There have been a few interesting stories this week that although not directly related, have implications of the treatment of anxiety . Firstly the BBC reported on an interesting study on the benefits of acupuncture. The study was not aimed at acupuncture used to treat anxiety but more at preventing headaches and migraines. There is something of a link here as many people believe migraines are stress related. The study was basically a meta-analysis of thirty-three other studies and found interestingly that acupuncture worked. More interestingly still they found that so-called sham acupuncture worked just as well, that is to say that it doesn’t seem to matter whether you stick the needles in the centuries old Chinese positions, or just do it randomly. This suggests one of two things. Either the whole phenomenon is just the placebo effect and there is really no therapeutic benefit, or there is something about stimulating parts of the body which does actually promote health.
There have been some studies, albeit not enough to draw firm conclusions, that say that meridian tapping therapies such as EFT and TFT work for the treatment of anxiety, phobias and depression. It seems to me that the principle behind this success (if indeed it is real) is likely to be similar to the acupuncture. Indeed it has been said in at least one study that tapping the body randomly works as well as tapping the points listed in the algorithms specified by the therapy founders.
Whether this is a case of the placebo effect or not doesn’t really matter. What matters is there being sufficient efficacy in the treatment for people to have some kind of faith in it, for the treatment to be safe, and for it to produce long lasting results. Many acupuncturists advertise the treatment of anxiety and stress but I am skeptical given the lack of specific evidence. That said, most of us have met someone who swears by acupuncture. There is nothing wrong of course with the placebo effect! If it works for you then great!
I have blogged before about meditation and its beneficial effects on the treatment and control of anxiety. In these posts I have mainly concentrated on Mindfulness Meditation, which is very powerful and still the single thing I would recommend to all anxiety sufferers.
Recently I came across "Stillness Meditation" which looks very interesting. There is a book, which is sadly out of print, called "In Stillness Conquer Fear". It is about a woman’s (the author) struggle to overcome agoraphobia and her eventual release (cure!) through a disciplined meditation practice.
This meditation practice, to which I believe the author of the aforementioned book, Pauline Mckinnon, gave the name "Stillness Meditation", is very simple. Although I should say that despite the fact that it is simple you still, paradoxically, need to practice regularly in order to achieve stillness. Like all things, you improve with practice.
So how do you do it? Basically you find a posture which is comfortable but not too comfortable. It is actually said to be good training for the mind to have slight discomfort. A straight-backed chair is perfect. You then sit and allow the tension in your body to leave. You may pass your mind’s eye over your body to see if you can find tension. Tension in the face is especially important. Then you allow thoughts to come and go, without giving them your attention, just let them go and your mind will find stillness and moments of emptiness.
Pauline Mckinnon said that a daily practice of this basically cured her agoraphobia over a two year period, with great advances made in just eight weeks! Certainly deep mental and physical relaxation is only really glossed over by the normal CBT model for anxiety and agoraphobia treatment.
I don’t want to promise cures, but I know that meditation, when practiced consistently, can make an amazing positive change on your life. And through really relaxing the mind can allow healing. I don’t yet have conclusive proof that stillness meditation works on its own as a cure, but I know that those people who persevere with it will benefit.
Recently I have been thinking a lot about existential anxiety and life is rather odd! Here we are on this planet, spinning in the vastness of the solar system, who knows what is beyond the furthest reaches of our telescopes. There are many theories and belief systems that tell us why we are here, but non of them is provable. If they were provable then they could provide a great deal of comfort, they could tell us more about why we are here and what is actually important to achieve in this life. For those who believe, with devotion, these belief systems there is a great deal of benefit: a feeling of worth and reason to live, something to aim for. These motivators should not be underrated as they provide a purpose to people who otherwise might think too much.
And thinking too much is arguably the biggest problem here. Many people live their lives with no focus or purpose, enjoying themselves and stocking up on consumer goods. They don’t worry about where they came from. In a way they are the happiest people, on the surface at least, yet they are blissfully ignorant and their lives are all the poorer for it.
But let’s go back to us, I mean those of us who have no faith or whose faith is not strong enough to give us meaning. For us we see the world going about it’s business, wars are fought, people cross time zones, get married and divorced and act in ways we find bizarre. We can understand none of this and often crave removing ourselves from it, by forming subcultures, retreats and the like.
We are guilty of thinking too much. But we can not make ourselves less intelligent or our brains less enquiring. So we turn instead to dealing with how we think and making it more positive, more happy for us in this bizarre world. Each individual is different and how they achieve that varies between people. That said finding purpose can be explained in several broad groups. It can be through a personal love, a cherished activity or hobby that you can, literally, give you heart and soul to. It can be humanitarian: by doing something real you help yourself become more attached to the world around you and benefit it. If that does not help you understand existence that doesn’t matter as you assimilate with the machinery of life and have a positive effect on it, whatever it is. Meditation is also helpful in calming the most anxious thoughts and feelings. Being in the moment and not lost in dark thoughts promotes clarity and positive action.
Life is strange for us, but we can enjoy it still.
Hi and a very Happy New Year! Let’s hope for a peaceful, calm and happy 2009!
It won’t be a long post today, but I have spent part of my new year’s day reading a few interesting articles on Existential Anxiety. I know from my inbox that this has been a hot topic with many readers and relevant to those who suffer from nameless dread, free-floating anxiety and a constant, gnawing background anxious depression that is hard to shift.
Here are the links….enjoy reading them!
1) Existential Anxiety and Existential Joy – Long but well-worth reading.
2) Existential Anxiety: a 3-page cyber-sermon – As the title suggests, lots of info and worth taking your time over.
Thank you for reading, and once more happy 2009!