Chronic Afflictions, Effective Coping Strategies


I’m struggling today with a chronic affliction that’s connected to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It’s not at all unusual for anxiety, depression and OCD to present as a monolith. My friend the psychotherapist explained the phenomenon to me recently; this is my synopsis:

What typically happens is that the person experiences a trauma, or lives or works in a high-stress, toxic environment. She becomes hypervigilant about those stressors, and her anxiety becomes chronic.

When anxiety is prolonged, frustration and learned helplessness lead to depression; anxiety and depression do tend to present as two sides of one coin. This causes the sufferer to try coping behaviors at random, seeking homeostasis (a physical and emotional steady-state). The various physical tics, required rituals, and odd habits that characterize OCD often grow out of these attempts to get back to that even keel she seeks.

It’s good to know what one is up against while dealing with chronic health issues; still, anyone who has struggled in this way knows that understanding alone seldom leads to healing. The knots have to be unraveled gradually; that is, in the same way that they formed.

This is where a yoga and meditation practice provide uniquely effective tools.

No doubt you’ve already discovered how the asanas you’ve become skilled at performing do wonders for untying the physical knots that form as a result of prolonged stress. The toxic mental formations that accompany them yield to meditation in similar

fashion. The next time you’re battling both the physical and emotional aspects of your affliction, you might want to try this gatha:

Breathing in, I recognize my afflictions;
Breathing out, I acknowledge their impermanent nature. I mindfully embrace my afflictions;
I calmly release them.

You’ll almost certainly have to repeat this several times to experience relief. As you repeat the gatha, breathe deeply, doing “belly breaths.” This consists of allowing your stomach to distend on each inhalation and return to normal on the out-breath. This practice can reduce anxiety’s grip on your body-mind rather quickly. As you continue to meditate in this way, you may wish to shorten the words you’re repeating mentally on those in-breaths and out-breaths:

Recognize affliction,
Acknowledge impermanence.
Mindfully embrace,
Calmly release.

I’ve used this meditation to good effect while in the grip of the combined energies of anxiety, depression, and OCD. I can vouch for its effectiveness, and recommend it highly.

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