In keeping with the fact that February is National Heart Month, I am presenting another article that deals with cardiac disease.
But it does more than that; it deals with daily life and how well we live it. To be slightly (but chronically) anxious is not only dangerous to your health but also leads to a limited life in terms of pleasures and fulfillment.
So long as the heart is beating, we are alive, even if we are brain dead. But when the heart stops, all is lost. It seems to me that to be fully alive we should be dedicated to taking care of our hearts.
What does confidence have to do with your heart?
Confident people know when to be afraid; they then take action – to run away from the saber-toothed tiger, leave the burning building, or whatever. Unconfident, or socially anxious, people, on the other hand, are wracked by numerous anxieties over what are called “paper tigers”: fears about how they are perceived. If they speak or act, are others silently (or not so silently) going to criticize them? Do they appear foolish, awkward, unstylish…? The list goes on and on.
In fact, unconfident people fit the description of the Type A, or heart-attack prone personality, proposed by cardiologists Friedman and Rosenman: someone who is engaged in a relatively chronic struggle to obtain an unlimited number of poorly defined “things” in the shortest possible time, and if necessary, against opposition. In other words, they’re constantly fighting paper tigers.
The absurdity of this, of course, is that the events which they fear most – meeting new people, going to new events, speaking up in public – don’t call for the tremendous spurt of strength or speed that the stress response gives them. So they simply endure these events, stewing in their own chemical juices that have been released in response to what they perceive to be a threat.
Researchers in the United Kingdom evaluated ten studies of men and women enrolled in the Health Survey for England from 1994 to 2004. The data (published in the British Medical Journal), which involved more than 68,000 adults aged 35 or older, not only showed an association between psychological distress and mortality, but also showed that even mild anxiety or depression raised the overall risk of death from any cause by 29%. The risk of death specifically from cardiac disease increased by 29%. So even the mild but chronically anxious were putting themselves at risk for serious consequences.
Therefore, it’s worthwhile to notice how often you feel attacked by paper tigers.
Whenever you feel even a little uncomfortable (and there’s no real tiger on the horizon), use the StressBuster Formula – Pause, Breathe, Choose.
Start by noticing the paper tigers, and then pausing to breathe. When you pay attention to your breathing, you are becoming aware of your body.
As you reflect, notice when the tension rises – in response to what events, key words, memories?
Where does it affect your body? That may be a clue to a chronic discomfort or illness that you are developing, because stressing your body regularly is a great way to break down physical systems.
Ask yourself, “Is there really a tiger out there?”
People who suffer frequently from social anxiety often have more reactive nervous systems than do cooler, more confident people. If that is true of you, does that mean you’re stuck forever being intimidated by life situations and other people? No, but it does mean that you need to take time every day to calm your mind and your body.
You can unlearn these maladaptive responses, become calmer, and learn to respond powerfully and well to real tigers.
In fact, your life may depend on it.