Anxiety Sensitivity

An interesting article I was reading this past week by psychologist Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D, focuses on anxiety sensitivity.  The term is important because it identifies a pre-disposition for developing troubling symptoms associated with anxiety. It also implies that we have some ability to shape our thinking and feelings around fearing fear.  Dr. Hendriksen uses a pie metaphor to describe the factors causal in anxiety disorder.    She writes, “If an entire pizza represents the cause of an anxiety disorder, one or two slices might be genetics, two or three slices might be family environment.  Life circumstances determine several pieces:  bullying might steer you toward social anxiety, a car crash toward PTSD. Anxiety sensitivity is often one of the remaining slices—not a sole cause, but definitely a contributing factor.”

If we feel ashamed to be “anxious,” we may go to great lengths to avoid appearing that way.  This only causes more stress.  If we can begin to understand that a sensitivity toward anxiety is simply a part of our package, then a pounding heart and sweating is not seen as the sure path to a heart attack, and sensations of dizziness and nervous trembling are not framed as a sure path to losing control of ourselves and our mind.  In other words, we can lessen the fear of the fear. We can begin to explore anxiety as misnamed energy and even excitement rather than paralysis.

Today there are so many natural therapies that we can learn to help ourselves in the management of anxiety. Yoga, tai chi, breathing, and psychotherapy can be enormously helpful in learning to live with anxiety sensitivity.  I know, because I see clients beginning to take back their lives after years of struggling.    I know because I use these interventions myself.  Sometimes medication is added to these interventions to rebalance a nervous system that remains hypersensitive and constantly on alert.  There is no need to waste the enjoyment of precious life with fear of fear.

PS Occasionally I receive email comments and questions about columns.  I invite you to suggest topics that may be of interest to you as well.  I will be pleased to email a response to you!