You’re afraid of breaking a hip when you fall. You’re saying good-bye to dear friends, who’ve lost their battle with cancer. You worry if you’re forgetting words like you always have, or if it’s becoming a pattern.
You do what you can to stay optimistic. You look for what you can control. You exercise. You focus on staying connected with people and being active. You do Sudoku and read voraciously.
Then, someone in your community commits an act of terror, or you watch vicious violence occurring in the streets. Whether it seems due to religion, race, hatred, fear or lack of conscience, your view of the world can become frightening.
All you have to do is hear about it. Imagine it. Especially if you’ve had any psychological or emotional trauma or abuse in the past, your sensitivity to violence may be greater than normal.
After 9/11, I helped patients who couldn’t get the falling buildings, smoke, or people jumping to their deaths out of their minds. And they lived nowhere near New York City. They had only watched it on TV.
You can begin having nightmares or flashbacks, which are symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. You can become very anxious, and never go to movie theaters or malls. Your life can become smaller and smaller. When this becomes severe, it can develop into agoraphobia, literally a “fear of the marketplace,” which pragmatically means you don’t leave your home.
Many people will not develop these symptoms. Most find a way of coping. Yet even in the best cases, innocence may vanish, and trust in others become diminished.
What can you do? It’s important, because connection and engagement with others has been consistently shown to fend off not only depression, but a myriad of other problems as we age. Isolation is not your friend.
Reid Wilson, an American expert on anxiety, states, you have to change what you’re thinking in order to manage your fear. Although it may seem counterintuitive, you don’t wish the fear or anxiety away. You have to manage it. Work with it.
Other than medication, here are some ways to manage anxiety and not allow fears to govern your life.
Just a few minutes of meditation a day can make a huge difference in your ability to detach from your anxiety. There are guided meditation apps like Headspace or 10% Happier that can help you practice.
There are many techniques to deal with anxiety. CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, or EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, are two that immediately come to mind. Therapy offers a supportive relationship, where you can discuss your fears and gain more perspective on them. Whatever anxiety you have, you can practice slowly confronting it.
Decreasing anxiety is just one of the bountiful benefits of getting moving. Aerobic exercise, where you work up a good sweat, is a wonderful stress reliever.
What you focus on can become more real in your own mind. And if you only focus on painful things, then you can stay sad or overwhelmed. A vital skill to living well is “compartmentalizing,” meaning that you are able to put painful feelings or experiences away, to box them up so to speak, so that you can focus on other, more important or enjoyable things in the present moment. When you have the time to work through those feelings, you get that “box” down again.
Creating your own beauty, being involved with building something or growing something can be a wonderful antidote to worry and fear. Whether it’s planting a garden, being in a play, or learning how to sculpt, there is something calming about creation. It can provide balance.
We all have our own little bit of wisdom. Talking with friends about how they’re handling getting older, or any anxiety they may have about the state of the world can help you widen your own understanding, and gain a new attitude or idea.
If you’re involved with efforts in your church or your community to help those in need, it gives you a sense of purpose. And that very purpose can keep your thinking and attitude more positive. When you see and are involved in making positive change in your own world, it can counteract a sense of futility or despair.
What strategies do you use to face your fears and worries? How do you cope with viewing negative and traumatic events in the media? Have you been able to connect with others to share experiences? Please share and connect in the comments.