE to get on the mat makes me cranky. There are poses that I know will instantly make me feel better and for some reason I resist mentally. I shift that thinking into I GET to practice yoga. Really, it’s a luxurious indulgence. Restorative poses are so relaxing and so pampering it feels decadent and like they can’t possibly be healing, but they’re hugely healing and I urge you to do one at least everyday. For visuals on helpful poses for anxiety check out A Yogi Kitchen at Pinterest. 

anIf you’re struggling with anxiety symptoms there is help. Whether you choose medication, traditional therapy, holistic therapies, mindfulness or Yoga for Anxiety as your primary form of healing, I believe layering modalities is the most effective and the quickest way to feel better fast.

Next post: How I Talk Myself Down.


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