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Andrea Langworthy's column: Rx for the willies

Anxiety and I have walked hand-in-hand for as long as I can remember. No one would have pegged me as a worrisome child but there were nights when I was wide awake in bed clutching my stomach because the ache of an upcoming piano recital or grade school program was too much to bear.

I never woke my parents or my year-younger sister who shared a bedroom with me so they never knew what a Nervous Nellie I was. My friends didn’t, either. On the outside, I was a carefree, happy child but, inside, dread and dismay often bubbled in my belly.

Forty years ago, the problem intensified to the point that I saw a physician. He suggested Valium. I said I wanted to fix the problem, not mask it with pills. The doctor threw up his hands and told me to take up tennis.

My then-husband and I bought rackets and a can of tennis balls and stopped at a neighborhood park. While our youngsters played nearby, he gave me a few pointers and then, lobbed a ball over the net to me. I returned it with such force my racket cracked. My husband, always quick with the wise crack, said tennis might get a bit expensive.

Years later, as the only female salesperson in a big-city Chevrolet dealership, my angst once again reared its ugly head. Working mainly on commission and juggling a home and family with a more than fulltime job had my stomach in knots fulltime, too. There was no time to fix my problem so I relied on my new best friends, Tums and Pepto-Bismol, to mask the symptoms.

My life moves at a much slower pace now. One so unhurried Nervous Nellie should have moved on but, no, she shows up regularly. The difference, though, is that I’m working on sending her packing.

I got the idea from a book by Louise L. Hay when I saw her on a repeat of an Oprah show earlier this year. Hay said we can change our thoughts. Instead of worrying about what has or can go wrong, we can visualize it as being good. She spoke of using positive affirmations to quell anxiety and mentioned her book, “You Can Heal Your Life.”

“That’s the book for me,” I told my husband and promptly ordered a copy.

Purchasing a self help book is nothing new to me. I always have one nearby and read them as though they are text books and I’m studying for an exam; taking notes, underlining worthwhile ideas.

I read the section on affirmations in Hay’s book over and over. She says negative affirmations like, “I hate my job,” create more of what we don’t want. Instead, we should keep the affirmation in the present tense. “I now accept a wonderful new job.” I’ve heard this way of thinking called “acting ‘as if.’”

In my case, being nervous about an upcoming event and what can go wrong creates more nervousness. But instead of saying something is going to be fine, which Hay says “keeps it in the future and out of reach,” I should say it is perfect.

The most important lesson I’ve learned is to catch myself when I start stewing and repeat my affirmations. My favorites are, “I am calm. I am safe. Life is good.” I also like, “I am happy, I am healthy, I am loved.” Slowly and with certainty, I repeat them until my heart rate drops and my stomach settles. Sounds too easy, right? But it works.