“Anxiety is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.” — Jodi Picoult
Dr. Barrett, a top cardiothoracic surgeon in Long Island, NY, was a great mentor to me during my residency. Every time he ran into me or one of my colleagues, he asked, “Please tell me, what did you learn today?” Only then, did he begin his teaching rounds. We were all inspired by his relentless passion for learning and self-improvement. To this day, after more than fifteen years, I am inspired by his teachings.
During these stressful and uncertain times, I reflect on Dr. Barrett’s constant reminders to keep learning and growing. It is natural to feel frustration and insecurity when we face new challenges. And, it is natural to fear the unknown.
However, there are tools we can learn to help manage our fear and to even make fear work for us.
It works like this. Fear quickly triggers powerful stress reactions that can be helpful in situations of physical threat or danger. However, we are rarely facing immediate physical threats in our daily lives. Yet, we are often triggered by fear of the unknown to feel intense anxiety that becomes harmful to our minds and bodies. So, how can we help ourselves by redirecting our anxious energy?
Because fear is a form of energy and energy can be converted from one form to another, there are strategies we can use to harness fear to move us in different and more positive directions. Once we bring our fear to light and face it, we can use it as an energy source. There are many different techniques to achieve this. II am a big believer that any type of physical activity will be helpful in alleviating stressful anxiety, including: walking, biking, swimming or yoga. Many doctors recommend 30 minutes per day, 4-5 times per week of exercise. I like to discuss “chair exercises” with my senior patients or people with mobility limitations. Even better, chair exercises can be done in the comfort of your home, especially if you have access to a computer.
I have discovered some people find it helpful to keep an “anxiety diary.” This is a good place to set small goals for yourself and even record your feelings. Here is a tip. When you are overwhelmed, Jot down your anxious feelings, and then practice one of your “strategies.” Then, record how you feel. Consider carrying a small list of strategies that help when you are feeling frightened, such as: relaxation or breathing techniques, self-massage, and many other complementary therapies. It is becoming recognized that being religious or spiritual helps people feel connected with themselves and others.
Please, never hesitate to contact your doctor when you need extra support. In addition, talk therapies, such as counseling or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, are very effective ways to manage anxiety and other nervous conditions. Drug treatments can also be used successfully. And, these methods are even more effective when combined with other supportive therapies, such as joining a local support group. Don’t forget that having friends to confide in is important. Getting together with people with similar experiences offers mutual support and comfort and helps reduce anxiety.
Here is what I think Dr. Barrett would say to all of us, “Use your problem or any obstacle you face as a chance to grow and don’t forget the power of a smile.”
- Nilfar Karimova, MD of Internal Medicine at Jefferson County Health Center