Over the past few years there has been a considerable shift in our relationship with medicine. People of my generation were pretty well indoctrinated into the idea that sickness almost belonged to medicine. You gave yourself over to the doctor and you followed their orders. These days the picture has changed and many of our doctor-patient interactions are in the form of information sharing and agreeing on treatments.
The medical profession itself acknowledges that, in some areas at least, what they can offer has limitations. This has given rise to more collective forms of therapy in which doctors, other health professionals and sometimes people once considered outside of therapy, can provide a more comprehensive range of interventions. But there's one person we mustn't forget and that's the patient.
It must feel difficult for people to be told their faith in medicine is sometimes misplaced. Even today, there are people who believe that only drugs and other medical interventions will benefit them. Having your doctor point out, perhaps in the kindest and gentlest way, that you have to take some responsibility for your anxiety, won't be easy to hear. To be asked to take control of something you feel powerless over is a big thing. You may feel your symptoms are being misunderstood, or you may begin to question the competence of the doctor. Such thoughts are certainly understandable in the context of beliefs you hold about medicine, but they also reveal a pattern of thinking that is typical of anxiety and therefore something only you can change.
Many people with anxiety come to rely on the doctor to tell them, sometimes repeatedly, that nothing is physically wrong with them. This is a patient who monitors any minor change in physical symptoms. They are anxious because they feel sick, nauseous, dizzy and more. Somewhere in the back of their mind is the hope and belief this new symptom will be sufficient for their doctor to piece the puzzle together and tell them what's really wrong. So to be told that these physical symptoms actually result from anxiety places the person in a situation where to get relief from symptoms they must treat their anxiety.
Taking responsibility for anxiety is not the same as asking someone to shoulder the burden and not seek help. It is merely the first and most important step in appreciating that personal thoughts and actions have a profound effect on well-being. People who suffer with anxiety vary greatly, as do their symptoms, but we know that relief comes from owning and mastering certain coping skills. Therefore, medication may useful but a complex job requires more than one tool. Seeking practical and emotional support from others is helpful. Finding ways to develop coping skills from a qualified therapist is also helpful. Structuring your life to include relaxation, a balanced diet, exercise and regular sleep are further examples of good coping skills.
Published On: January 23, 2012