An interview with Carolyn Chambers Clark, EdD, RN, ARNP, author of Living Well with Anxiety: What Your Doctor Doesn't Tell You ...That You Need to Know.
"Overcoming anxiety takes effort, but it can be done."
Carolyn Clark worked as a therapist for over 35 years, working with many people with all levels of anxiety. She understands that each of us has experienced anxiety at some time, and most of us experience healthy anxiety all the time. It is what keeps us alert and aware. It keeps us from jumping into dangerous situations and what motivates us to try harder. But sometimes, anxiety can be severe. In those cases, extra care is needed to help overcome the debilitating impact anxiety may have.
Levels of anxiety can change based on our current situation. For example, Dr. Clark talked about her days in graduate school, when pressure was high. The students working to become therapists were encouraged to participate in therapy themselves, to better help future patients. The stress of school and of delving into your own issues was extremely stressful. Many of the students, Dr. Clark included, turned to minor tranquilizers as a way of coping with the stress.
This experience gave Dr. Clark a multi-faceted view of anxiety, as a person trying to cope with the stresses of life, as a person using anxiety medication and as a therapist. Her book, she believes, has something to offer everyone, from the person dealing with the heavy load of life's stresses to the person with anxiety so debilitating, he or she is afraid to leave their house. Everyone, she believes, has the ability to help themselves, be involved in their care and can work toward a better future.
During her time working with a community program, Dr. Clark had the opportunity to meet with clients in their home. It was during this time, she realized that there were so many factors impacting anxiety and most people have multi-faceted problems. For example, someone may be eating fast food or other non-healthy foods, in a non-supportive relationship, have substance abuse problems (either themselves or a family member), lead a sedentary lifestyle-spending much of their time watching television without much physical activity and spend hours watching news programs. Working on the anxiety meant working on the entire lifestyle, making healthy choices, adding exercise and improving personal relationships. Because all of these factors could contribute to increased anxiety, all of the factors needed to be addressed. In other words, a holistic approach worked much better than treating the anxiety as a "single, separate illness."
Suggestions for Managing Anxiety
Dr. Clark suggests starting by creating a daily diary. In it you should keep track of:
- What you are eating/drinking
- Any medications (over the counter, supplements, prescriptions)
- What situations you are experiencing, including your environment and your relationship
- Your mood
You should keep the diary for several weeks, at least, in order to start seeing patterns. It may be a certain situation or certain foods that increase your levels of anxiety. For example, you may find you become more anxious after your second cup of coffee.