What is anxiety anyway? By definition anxiety is - a mental and physical reaction to a perceived threat. I myself understand the feelings associated with it as I have had my bouts with its effects as well. Basically, we are wired by nature to survive and our wonderful brains are equipped to ferret out danger and potentially threatening situations, which can be helpful for that survival. However, as the brain looks for danger it may perceive that it is there even when really, none is present.
This is neither good nor bad, it’s just the way we’re built. People usually seek help when they get caught in the overwhelming cycle of symptoms generated by anxiety. People who suffer chronically from anxiety are being run by that little voice(s) and/or images in their head that are constantly warning of impending disaster that usually never comes.
So, what to do? I usually get asked why some people get caught up in these states of thinking and feeling while others do not. There are really no fully concrete answers as to the why anxiety happens. However, we can say some of it is genetic; which leads to certain traits, temperament and even the way the brain operates or processes information to explain why people feel and behave the ways they do. Another factor is environment and the way that it interrelates with the brain/body. High stress environments coupled with a genetically predisposed individual may yield greater levels of anxiety or inability to cope as effectively.
Anxiety may overlap with other unpleasant states of experiencing life and may be characterized as: specific fears about a thing (e.g. phobias), place or ideas, or may be generalized to many different aspects of life as seen with General Anxiety Disorder. People that seek help usually express the following symptoms interfering with quality of life: excessive worry or worry that is uncontrollable, muscle tension, sleep problems, excessive nervousness, avoidance of a fear, increased heart rate, fears associated with health concerns and poor concentration to name a few.
The good news is that you can do certain things to start feeling better.
Tools that have proven effective have been progressive muscle relaxation seen in this video: (Click link ). Perhaps you can find a breathing regimen that you agree with or that resonates with you and start incorporating it in your daily living. There are numerous books on breathing and meditation exercises, which are secular in nature so one can incorporate them into any religious or spiritual practice as well. I can’t stress enough that cultivating the practice of breathing exercises can be a very powerful tool to curb anxiety symptoms.
Think of it this way If you want to lose weight and be in shape you have to eat cleanly, and do physical activity. The same is true for the brain when working to curb anxiety. If you wish to cope with stress better and decrease anxiety you have to work at it. Your brain is already working if you suffer from anxiety so why not work to negate its effects? The brain will be better able to reset from stress/distress and sustain a much more optimistic and relaxed/balanced state getting back to what we call a healthy baseline in the world of psychotherapy. The more you utilize breathing and relaxation exercises the more their effects are compounded for your benefit in practice. Also, journaling and testing the mind’s anxiety predictions has also been used to help curb symptoms and is a powerful tool. There are some good phone apps out there such as this one that can help you as well: link here:(Click link).
Another tip is cultivating good sleep hygiene. This may be a no brainier, but if you get good rest at least 6-8 hours of sleep then you are well on your way to curbing anxiety as there is a relationship between poor sleep and higher levels of anxiety. I will also cover specifics to good sleep hygiene habits in another post.
A good habit to start forming if you are aren’t already is to exercise. You expend excess energy through some sort of physical exercise be it: walking, jogging, hitting the gym, yoga or any other physical activity and it can be beneficial to overall mood enhancement. Consult your physician before you do anything physical, especially if you have not had much exposure to exercise in some time, if ever. Diet and proper nutrition are key in living a balanced life. Watch your caffeine intake and foods/drinks that may contain this stimulant that can be contributing to the physical sensations associated to anxiety.
You can always consult with a certified nutritionist or dietician and work with an understanding physician as these are all keys to understanding proper nutrition specific to your needs. If none of these options seem feasible or have not worked, then you may need to seek help by working specifically with a mental health professional with experience in work with those who suffer from anxiety. Note: ask the potential therapist what experience they have in working with those who suffer from anxiety and make sure that they use evidenced based practices such as: Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) when approaching the treatment of anxiety.
In closing, know that there is no need to suffer from these feelings alone. If you are still not well, tell your physician and maybe they can refer you to a therapist if you haven’t found one on your own. Know that your physician may prescribe medication that may help alleviate certain symptoms and at times work in conjunction with a therapist to help you.
One final note, a physician may also help rule out any other potential physical/biological factors that may be at play in increasing anxiety levels or associated with its symptoms such as: heart, thyroid or other abnormalities/problems. If you are living with these symptoms know that there are people and services that can help. There is no need to go at it alone. Get your doctors involved speak up and get the help you need in order to live the life that you deserve. May you be happy, may you be well, and may you have peace.