In a crisis, when everybody else gets very, very
you have to become the calmest person in the room
so you can figure a way out of the situation.
This was Mayor Rudy Giuliani's father's advice to his son.
The mayor said that on Sept 11, his father's "voice was in my head".
We can't live in fear. We live in fearful times
but you have to live your life. So, live it to the fullest.
Lolita Jackson, Associate Vice President, Morgan Stanley
and survivor of 2 attacks on the World Trade Center
in an interview with the Daily Pennsylvanian (9/11/02)
Although this page is about reducing anxiety it is important to note that worrying about things is very important. There is value to anxiety and paranoia. If I had been more worried about an observation I once made, a very wonderful person might be alive today, one who died as a result of a preventable accident. I was fired from a job because I didn't worry more about messages I was getting from software I was using. I think the kitten of a friend of mine died by drinking spoiled milk, I had seen signs that the milk was spoiling but I didn't worry enough about it to take action. Having said this the alternative of being constantly anxious is not good either. The value of anxiety in viewing the world situation, especially in deciding who to vote for, for president, was discussed in an article by Charles Krauthammer in Time Magazine 10/13/04 called The Case For Fear Mongering.
Although anxiety is a defense it can be a self defeating defense. One may be anxious about how one will perform in a challenging situation and that anxiety may impair one's performance. A perfect example is the women's figure skating competition in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. After the short program Michele Kwan was in first place and Sarah Hughes was in fourth place. The gold medal was in her reach and there was tremendous pressure on Michelle to get the gold. Michelle was tight (probably due to anxiety) and she fell. Sarah Hughes won the gold medal with an incredible performance. The following is my transcription of a short interview of Sarah Hughes after her gold medal winning performance.
Meanwhile Beth Ruliac is with Sarah Hughes. Thanks Tom. Sarah you just lived out every little girls dream what was that like? Sarah: Oh my god. It was, You know I went out and I just wanted to have fun ... I am always so focussed and always worried about my jumps and here I said you know to heck with it. ..You know I was just in shock I had never ever skated that well in my whole life...
Sarah Hughes skated her best when she didn't worry about her jumps. In addition to athletic performance, anxiety can interfere with social and probably financial success as well. In job interviews if a candidate appears too nervous the interviewer is likely to worry that the candidate's lack of confidence is due to the candidate's incompetence. In dating situations women and men find lack of self confidence unattractive.
Geoffrey Cowley wrote an article in Newsweek (2/24/03) called Our Bodies Our Fears after Tom Ridge put the nation on a terrorist alert. One of the topics in the article was how the body responds to fear:
The fear system's command center is the amygdala, a small almond shaped structure that rests near the center of the brain...Once it perceives a threat, it can trigger a body wide emergency response within milliseconds. Jolted by impulses from the amygdala, the nearby hypothalamus produces a hormone called corticotropin releasing factor , or CRF, which signals the pituitary and adrenal glands to flood the bloodstream with epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine and cortisol. Those stress hormones then shut down nonemergency services such as digestion and immunity, and direct the body's resources to fighting or fleeing....
You wouldn't want it any other way. Yet as researchers learn more about the fear response, they're also learning more about the huge cost it imposes...
Mr. Cowley quotes Harvard neurologist Martin Samuels as saying:
Norepinephrine is toxic to tissues - probably all tissues, but in particular the heart.
Mr. Cowley writes:
Constant, low grade adrenaline baths may subtly damage the heart, raising the long-term risk of cardiovascular disease. Continuous exposure to cortisol can dampen the immune system, leaving stressed people more vulnerable to infections and possibly even cancer. Stress hormones can harm the brain too, severing connections between neurons. In both human and animal studies, researchers have found that prolonged stress also shrinks the hippocampus, a brain structure that plays critical roles in processing and storing information.
These are all good reasons to try to not be anxious. The same Newsweek Issue had an article called Coping with Anxiety, which mentioned ways to deal with anxiety including yoga, meditative breathing, massage, exercise, listening to music, watching funny shows, discussing your anxiety with others and cognitive therapy.
A generally approach for dealing with emotional distress is to evaluate what the emotional distress is warning about, to take a course of action to deal with that and then to tell oneself that if one is doing what one can, feeling more emotional distress will not be helpful. In his book, The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama discusses how he finds a similar method useful for dealing with anxiety. he says
One of the approaches that I personally find useful ... is to cultivate the thought: If the situation or problem is such that it can be remedied then there is no need to worry about it. In other words, if there is a solution or a way out of the difficulty, then one needn't be overwhelmed by it. The appropriate action is to seek its solution. It is more sensible to spend the energy focusing on the solution rather than worrying about the problem. Alternatively, if there is no way out, no solution, no possibility of resolution, then there is also no point in being worried about it, because you can't do anything about it anyway. In that case, the sooner you accept this fact, the easier it will be on you.
Another approach for dealing with anxiety suggested by the Dalai Lama is discussed in the shyness web page. Further discussion of ways of dealing with anxiety are on the stress page of this web site.
c o p y r i g h t ( c ) 1 9 9 9 - 2004 Karl Ericson Enterprises. All rights reserved
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