Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Worry versus anxiety

What follows is my opinion and is not necessarily shared by any othersocial science specialists. It relates more to psychology and medicine than to sociology, my specialty. However, it results from my studies of these subjects at a community level.

Worry and anxiety are two terms that find their way frequently into modern discussions, self-help books, medical consultations and popular literature. It might be valuable to define what these terms mean so that those discussing them or thinking about them will be on common ground with others.

In general, we worry about someone else and we have anxiety about ourselves. Exceptions abound, but this is a good place to begin.

Worry is a state of mind that might occupy our thoughts and dominate how we see life and act toward others. Anxiety is a whole-body state, where adrenaline (epinephrin) and other harmful chemicals surge through the bloodstream, resulting in contracted muscles, aching nerves and a heightened belief that something tragic is imminent.

Both worry and anxiety can be controlled, with practice.

With worry, we can persuade ourselves that the person we are worrying about will be well and safe, or that the financial difficulties will sort themselves out, or that we will find another job, or that our relationship with another person will improve or we will find another person to replace one that is no longer in our lives. It's a matterof what we believe will happen, rather than concerning ourselves withwhat might but will likely not happen.

Anxiety is harder to control because it involves the collapse of logic, a feeling of desperation or hopelessness, and because regaining control of the functions of the whole body takes longer.

Anxiety takes it toll on the immune system, which is what keeps disease from taking hold and our cells from mutating.

Worry can be stopped simply by refusing to think negatively about the subject. With anxiety, we must control the systems that produce the chemicals that have taken over our body, then wait for the chemicals to flush themselves out.

Many people believe that the easiest way to get rid of anxiety is to take drugs, prescribed legal drugs or illegal ones. The results of this form of medication are the same for everyone--there may be some temporary relief from the anxiety, but more problems are created in the process.

Many people in high stress jobs find relief from their stress by running. Runners get a "runner's high", a blast of endorphins that makes them feel good and at peace with themselves and the world. The same release of calming chemicals through the body can take place with exertion, such as by weight lifting or other forms of active execise. This relief from stress is the same process that we need to employ to relieve ourselves from anxiety. In other words, work is the best medicine, so long as we are working our bodies, not our minds.

Getting control of anxiety within us requires a great deal of self control. There is nothing easy about it. But it can be done if we only give ourselves one choice, the choice to end the anxiety.

As with worry, to relieve anxiety we must believe what we decide in our minds or the problem will not go away.

Both worry and anxiety require a great deal of energy, so a person suffering from either may be tired much of the time.

A person with either may not make sense and may not make wise decisions, so encouraging that person to avoid making life-altering decisions is necessary at that time.

As with addictions, both worry and anxiety return when the conditions that created them at first return. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous consider themselves to be lifetime alcoholics. A worrier or someonewho suffers from anxiety must also be prepared to face these down at any time.

Giving in to them is harmful. Given what they do to the immune system, giving in to worry or anxiety (worry may turn into anxiety) could be a slow form of torture, even suicide.

Watch for the warning signs. Anyone who is not acting as they usually do is giving you a sign.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems

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