Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Should I Be Anxious?

There are a LOT of statistics making the rounds of the Internet, some with no references to back-up the data, some reported by the American Institute of Stress and re-reported in ezine articles. One I've just read states that 75 - 90% of all doctor's visits are caused by stress-related illness. Headaches, high blood pressure, back pain, heartburn, ulcers--there can be a stress component to these and many more physical complaints. Even if only half the statistics are true, they are enough to tell us that stress, and the accompanying anxiety or anger, can affect our health, our mood, our lives.

We know that everyone has stress in their lives--caregivers have their own unique versions of stress--but the important factor is how we handle that stress, the anxiety, the anger.

In June 2010, ABC News did a report on anger management and Dr. Redford Williams from Duke University shared a 4-question check that you can take when you're feeling angry. I think it works just as well for anxiety. When you feel irritated or get that stomach-churning nervous feeling, ask yourself:
  1. What situation is triggering this feeling? Is this an important situation? Is someone in danger? Is there some injustice happening? Is it important to my well-being?
  2. Is it appropriate to be angry/anxious in this situation? Would my friends get angry in this situation? Would anyone feel anxious?
  3. Is the situation modifiable? Can I change anything about what's happening?
  4. Given the circumstances and possible consequences, is it worth it to do anything in this situation? Should I act on my anger/anxiety?

Pay close attention to Question 3. For caregivers, especially those of us who like to be in control, this is usually the most important question. In caregiving, we must often accept that we can not do anything in the current circumstance.

A "No" to any one of these questions, Dr. Williams says, means that the situation does not warrant intense emotion or action. Take a couple of deep breaths, remind yourself this is life with some frustration thrown in, use any mini-vacation techniques that work for you.

Four "Yes" answers, however, mean that this is probably a situation where your anger or anxiety is justified, and you should consider acting to change the situation.

I don't have many anger flare-ups, but I am a master of anxiety. I can get tied in knots about the smallest things. But when I use the 4-question check, I can objectively judge whether I need to be anxious about the situation or just LIB (Let it Be). Nine times out of ten, it's an LIB. For Number 10, I try to decide if I need to change or whether I need to influence the situation.

In caregiving, there are many opportunities for stirring the anxiety pot, but the 4-question check can help you calm that pot and realize that you can save your anxiety for another day.

Ah-h-h. That feels good!

Blessings on your caregiving.

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