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Taming Anxiety
By Eli Bay   Printer Friendly Version

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 was unbounded.

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 lives.

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