Two Exercises and Some Practice Lines

Have you said or thought any of the following recently?

“I’m losing control…I’m cracking up…I can’t cope…I’ve got to get out…Everything bothers me…I can’t stop my heart from beating…I can’t breathe…All my muscles ache…My palms are constantly sweaty…I’m jumpy and I can’t get rid of the “butterflies in my stomach.”

You are more than likely experiencing symptoms of anxiety. In this FamilyMatters issue, we are going to be giving three tools to better help you handle the anxiety you are feeling.

Living with or caring for a person with a serious illness is an inherently stressful undertaking that affects both individuals and families. It is an extremely rare person who does not experience some form of worry and concern about his or her loved one’s medical condition and physical decline. The classic sign of anxiety is tension – both physical and emotional. Anxiety comes upon us when our bodies and minds respond to threatening and frightening occurrences. While much anxiety is often unpleasant and uncomfortable, it is important to remember that it is our body’s normal response to perceived danger.

However, when anxiety becomes severe, persistent, and unrelenting, it can become disabling and interfere with our ability to perform normal activities and tasks. Please consider speaking to one of your hospice professionals about the anxiety you are experiencing. Sometimes this simple act of sharing can have an enormous impact when you hear from an objective, non-judgmental observer that your feelings are a normal and understandable reaction to a highly stressful situation. Sometimes, if the anxiety is more severe, medications can help you get over a difficult stretch.

Two Exercises

Below are two exercises that can help you relax. They often work in just a few minutes.

1. Abdominal Breathing

Abdominal breathing is the one of the most effective ways to relax quickly. By breathing with your diaphragm, you will immediately signal your autonomic nervous system to relax. Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Take some slow, deep breaths into the belly. It’s helpful, but not essential, to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. If you are doing abdominal breathing correctly, the lower hand should move as much or more than the hand on your chest. Continue this slow, deep breathing for a couple of minutes, imagining the breath calming your body and clearing your mind. When you are practicing relaxation, choose an image that conveys peace and comfort. For example, think about a favorite spot in nature or a favorite vacation place. Some patients have told me that they think upon a reassuring scripture verse that they have memorized. Every time you do the abdominal breathing, call up that image or verse as you become relaxed. Let all of the qualities of that symbol fill your awareness. Practice calling up that image at various points during your day.

2. Changing Your Thoughts with Positive Self-Talk

The way we talk to ourselves about a situation greatly affects our coping ability. Each of us “talks” to ourselves about a variety of situations and we offer unheard commentaries on an ongoing basis. This is called “self talk”. “Self talk” can be either positive or negative. If we can learn to increase our positive self-talk when we feel anxious, our ability to cope will be greatly enhanced. Here are two examples of this change in thinking:

Instead of, “Oh no – here it comes again – what’s the matter with me?”, consider saying, “I’m experiencing anxiety symptoms. I’ll be ok”.

Instead of, “I’m weak for not being able to handle this situation”, substitute the following, “It takes courage for me to face this problem”.

Abraham Lincoln seemed to understand the importance of self-talk. In an address on September 30, 1859, Lincoln told the audience, “It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: ‘And this, too, shall pass.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!

Practice Your Lines

Like an actor in a movie, it helps to learn your lines before the big scene. Practice saying these statements before anxiety strikes. Then, when the real thing occurs, you will know your lines and can start changing your verbal response to your feelings. The following statements are useful lines to say to yourself when facing anxiety-provoking situations.