Oct 29, 2014 — We all get caught up in stressing over minor things that really don’t merit the attention we give them. But when we do it over and over again, it can have serious consequences for our health. Psychiatrist Dr. Jason Hunziker gives some tips for letting go of stress and anxiety that threaten to overwhelm us.

Interview

Interviewer: Unease, stress and worrying about the minor things in life that shouldn't require the attention that you're giving it. Is this your lifestyle or should you be seeking medical help? That's coming up next on The Scope.

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Interviewer: We're talking today with Dr. Jason Hunziker, psychiatrist at the University of Utah. He's going to tell us a little bit about how to not stress over stress. Assuming that stress can lead to all sorts of different mental disorders, there's one that just... it's kind of camouflaged because you think its stress but it actually can be something quite more serious. What is that, Dr. Hunziker?

Dr. Hunziker: Often people think that their life is anxiety and that's how they've been their whole life.

Interviewer: Their life is anxiety.

Dr. Hunziker: And they think that that's normal. I mean, look at Woody Allen for instance. I mean, that guy's probably the most anxious guy and most neurotic guy that you will ever see.

Interviewer: Yes.

Dr. Hunziker: And people look at that and think, oh well, that's his life.

Interviewer: That's him.

Dr. Hunziker: But sometimes that isn't your life and it doesn't have to be your life and it's something that can be addressed with treatment.

Interviewer: First of all, let's back up a little bit. What are the symptoms of anxiety? That's what we're talking about today. What are the symptoms?

Dr. Hunziker: Yeah. So, everybody has different symptoms to their anxiety. Some people's symptoms could just be specific anxiety like, "I'm not going to drive that car," or "I can't go outside of my house." Other people it's generalized. They worry about everything. They worry about money. They worry about their spouse. They worry about their kids. They worry about their bills. They worry about whether they put their shoes on right, whether they're going to have enough shampoo later when they take a shower. And they get focused on all of these other things that really don't need to be focused on all day, but they can't stop themselves from doing it.

Interviewer: Besides all the weird behaviors, are there any physical elements to all of this?

Dr. Hunziker: Exactly. There are. And some people will feel chest pain or chest tightness all of the time. And they'll end up in the emergency room thinking they're having a heart attack when it turns out to be their anxiety. We have people who have unexplained bowel issues or unexplained problems with their stomach or daily chronic headaches that often aren't attributable to anything other than their worry and their stress.

Interviewer: With people that have anxiety, they're, obviously they don't know they have anxiety because they think it's their normal lifestyle.

Dr. Hunziker: That's right.

Interviewer: And they don't want to get help. So, how are we going to help them? And by we, I mean family members and friends that are close by them that think, okay, this is probably not normal.

Dr. Hunziker: I think that is the problem with anxiety is people do think it's so much a part of their life that there really is nothing that needs to be fixed. They don't understand that they have fallen into a pattern of thoughts that aren't healthy for them. An example of that would be someone that you know that has things like all or nothing thinking. It either has to be this way or it's wrong.

Interviewer: So, it's black and white.

Dr. Hunziker: Black or white and there's no gray area and that causes a tremendous amount of stress for them but also for the people around them. Or people who over generalize everything. One little thing happens and it turns into this gigantic thing and it's always the same. Ah, you're always this or you're always that.

Interviewer: Making a mountain out of...

Dr. Hunziker: Out of a...

Interviewer: ...a little ant hill.

Dr. Hunziker: Exactly.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Hunziker: So, there's a lot of these what we call cognitive distortions that get involved in anxiety and the formation of anxiety and then the continuation of anxiety. And that's where friends and family are very helpful because they can see that happening. Even if they didn't know, oh, that's a cognitive distortion, they know that that thought process is not correct and that's the thought process that we can help the patients with. So, that they don't have to be miserable with their anxiety.

Interviewer: So, since we're talking today about more along the lines of how to not cause yourself anxiety or stress.

Dr. Hunziker: That's right.

Interviewer: How do you not get yourself all anxious-ed up?

Dr. Hunziker: Yeah. There are so many different things that you can do at home without a doctor to help you stay out of that stress zone. There are things like writing a worry journal. And write the things in that journal that you worry about so that it's on the paper and now out of your mind.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Hunziker: And leave it alone for a while. Other people will suggest that you should have one time every day that you spend worrying. And that's it. When you're outside of that time zone, you don't get to worry anymore. So, you keep your journal. You bring it with you to your 5:00 worry time.

Interviewer: And you write it all down.

Dr. Hunziker: You write it all down, or you read the stuff you wrote, and you get 45 minutes to worry about it and you're done. And the rest of the day, you spend focused on what you need to be doing for the day. But simple things, diet, sleep, exercising a half hour a day. You'll be amazed at how your anxiety and your stress level come down and the worry just seems to melt away.

Interviewer: So, are there any physical stuff besides the whole writing down your journal, because maybe some people aren't journal people. Are there not other things that they can do.

Dr. Hunziker: Yes. There are, besides the exercise which I think is physical stuff, the yoga, meditation is invaluable for people who...

Interviewer: Finding inner peace.

Dr. Hunziker: Exactly. Exactly. And people make fun of that, but sitting and doing yoga and sitting and just meditating in a quiet room by yourself for 10 minutes is amazing what it can do for your mental health and your stress level.

Interviewer: Final question, a follow-up question with that, then, because sometimes when I try to meditate, and when I do yoga, because I do do yoga, I sit there, and my yoga instructor is like, "Release yourself from the world." And I'm thinking in my head all these things that are going wrong in my life.

Dr. Hunziker: Yeah.

Interviewer: So, does that count or maybe that might...

Dr. Hunziker: I think it's hard sometimes to meditate and/or do yoga the way you need to do it, but I think what we use is a term called mindfulness. And being mindful is recognizing that you have all of these issues in your life, but being present with those issues, not trying to change them, not trying to make them different, but just accepting it for what it is at that time. That helps you get those thoughts out of your head because then you're not going to be worried about, "Oh, I've got to change this," or "Oh, my positions wrong in yoga." Don't worry about it. You're there just to be there. You're there to be with yourself and to accept your environment and what's going on. And that makes it so much easier to just kind of let that stuff out of your head and let it go.

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