CONTROLLING ANXIETY AND WORRY WITHOUT DRUGS: THE CASE OF MARION
When I met Marion she was 58, overweight, depressed and constantly worrying. Her worrying part was very busy keeping her up at night trying to solve the problems of her life and her relationships. And, often this worrying part would drive her into panic attacks that physically stopped her in her tracks. When we met for our first session, she had just decided to take her Doctor’s recommendation and go to a Psychiatrist for medication because she was so frightened by these panic attacks.
But, Marion was ready to get over this! She had just moved to Colorado to be with her daughter and her grandchildren and she was not interested in being debilitated by this worry any more in her life. She had been dealing with this since she was a teenager. As we first started talking, we discovered that she could simply slow down this worry by slowing down her thinking. I taught her how to do belly breathing and a very simple breathing practice that she started using immediately when she was feeling the anxiety coming up in her stomach. She was able to notice when she slowed down with the breathing the thoughts slowed down too. Making the connection with her tightness in her belly and the racing thoughts that corresponded allowed her to pay closer attention. This attention was the beginning of Marion slowing down her automatic thoughts that fed her anxiety in her stomach.
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is the basis of what I taught Marion with the use of CDs that gave her mindfulness practices to do on a regular basis. The MBCT program is designed to help folks learn how to pay attention and with this focus begin to stop the automatic thoughts that usually accompany worry. By stopping the process of the automatic thoughts, Marion was able to learn how to feel the feelings that were causing the anxiety in her stomach, without having to go to her head and think it away. That is what the worry was all about—trying to get rid of the feelings that were troubling her. As Marion started practicing mindfulness regularly with these cds, her panic attacks began to subside. .
With this tool of mindfulness, Marion was able to start noticing her feelings and the fact that they had been there a long time. She started letting those “Parts”
talk, which we do in a process called Internal Family Systems Therapy, which helped Marion stay in the present moment and release the painful feelings that were stuck in these parts she identified inside her. As she was able to stay present with those parts and hear their stories, she was able to process successfully the trauma and pain that they were holding that were driving her anxiety and worry.
As we did this deeper work, she began to feel calmer and more peaceful. She asked the next week if she could go off of her medications and try to work with the anxiety when it comes up by using these new tools. I agreed it might be the right time to try this.
Marion was able to stay off her medications and come to therapy bi-monthly and we kept working with the parts that kept coming up needing her attention. I practiced with her and taught other mindfulness practices with her to help her stay connected to herself better and to be present to her feelings when they arose, rather than needing to go into her head and worry and avoid the feelings. She was able to notice when she went into her “worry mode” and was able to slow herself down and be curious about what feelings might be there that she was avoiding.
This process of slowing down, becoming curious, staying mindful, going into the difficult feelings were all tools she learned in this process to avoid getting more anxious. After a year, Marion stepped back to monthly visits and has gotten off all of her medications. She no longer feels depressed or anxious on a regular basis, but when something feels challenging to her, she is able to use these tools of MBSR and parts work to slow down and get out of the “worry mode” and into just being present and open.
Judith Orloff, MD, has four action steps she calls “SPIRITUAL STRATEGIES TO LIFT ANXIETY AND WORRY”:
1) Change your thinking – What is the greater meaning of this worry? For Ex: I’m worried my daughter will always be depressed” may be a lesson in doing everything you can to help, then learning the power of prayer, trusting you’ve done your best to give her tools, and letting go.
2) Be in the NOW – Anxious thoughts project you into the future. Say to yourself,
“Just for today, I can be happy!”
3) Meditate on the deep calm within. No matter how anxious you feel, calm is your deepest center. Think of contacting it as a spiritual experience to treasure. Finding calm means going deeper within. Try visualizing yourself dropping deeper and deeper into the core of the earth (your being) a place of total peace and safety.
(Taken from Emotional Freedom, by Judith Orloff, MD, 2009)