Final Article 4: America: Over Prescribed – Anxiety

Us versus We

In the last few articles, the discussion has revolved around those medical conditions which our lifestyle decisions have likely had an impact on the diagnosis:

  • Heart Disease: The leading killer in America.
  • Diabetes: The 7th leading killer in America.

Integrating physical movement and exercise into our lifestyles would dramatically alter the statistics for these illness. Instead of opting for changing our behavior, we have come to accept the circumstances into which we have led ourselves, and rely on medications to maintain a life of mediocracy. Inhibited by our daily prescription dependency, physical ineptitudes, and emotional turmoil, we embark on a daily journey to just “make it another day.”

This series has been about kicking our dependency of prescriptions and making our own “medicine” by incorporating physical movement and exercise in our daily routines.

The Unloved Leader

While heart disease and diabetes have a tendency to be the result of our own actions, another, less deadly illness, bears discussion. This illness, while organic in nature, offers debilitating symptoms like the others; however, it is not a result of our poor decisions: Anxiety.

Anxiety rears its head in many forms. From social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, to post-traumatic street disorder, these emotional and psychological disorders, or abnormalities, are prevalent in our lives. As the leading mental health disorder in America, anxiety-based illnesses are found in around 40 million people, or 18% of the population (Anxiety and Depression Association of America)

Anxiety causes us to avoid activities in which we would normally enjoy engaging in. Amidst normal circumstances, we experience fear or worry symptoms similar to the “fight or flight” phenomenon, which increases our heart rate, induces abnormal sweating bouts, turns our stomach to nausea, and sends our head spinning.

It is a normal response for one to pursue what makes them happy and avoid what doesn’t. We embrace positive and comfortable feelings. When certain situations, often social scenarios, cause us anxiety, our only resolution is to avoid them. We hibernate. We withdraw. We become accustomed to being alone. In time, the loneliness becomes a way of life, our one refuge. Isolation becomes anti-social. The enjoyments of living life everyday become distinct and we reside in our own little world.

Constant isolation, lack of social interaction, and fear of circumstances out of our norm eventually wear us down. It breaks us. Depression sets in and there is no way out. It is a spiraling downhill battle.

The Debilitating Duo

Anxiety will often be found and grouped with it’s sibling, Depression. Depression and anxiety are frequently found together and work together against us. With that, they are often treated as close companions.

Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications often go hand in hand. This simple supplement to our everyday lives minimize the effects of generalized anxiety, and assists us as we navigate each day living what appears to be a “normal” life.

While these medications make life resemble “normal” for their users, the side effects can be less than glamorous. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety medication side effects often include:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Nightmares
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue

Other side effects include night sweats and sexual dysfunction.

Reiterating the goal, we need to un-prescribe America and get our people creating their own medicine. We need to motivate the masses into sobriety and relinquish our dependency on prescription interventions.

Making Our Own Medicine

We have an option to minimize our dependency on the pill bottle. We have the choice to control what happens in our lives and to reacquire the power that has been taken from us. We can decide the whats, the whens, and the wheres. We can help control the uncertainties, insecurities, irritabilities, and fears. We must muster up the strength to make the change. We have to open ourselves up to vulnerability to better ourselves. We must trust ourselves that we can take care of us… that we can make our own “medicine.”

Our medicine is movement. Physical movement. Exercise.

In the book The Exercise Cure*, by Dr. Jordan D. Metzl, it is said that consistent exercise can eliminate the development of anxiety 25 percent.

While no cure is known for anxiety disorders, prescription medications aid in reducing the symptoms. This is the exact benefits you will receive from undertaking a movement and activity prescription, without the side effects. According to the Mayo Clinic, physical movement and exercise is a healthy coping strategy that will help alleviate the effects of anxiety by:

– Production of calming hormones in the brain (endorphins)

– Increase body temperature, which promotes calming effects

– Increase self-confidence

– Alleviate worries that are stress-inducing

– Encourage positive social interactions

In addition, the Calm Clinic points out additional benefits of exercise over prescriptions.

  • Inactivity often promotes anxiety symptoms. Exercising eliminates the inactivity.
  • Eliminates cortisol, your stress hormone, which is produced in your system during “fight or flight” responses.
  • Improved sleep quality, which is often a serious symptom of anxiety.

For those suffering from anxiety, it is likely that the benefits of movement/exercise, without the side effects, has resonated within you. The feeling you have, as the curiosity peaks within you, wondering if these benefits are actually real. Don’t write off what research and past practice has told you. Find out for yourself by making changes in your daily habits this week.

As a sufferer of anxiety, it is first hand knowledge that the benefits offered by physical movement and an exercise program work. When engaged in daily physical activities, anxiety is held off. A daily reprieve is experienced when time is invested in oneself. When other priorities take hold and are allowed to take over, there is no doubt that the anxiety builds up and I find myself struggling amidst the symptoms once again.

Here’s some advice. Making these changes in your life, especially for the first time, is hard. It is much easier to fall back into our routines and do the things we are comfortable doing. Until it becomes habit and a part of your life, it will feel like a burden. Find support. Find accountability. Even if you are wanting to start small, minute steps at first, invest in yourself and find a partner in your journey.

Lots of small changes over time result in great achievement in the end. Start this week. Start something small. When it becomes part of you, make another change.

If you feel you can’t go alone, or cannot find that right support, get yourself a wellness coach… someone who knows how you will feel, how you will react, and what tools you will need to be victorious in your endeavor. Find one who you bond with. Find one who truly cares about you.

As we wrap up this series on exercise prescription and our unnecessary dependency on medication, it is important to understand a few issues.

Simply jumping into an exercise program isn’t something to be taken lightly. Don’t set yourself up for failure by making false promises to yourself that you are going to dive headfirst into a drastic lifestyle change. It cannot be encouraged enough to take small changes and let them accumulate over time into big changes.

There are no overnight successes. There is nothing that will change your life forever that you can do for 21, 30, 60, or 90 days that will last a lifetime. Don’t fall for them. The first change you must make is inside your head and heart. It is a burning desire you will feel that you want better. You want happier. That you want more from your life and you are ready and willing to make SMALL changes to get there.

If you are feeling it, let’s get started. In the comment section below, share with us the first thing you think of when you consider what you would want to change. Ready, set… GO.