Conquering the Anxiety Monster

this monster is harmless, but the anxiety monster is not (click for source)

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 40 million American adults ages 18 and older, or about 18.1 percent of adults, suffer from an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders run the gamut from panic disorder to PTSD, OCD, phobias, separation anxiety, etc.

The monster that affects my life is generalized anxiety, which does not disrupt day-to-day life the way that PTSD or panic disorder does, but can still be distracting and upsetting.

I have noticed a significant increase in my ability to deal with anxiety as my yoga practice has grown. Three main things I’ve learned through yoga have helped: deep breathing, staying in the present (mindfulness), and a focus on acceptance. These things can help shove the anxiety monster to the background, instead of letting it stand on my toes and loom over me.

However, thinking about an upcoming travel weekend full of airports and airplanes makes me wonder if I might have the anxiety monster staring me straight in the face for a few hours. I did some googling and found a mindfulness exercise called “5-4-3-2-1” that is aimed to help you take control of the present:

Say “I see” and name something in your line of sight. Continue until you have named five things.

Say “I hear” and name something you hear. Continue until you have named five things.

Say “I feel” and name something you feel.  Continue until you have named five things.

Next, repeat and switch to four statements, then three, then two, and finally one thing you see, hear, and feel.

The idea is that if you focus your mind on current external stimuli, instead of catastrophizing and anticipating the future, you will help your body leave the “fight or flight” state that stress induces.

If any of you also deal with anxiety, try this exercise and let me know what you think. I’m going to try to remember it if I feel like my airplane is going to crash at any point this weekend. : )



12 responses to “Conquering the Anxiety Monster

  1. I too live with the GAD monster. We have found a mutually compatible ground thanks to exercises like this.

    Much lover from one GADder to another ;)

  2. much lover? r, j… i didnt know :) much congratulationers!

  3. oh my goodness, that was so snarky. i take it back!

  4. Emma you crack me up :-D

    Back to the subject: I think I’m going to try and remember this exercise, especially with evening classes finals coming up.
    Stress before exams or traveling is not something I handle very well yet, even though yoga has definitely had positive effects on my anxiety in general.


  5. I wish you wouldn’t have gotten so many genes from your Dad’s side. :(

  6. Do children suffer from anxiety disorder too, or is it just us old folks?

    I never had anxiety issues until some traumatic events in my life a few years ago. After that I started having anxiety fits, although I’ve only ever had one or two all-out attacks (losing my marbles, you might say ;) ). Yoga has helped me hugely in dealing with these kinds of feelings through breathing, and also through the philosophy of taking one moment at a time. My anxiety is definitely PTSD-related but at what point does it stop being that and become general?

    I’ve never really thought much about it to be honest, I just kind of took it on board as a new part of who I am. So thanks for making me take a second look at it with this great post.

    Oh, and I HATE flying more and more every year. Sucks that I picked a lifestyle that requires me to fly long haul several times a year and short haul once every few months. My solution? Mandatory yoga the morning of the flight (if it’s too early, the night before). Lots of deep breaths. Deep seated stretches in the waiting lounge (also good conversation starters). Calming poses like Utanasana in the aisle. And if it gets really bad – beer or wine. ;)

    Have fun this weekend!

  7. I’m not sure how helpful this will be, and I’m certainly not discounting the anxiety you feel, but the following quote helps me a lot when I’m starting down that “what if” road that, for me, can spiral out of control if I don’t get a handle on it:

    “Worry does not empty tomorrow of sorrow – it empties today of strength.”

    I hope you have a fabulous trip – San Francisco is one of my most favorite places!

  8. Thanks for talking about this. There’s still way too much shame and stigma surrounding this stuff. Especially since people don’t understand that anxiety is a diagnosable problem for some people.

    I have a friend who has a pretty severe anxiety disorder, and I’ve seen him suffer so much. I wish there was more awareness about it, and I definitely recognize through being around him how important being able to calm yourself down and focus on your breath is. Breathing was actually really hard for him sometimes.

  9. Oh my goodness I LOVE the exercise you suggested! What a wonderful way to slow things down and be in the moment!

  10. Hey Jamie!
    Im new to your blog………. I know this is off topic, but I have to know– DID YOU BUY LULU??!!! I used to be in the same boat as you . . . decrying the capitalist sharks of LuLu and the richie obviously non-yogi peeps who wear their clothes. It was all…dare I say…ENVY! Seeking from every pore and claiming to be self-righteous!

    Well then I began training in the Iyengar Yoga tradition. And in that style, they require skin-tight to the ANKLE yoga pants. Now…. you can only imagine how non-flattering these can possibly be. And Im sorry..I tried every no-name brand on the planet and they ALL sucked. So, did you go for it??!! I feel so awesome in my LuLus that they’re worth every penny. AND, a total tax write off at that.
    Check out my blog! hope to see you there!

    • Hi! I did not buy lulu but I’m still shopping. I ordered some capris from prAna which I’m waiting to get in and I bought a Lucy top!

  11. As LaGitane stated, I have also noticed that my anxiety has ramped up quite a bit in the last 5 years after two very traumatic experiences. After fighting the idea of being a “loony” for quite awhile, I, too, am trying to adopt it as a part of who I am today.

    I also agree with LaGitane that beer and wine helps a lot! :)

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