How to Cope With Anxiety & Not Use Brain Altering Substances

Lizard in my pocket
I sometimes carry lizards in my pocket at work. I give them out to patients who are suffering from their experience of anxiety.  
They aren’t alive, but a great variety pack of assorted colored, spotted,  striped, plastic reptiles. 

When Anxiety Becomes Too Much

Anxiety shows up in many forms including generalized, social, and panic attacks. Anxiety is a normal part of being human, and it can be a helpful factor in planning certain outcomes. However, when anxiety begins to affect a person’s quality of life, it can be a problem. I don’t give out lizards for everyday anxiety. 

Staying in Overdrive

Living in a constant state of anxiety is tiring. Our brains are trained to always look for danger to keep us safe. This is leftover from our old reptilian brain. It is commonly scanning for threats or lack thereof. Once the brain hones in on a threat it presents the body with a fight or flight reaction. If our lizard brain is gets stuck ON, keeping the sympathetic nervous system on overdrive, anxiety may be having a larger role than what is necessary. 

Accepting Anxiety

Anxious thoughts can be overwhelming for many. Developing techniques or ritualistic behaviors or responses can work to instantly relieve feelings of discomfort.  These behaviors include rituals around their eating and other behaviors such as worrying, avoiding social situations, or using opioids, benzos, pot, or alcohol. For many of our patients, they began using substances as a way to manage their overwhelming anxiety. They are also at the stage where they cannot quit the substance they are on without some form of withdrawal.  A new technique being offered for managing anxiety is the practice of accepting the anxiety felt instead of creating other negative thoughts and emotions around it. This requires the skill of not passing judgment on yourself for feeling the anxiety.

Recognizing the Lizard Tune

What if a person allowed their feelings of discomfort for a few moments, and continued to do the things in their life that they value, despite the discomfort? They could be present to their range of emotions and feelings and recognize that both good and bad ones are fleeting. 

What if when the lizard brain mentality sang its tune someone could recognize it and think “I know you’re trying to protect me, but I am here breathing, and everything is fine.”

That’s the conversation that I want to hear when gifting a lizard from my pocket.

Joan Shepherd, FNP

Recovery Starts With Finding The Right Detox Option For You.

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