Anxiety: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. (Merriam-Webster.com)
Fear: an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. (Merriam-Webster.com)
Worry: to give way to anxiety or unease; allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles. (Merriam-Webster.com)
Throughout the years of dealing with people I love who are in the grip of addiction, one area of struggle for me has been the worries, anxieties and fear.
What are the differences? For me anxiety seems to be the undercurrent of nervousness that never truly leaves me when I have concerns on my heart. Fears rise up when relevant circumstances are triggered or appear to have intensified. And worry is giving in to the fear and anxiety, thereby ruminating upon them for an extend length of time until the effects become physical.
Effects of worry include but are not limited to:
· Difficulty swallowing
· Dry mouth
· Fast heartbeat
· Inability to concentrate
· Muscle aches
· Muscle tension
· Nervous energy
· Rapid breathing
· Shortness of breath
· Trembling and twitching
When excess fuel in the blood isn’t used for physical activities, the chronic anxiety and outpouring of stress hormones can have serious physical consequences, including:
· Suppression of the immune system
· Digestive disorders
· Muscle tension
· Short-term memory loss
· Premature coronary artery disease
· Heart attack
If excessive worrying and high anxiety go untreated, they can lead to depression and even suicidal thoughts. – WebMD
How Do I Cope?
So with some of my close loved ones involved in addiction and high-risk lifestyles, how do I personally cope with the stress so that it does not spiral into a great depression? My methods of coping vary by degree just as my levels of fear and worry tend to.
1. The first thing I do when I catch my mind racing with terrifying worst case scenarios is to focus on my breath. Letting oxygen completely fill my lungs, flooding my extremities and then slowly exhaling a few times has a calming effect almost instantly.
Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure. (HarvardHealth.edu)
2. After working on calming myself through breath, I then turn to my self-talk. What am I saying to myself? Am I dwelling on something that has already happened? Or am I predicting a terrible outcome in days ahead? Just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, working herself up over the “lions and tigers and bears! Oh my!”… I can find my mind swirling with anxieties and worries and fears. At the end of the movie, she discovers her fears were magnified.
My fears are very often magnified. I bring my mind into the current moment. Is my son alive and well today? Well then today is a good day. As I said in my book “Unhooked,” I can’t run alongside every car he is in to make sure he isn’t killed in a car accident any more than I can hover around him to be sure he doesn’t die of an overdose. I have to ask myself if I am okay, if things are bearable, safe and comfortable right now. If the answer is yes, I calm myself into knowing I can handle things for at least another hour. And then another and then another, until I make it through the day.
Some of the best advice I ever heard in the midst of catastrophic times was “Do the next right thing, for the next 15 minutes…over and over again.” Before I know it, I’m getting through it.
When dealing with the dysfunction that surrounds substance abuse, everything seems to be a crisis. There can be daily urgencies to triage. It often feels like constant level 10 stress. Managing yourself within the chaos can literally save your life. Doing what it takes to calm myself down typically spreads calm to my surroundings. I only have to focus on getting through this day. Tomorrow hasn’t happened yet and my mind has no business traveling into it.
“You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself, the storm will pass.” ~ Timber Hawkeye
Wishing you peace within life’s storms,
Annie Highwater is a Writer, Speaker, Podcast Host and Family Advocate. She has a particular interest in family pathology and concepts of dysfunction, addiction, alcoholism and conflict. Annie published her memoir, Unhooked: A Mother’s Story of Unhitching from the Roller Coaster of Her Son’s Addiction, in 2016. Her story sheds light on the personal challenges facing the affected parents and family members, and illustrates how family dynamics both help and hinder the recovery process. Annie’s second book, Unbroken, Navigating the Madness of Family Dysfunction, Addiction, Alcoholism and Heartache was published in August of 2018. She resides in Columbus, Ohio and enjoys writing, long distance running, hiking, the great outdoors and visiting her son in California as often as possible.