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A couple of weeks ago I participated in my second triathlon sprint at Hawk Island in Lansing. Last year’s event was such a joy, I had so much fun, I’d lost a bunch of weight and it was a good excuse to get in reasonable shape for the summer.

This year was a little different. I trained for a shorter period of time. Instead of having lost weight, I’d put ten pounds back on (!), and the weather looked like it would be appreciably cooler than last year.

Based on this, for some reason I decided to go out with ‘the wave’ instead of individually, which I’d done last year. I just didn’t want to stand out in the cool air waiting my turn to go into the drink for the quarter mile swim. My strategy was to hang near the end of the pack, and not get bumped, kicked or swum over. Here’s what went wrong:

In the rear of the pack were a small group of guys (around my age) who were struggling. They’d either gone out way too fast and were exhausted by the first turn (about a third of the way through) or weren’t strong swimmers and had overestimated their abilities. As I neared the first pyramid I could hear calls for ‘Help!’ and ‘We need help here!’ I couldn’t see who was in danger, but I saw a life preserver fly past me and a life saver jump from his perch on a paddle boat to offer assistance. Then there was another swimmer holding onto the first pyramid, gasping for breath. And now the next wave of swimmers, the women forty and over, had been let loose behind us.

A few strokes in the deepest part of the waters I became convinced I couldn’t take a deep enough breath. The problem, I decided, was my wet suit shortie. I tried to loosen it around my neck. But that didn’t help. Maybe if I unzipped it, or even if I could just get out of it…. it was here that I realized that I wasn’t thinking rationally. That the anxiety had become contagious, That I was in the grips of it. So, for a bit, I just floated on my back and looked at the sky and remembered my goal was to finish and enjoy the experience, that I was a strong swimmer, that I was making headway, that I’d done this before, etc. etc.

So I finished.

But it reminded me of how powerful anxiety can be, and how it can move us to act irrationally and against our own best interests. The brain becomes convinced, based on some information that may or may not be accurate, that we are in terrible danger. Maybe life and death danger.

Are you plagued by worries? Does the future look bleak? Are you concerned about how others think of you? Are you sometimes knocked off balance out of the blue? Do you have numerous physical symptoms that doctors find a hard time diagnosing? You might have anxiety.

I have a whole treatment regimen for dealing with anxiety in my practice, from a screen to CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) techniques. Anxiety tends to have specific manifestations. And it is treatable! There are also a good number of books on the subject. I like The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns, The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook by Edmund Bourne and The Mindful Way Through Anxiety by Susan Orsillo and Lizabeth Roemer. Or give me a call @ 517 336-7721.

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