The poet, W. H. Auden, dubbed
our time as "the Age of Anxiety". Anxiety is indeed the predominant emotion
of our time and there is every indication that as we move toward and beyond
Y2K that a general and pervasive anxiety will continue to grip the hearts and
minds of growing numbers of people.
As I do training and speaking
in dozens of companies, associations and government organizations every year,
and have done so over the past two decades, I can state from experience that
clinical levels of anxiety are approaching epidemic levels in the workplace.
It is a significant but invisible cost to practically every organization.
It is invisible because
those who suffer from it don't tend to talk about it. They are afraid of what's
happening and believe that only they are suffering from this problem. Because
they keep it to themselves, they don't discover that it is a common problem.
In just about every workplace group in which I have asked the question "How
many people would like to have more control over anxiety or panic attacks?"
roughly 50% of every group will raise their hands!
Just imagine what the effect
is upon productivity and performance when people are severely limited in their
physical, mental and emotional functioning because of the overriding anxiety
that they will "lose it", "go crazy" or be unable to meet the demands of their
job. It creates a tragic downward spiral that serves no one, often destroys
careers, and impairs the bottom line.
One of the major causes
of this anxiety is the chronic stress that characterizes our time. Constant
unremitting low-level stress cannot be avoided in today's workplace. It wears
heavily upon the adrenal glands which work overtime pumping out the hormone
adrenaline to keep us alert and aroused and productive.
In the short term, the flow
of adrenaline enhances our performance. Over the long term, the wear and tear
caused by the continual adrenaline rush wreaks havoc on the various systems
of the body and mind. One of several problems medically linked to chronic stress
is anxiety and panic. And, one of the most effective ways to counteract this
problem is to learn how to effectively shut down the stress reaction through
simple self-regulatory techniques like conscious breathing.
When you begin to deliberately
breathe slowly and deeply into the bottom part of the lungs, the reactive anxious
state begins to recede. The controlled breathing redirects the flow of hormones
through the endocrine system and measurably reduces the anxious state.
Jack is a paramedical ambulance
attendant who suffered from anxiety attacks for two and a half years. His prescribed
anti-anxiety medication worked well when he would get an anxiety attack but
he discovered that they were coming more frequently and the medication was useless
in heading them off.
Despairing and skeptical,
he learned the art and science of deeply relaxing his body and mind and used
conscious breathing as the way to release his daily stress. To his astonishment,
not only could he stop his anxiety attacks as they began to happen but, within
four weeks, they completely disappeared from his life! His joy at this occurrence
Recently taking a patient
with a suspected heart attack to the hospital, Jack began to comfort the patient
by guiding him through the simple breathing exercise that had worked so well
for him. By the time the ambulance arrived at the emergency ward, the patient
was free of all symptoms. The astounded patient turned to Jack and thanked him.
Jack said don't thank me, thank the breathing.
In truth, most people who
employ conscious breathing are truly thankful for the gift of having it in their