More than 40 million American adults suffer from an anxiety disorder, but men’s health advisor Drew Ramsey, M.D., says you can learn to make it work for you. Take a page from the psychiatrist’s playbook to understand your anxiety and conquer it.
Tim* put his head in his hands and started to cry. “I’m so messed up; this thing controls me.” Clinical prowess means clinical timing, and mine was off that day. I looked Tim in the eye: “I think your anxiety is your superpower.”
Messed up? It was hard to agree with him. Tim’s life was what men hope for. He was 39 years old, in great shape, powerful and wealthy, and his wife and kids adored him. Yet inside he was a maelstrom of fear and worry. He’d wake up in the middle of the night in a sweat and review his sent emails for errors. Important meetings meant crampy bowels. He started drinking at night and couldn’t fall asleep without at least “a couple.” He’d get a weird tingling feeling in his fingers. Three times in the past year, a searing pain in his chest forced a trip to the ER and eventually a referral to me, a psychiatrist.
Anxiety makes us human. Our psyche is tuned to scan the environment for threats and to anticipate danger. And this is what frustrates so many of my patients: Their worries and fears often drive their success, but they can also overwhelm it. That’s where I come in. Harness your anxiety and it can clue you into what’s actually happening in your world, and you can use that information to raise your daily game.
Male anxiety is serious business. Untreated, it can be disabling, increasing the odds of alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and depression, and doubling the risk of a fatal heart attack. Anxiety also fosters avoidance, something men already struggle with when it comes to mental health. But with proper treatment, you’ll understand your anxiety, which helps you really zero in on what’s not working in your life and then manage things better. For instance, Tim’s anxieties offered useful cues that aided us in figuring out ways his life could run more smoothly. Here, the playbook that I see work with anxiety-ridden guys like Tim.
1 FACE YOUR FEARS
First, I rule out any medical causes of anxiety, then we focus on symptoms. The goal of treatment isn’t to turn off a patient’s radar but rather to tune it. Anxiety tends to get stuffed down instead of surfaced and understood. So honour your anxiety as a signal to look deeper. Usually this feeling has a pattern to it, and my patients use this pattern to help crack the code of their anxiety. The feeling often relates to our perceived notion of control (which is why the fear of flying is so common) and our unconscious fears of our own fragility and mortality.
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July - August 2019