"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)


Mental Health Awareness Week: Coping With Anxiety

I came across an article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on May 27, 2020 about the actress Maxene Magalona, daughter of the late Filipino king of rap, Francis Magalona, disclosing that she was diagnosed with complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). Last May 18-24, 2020, the world celebrated Mental Health Awareness Week which is a very timely advocacy during this pandemic period. I have great admiration for this woman for her big heart to help those who too might benefit from taking a sound perspective with regard to mental health issues.









I’ve always wondered why it’s socially acceptable for people with physical illnesses to go to the hospital for treatment while those with mental health conditions have to hide and pretend like they don’t have it? A couple of years ago, I found myself under a lot of stress, dealing with bouts of anxiety and having episodes of rage. I was an adult having embarrassing tantrums but I couldn’t really understand where all the anger was coming from. When I was drunk, I would punch and kick doors, cry uncontrollably and scream as though I was calling out for help. This was the reason I quit drinking alcohol and finally began seeking psychiatric help early last year. I’ll admit that I was hesitant to go at first because I thought that psychiatric therapy was for people who were “insane.” But I was determined to find out the root cause of my problems so I mustered up the courage to go and to be honest, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. My therapist helped me figure out that I was experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition known as Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or C-PTSD which is a psychological disorder that can develop due to prolonged and repeated interpersonal trauma. This was the reason why I was feeling helpless and had difficulty controlling my emotions. After we figured out what the problem was, I began taking the necessary steps to heal such as regular therapy, daily yoga, meditation and prayer. I remember going to The Medical City wearing a hoodie and baseball cap because I was ashamed to be seen at a psychiatrist’s clinic but now, especially with what’s going on in the world today, I believe it’s time we #endthestigma of mental health and start talking about it so that those who need help won’t be afraid to seek it. Remember that #youarenotyourmind and although thoughts can be overwhelming, trust that you have the power to heal your past traumas and pain. I’m actually glad I found out about my condition because it made me connect to God more than anything and I believe in my heart that He was the one who helped me through it all. 🙏🏼 #mentalhealthawarenessweek
A post shared by Maxene Magalona-Mananquil (@maxenemagalona) on

Coping Steps: Going Back To Basics

The first step to coping with feelings of anxiety is to know about our human body's natural responses or reactions to what happens in the environment. When I was young, I had bouts of heart palpitations that often were caused by, e.g., stage fright, afraid of making a fool of myself, giving the wrong answer to the teacher, etc. My body reacts through palpitations, blushing, sweating, feeling sensations of "butterflies" in the stomach. All these are natural occurrences that the involuntary nervous system automatically creates. These must occur completely unconscious in order to preserve life just like the automatic breathing reflex of the body which is active even while we sleep. Dolphins and whales do not have this reflex like we do so they have to be conscious all the time to breath by opening and closing their water hole. When they sleep, they close one eye thus putting one side of their brain to sleep. The other half of their brain is conscious to prevent drowning.

There are two branches of the automatic human nervous system: sympathetic branch which is the energy booster and the parasympathetic branch which is the built-in tranquilliser. When there is danger the sympathetic branch swiftly primes the body for action by increasing the heart rate (fight or flight response in the form of fighting or escaping). When there is no more danger the parasympathetic branch does its work by calming down the human body in order to preserve its energy.

There are moments when people experience difficulty in restoring back the equilibrium because it is possible to have one's memory and concentration impaired. Everyone of us has his or her unique way of restoring back the equilibrium. Conflicts that arise during the stages of human development are actually very good opportunities for growth in adapting to one's changing physical and social environment. There are extreme cases for some people when their mind goes blank which could be the body's last resort coping. When this occurs, the brain is swamped with contradictory signals and panic attack could start to develop. The fight or flight response is automatic, it cannot be prevented. But you can tell your sympathetic nervous system not to got into overdrive but to become more relaxed. There are various techniques that have been developed to help the parasympathetic nervous system in restoring the normal running order of the body. Medications would be last resort techniques after everything else has been tried and exhausted.


Patient Heal Yourself

Anxieties are caused by stress. But one has to determine which kind of stress is good or bad which of course varies from person to person. We need a dose of daily stress for us to be productive and not get bored which also, as some studies have shown, could be equally fatal as a burnout. Each person develops a kind of an immune mechanism particular to handling external stressors. Seasonal colds and flus can be very stressful but occasionally, we need a good cold or flu for two good reasons: first, to adapt to the environment that is teeming with viruses and bacteria; second, to stimulate the body's cleansing processes. This is the reason why a person who gets a cold or a flu every once in a while has a stronger immune system and greater chance of survival when a virus comesincluding the dreaded Coronavirus that causes Covid-19. How does contracting a cold or a flu help our system clean or detoxify itself? One school of thought holds that when we have increased body temperature most bacteria are killed. The body has its natural anti-virus mechanism in the form of resident viruses provided that they go through their own course and natural healing process. Other pathogens and even cancer cells in the other tissues of the human body are flashed out of the system.

In the context of mental health, our psycho-spiritual system is assured to be strong and equipped after each moment that it has overcome a particular hurdle along its path. This is the secret of some people who are able to take life's difficulties in their stride. They can easily look on the brighter and positive side of even the most negative or trying experiences. Others don't. More and more children, teenagers and young adults who have extensive exposure to social media and online games are feared to be much weaker compared to others who have been raised having real contact with people and surroundings. More and more studies are conducted to find out the negative effects of social media and online games on certain stages of human development. I experienced great liberation the moment I shunned social media by deleting my accounts back in 2016. After that I limit myself to email or online chat to connect with my family abroad. When someone comes to me for help, I would first ask that person to distance from if not totally deactivate social media connections. I observed that a person's life becomes more focused and directed in facing the issues with minimized distractions.


Three-pronged Anti-anxiety Approach (Espoused by most Mental Health Practitioners) and the Labyrinth Journey:

A. LEARN TO RELAX


Setting aside a regular ME-time each day for you to relax is an effective way of coping with your anxiety. During the lockdown period make a deliberate choice of the quality time and space for yourself. Most people spend this time to pray.

B. POSITIVE VISUALIZATION

This is another form of relaxing the mind through the power of choosing. Choose to tread the more positive and hopeful path. You are not controlled by your mind. You are more than that. You have the power to look at the bright side of things. Given this pandemic, a lot has changed, life is no longer going about in the usual way of doing things. Despite that be careful not to look only at the negative side of the pandemic.

C. JOURNAL WRITING OR DIARY

Make this habit of keeping a diary or journal of the times when you feel worried or depressed and be conscious it is temporary. Look towards those times that you felt better and affirm yourself. Write these down.


The Labyrinth Journey


I found this FREE APP from App Store. Labyrinths are found on Greek pottery, on Spanish rock carvings, and, in walkable form, on the floors of medieval cathedrals in Europe. For thousands of years they have provided a place for meditating, finding peace and tranquility, and enhancing creativity.

Labyrinths are about the journey, at least as much as the destination. It is the opposite of the stress "fight or flight" state, says Herbert Benson, MD, founder of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of Relaxation Revolution.

The App instructs you to use your finger just like what I did in this video lasting 18:39 minutes. I have a slower version lasting 45:19 minutes.

Begin at the entrance and journey to the center. Pause, reflect, meditate, and when ready, return outwards retracing your steps. Unlike in a maze, you cannot lose your way in a labyrinth. Before you start look up in the web for various prayer techniques employed and choose what suits you. I borrow the words of St. Symeon, the New Theologian: 'Do not worry about what will come next, you will discover it when it comes'.







Fr. JM Manzano, SJ

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