Addressing Anxiety ahead of the Holidays

FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - "These irrational fears that went through my mind. One is that I had somehow harmed my children at some point in the past," says Heather Bjur. "Another one was that somehow I had ruined our finances. And the third one would be that my children had died when they were sleeping. And so I'd often get up and go and check on them in their beds and put my finger under their noses to make sure that they were still breathing."

There was a time in her life that Bjur struggled with anxiety. "Sweating and gasping for breath and it was terrible and terrifying. And it would sometimes it would take me an hour to get back to sleep and calm down from that," she says.

Now, Bjur's past that and working towards helping others do the same by sharing her story at Bethel Church's 'Anxiety Talk.'

"The topic is so relevant. And not only relevant to the community, but to my family. We go through a lot of things that are stressful. And I have family members, who in their own life, are coping with different issues or trying to cope," says Thomas Stenzel, who attended the talk. "I think there's always a lot to learn. And I'm excited to hear what people – professionals – have to say about the topic and how we all can manage better because we all need to help one another."

Bjur, who's a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, says now is the perfect time to spread awareness about anxiety.

"There's just so many different facets of anxiety that play into the holidays," she says. "Next week is Thanksgiving and then four weeks after that is going to be Christmas and it's a stressful time for lots of different reasons. There's that performance of wanting to buy the right gift or host the beautiful dinner or maybe it's the opposite where it's like 'I don't have family or friends and I'm going to be alone."

Experts say anxiety is the nation's most common mental illness, but a lot of people won't admit it and suffer even more consequences later.

"Anxiety is when you're constantly worrying about things. And you can't control the worry, you can't make it stop," Bjur says. "Part of the struggle with so many is – it's just hard to admit. It's hard to say, 'I don't know what's going on. I feel like I'm going to die. I need to get some help.'"

"{Anxiety disorders} are the most common mental illness that Americans experience. So there's about 40 million adults that struggle with anxiety, and about one in eight children struggle with an anxiety disorder," says Dr. Renae Reinardy, with the Lakeside Center for Behavioral Change. "Academic failure, or substance abuse, depression, social isolation, so it is really important to identify children early – and adults for that matter so that they can get treatment because treatment tends to be highly effective."

Now, Bjur says she hopes events like these help spread awareness and understanding, so no one has to suffer alone - especially over the holidays. "The holidays just don't have to be something that becomes a dreadful thing," she says.

"There's a lot of things going on in people's lives that you wouldn't see just because you look at them outwardly," Stenzel says. "We're all looking for a little more understanding."

If you think you're experiencing an anxiety attack, experts say to slow down and practice your breathing by closing your eyes and breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth for five counts each. That simple exercise should help your body relax and overcome its fight or flight reaction to anxiety.

"We want to get our body out of that fight or flight response, and breathing is one of the techniques that I think is easiest to do and most accessible. Obviously, everyone can breathe," Bjur says. "It can lower our blood pressure when doing it, and it can bring our heart rate down. So the idea is to force relaxation."

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