We all hear the buzzword anxiety; we hear statistics like one out of three people will battle with it throughout their lifetime. What is anxiety, its causes, a Torah prospective, and how to go about overcoming it?
Almost every normal person will experience anxiety and/or its related conditions during their lifetime to some degree. Usually in anticipation of a big transition, like the birth of a child, loss of a job, before a medical procedure, walking down a dark alley or public speaking. A third of the population will experience it to a degree that it affects daily living and the productivity of their life. It ranks as the number one diagnosis in emergency rooms across the USA. And the primary medication used to treat anxiety is the most prescribed medication in America. Anxiety has a few faces, many complain of a feeling of agitation that sufferers describe as a black cloud over their heads at all times. Others experience a feeling if impending doom. Some common symptoms that accompany anxiety in general are, intense inner nervousness and fear, tightness of throat and shortness of breath, dry mouth, heart palpitations, uncontrollable obsessive scary thoughts, sleep problems, nausea, chest discomfort, dizziness, feeling of unreality, numbness or tingling in the extremities, hot flashes and chills, shortness of breath, and muscle tension. Very commonly the sufferer will avoid public places or certain situations that may invoke the feeling of anxiety, thereby making their living world smaller and smaller. Another common form is when one experiences intrusive, persistent, irrational, thoughts or impulses. In an effort to minimize or cope with these nagging thoughts the sufferer engages in repetitive behaviors and rituals to control their anxiety.
Anxiety is one of the most painful conditions that one can experience, but fortunately also the most curable. The most effective way to treat anxiety today is CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) it is the science of making changes to your thinking patterns and behaviors in a systematic way to more positive ones, that don’t provoke anxiety. CBT has an 85-99% success rate based on different studies done for different forms of anxiety. In other words you can look forward to at the least an 85% reduction in your suffering if not better in many cases.
The torah says in the third parsha of shema “velo susuru achrei levavchem vechrei eineichem asher atem zonim achrayhem” this posuk describes the Yeter Horah’s tactics to keep from doing our Tafkid in this world. He distracts us from the only thing we have any power to control or affect, and that’s our precious present moment. One tactic is “Ochrei Levevchem” he creates emotions of fear that we feel in our heart, he then has us living in the future. Or feelings of guilt that has us living in the past. Either way we are living in fantasy, because we can only control the precious present moment, and we are not living in it, when the Yetzer Horah has us living in the past or future it robs us from experiencing Simcha and Menuchas Hanafesh in our lives. To avoid this pitfall we need to learn how to stay in precious present moment and how to control our focus to stay on track and keep moving in the direction you want to move in. The skills to accomplish this can be learned rather quickly and in most cases within weeks.
Many successful interventions are based on the concept of modeling, since the brain is neutral piece of equipment and be used in many ways from a rasha extreme to lahavdil a gadol hador, if you were to examine a rasha and a tzadiks brains in an x-ray you would find them to look the same. The difference is the programs that run in them, and not the actual hardware. Furthermore if you were to interview 10,000 anxiety sufferers you would find that they all think in the same patterns. And then if you interviewed 10,000 non-anxiety sufferers you would find that they too have common patterns. So the reason why you use the thinking patterns you do is not nearly as important to getting help as the way you need to think in the future to become a non anxiety sufferer.
I would like to share some skills you can put to work right away and see improvement. Most people just complain that they are not happy with their current situation. I compare this to getting into a taxi and when the driver turns on the meter and asks where are you headed? You answer, not here! You will then find yourself driving for hours while the meter is rolling and you will still not be anywhere because you never gave him an address. However if you have an address the driver can drive you there rather quickly. Ask yourself, if I got up tomorrow morning and my anxiety was gone, how would it be better? You need to create clear images as to where you want to go. Come up with ten ways life would be better; each one should be a clear picture of how you want life to be, For example, if one of your reasons is that you will be able to get up and enjoy the process of getting ready for the day, you need see in your minds eye a clear image of getting up tomorrow morning and feeling great, how does it feel? How do like it? How does your face look? How are others responding? The more real you see it and the more of your five senses you can incorporate in your mental imagery, the quicker you will see the results and relief you are looking for. You will find that you will start moving towards the ten mental images you’ve created. Do this exercise daily, spend about one minute on each image. In just ten minutes a day, you will be giving your brain a clear message of where you want to go. Chazal say that we gravitate after our mind, so here you are affecting the direction you mind will be headed thereby also leading the direction the rest of your daily thoughts will follow. Now that you have embarked on your journey to overcome your anxiety may the hashem help that you merit a complete speedy recovery.