If you are constantly worrying, feeling tense, or thinking negative or catastrophic things will happen, you may be struggling with anxiety. Although the exact causes of anxiety are uncertain, people who suffer from this condition often share risk factors, such as having a family member who has anxiety, experiencing trauma, or having other forms of mental illness. Fortunately, the right combination of medications, cognitive approaches, and lifestyle changes can help you to reduce the symptoms and overcome anxiety.
- Anxiety Help
- Incorporating Healthy Lifestyle Changes
- Practicing Deep Breathing Exercises
- Restructuring Your Thinking
- Getting Professional Treatment
Seek out social support even if you don’t want to not seek it. People with strong social connections tend to cope with different life circumstances in a healthier way than those without these connections. Make new social connections to support you as you manage your anxiety. Join a local support group for anxiety-sufferers, participate in a religious or spiritual organization, or get together frequently with your favorite group of close friends.
- Having a sense of belonging and reassurance from others can have drastic effects on overall health. In fact, research shows that elderly individuals with poor perceived social support were at a higher risk of mortality.
Make sleep a priority. Sleep and anxiety have a complex chicken-or-the-egg relationship. A lack of sleep can cause anxiety, and anxiety can result in sleep disturbance. To gain control of your anxiety, focus on getting at least seven hours of sleep each night. Use the following tips to get adequate shut-eye:
- Allow your body to adjust to sleeping on a regular schedule.
- Turn off electronics 30 minutes prior to bed.
- Make your bed room environment comfortable and strictly for sleeping.
- Develop a winding down ritual to follow nightly.
- Use aromatherapy like lavender scents to promote relaxation.
- Quit smoking (nicotine can affect sleep).
Get daily physical exercise. In addition to maintaining overall physical health, exercise can have a profound impact on mental well-being. Physical activity generates endorphins, which are the body’s feel-good chemicals. As a result, engaging in exercise regularly can relieve stress and distract you from worries.
- Doctors suggest getting approximately 30 minutes of exercise each day of the week. Walk, jog, row, or bike — it’s up to you. Just choose an activity that you will commit to.
Eat a balanced diet. You may not understand the connection between what you eat and how you feel, but it’s definitely there. Certain foods and beverages like refined sugar or caffeine, may worsen anxiety. Instead, drink plenty of water and eat healthy meals with a balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein.
- There are heaps of research connecting caffeine to increased anxiety. Caffeine has been found to increase anxiety, depression, and hostility. Avoid caffeine in soda, coffee and tea (go for decaf), and even chocolate.
Reduce your consumption of alcohol and other depressants. You might drink alcohol to ease anxiety but find that it unwittingly exacerbates your condition. Look for a healthy outlet to stress and anxiety, such as listening to music or calling a friend, rather than turning to drugs or alcohol.
Take care of yourself. When battling a mental illness such as anxiety, you might become so focused on getting better and fulfilling responsibilities that you forget to practice regular self-care. Do something for yourself every day to relieve stress. Make it extra special so that you have something to look forward to daily.
- Give yourself something to look forward to each day, whether it is a talk with a friend, a dip in a hot bath, your favorite cup of (decaf) tea, or your favorite sitcom. Set this aside as “me time.”
Find a quiet space where you can be alone with no distractions. Close the door, if possible. As you get used to this breathing exercise, you may be able to close out distractions and perform the exercise around others.
Sit upright, with your back straight. You can sit in a chair, or sit on the floor with your legs crossed, whatever feels more natural.
- You can lie down if you must. Keep in mind, however, that sitting upright allows your lungs to fill to maximum capacity, which is best when practicing deep breathing.
Support your arms. Place your arms on the arms of a chair or resting on your thighs. This removes the burden from your shoulders and aids in relaxation.
Inhale slowly through your nose. For a count of four seconds, breathe deeply through your nose. Your lower belly should expand with the breath.
Hold it. For one to two seconds, simply hold the breath inside your chest.
Release the air. Now, exhale all of the air out of your lungs through your mouth. You should hear a “whoosh” sound as it leaves your mouth. Notice your belly deflating as you release the breath.
Wait several seconds. To avoid hyperventilating, pause for a few seconds before taking a new breath.
Repeat. Do this entire sequence again for about five minutes. About six to eight cycles of breathing per minutes is considered effective at relieving anxiety. Nonetheless, you should find your own natural breathing rhythm that makes you comfortable.
Perform this exercise twice daily. Practice deep breathing at least twice a day for five minutes each session.
- Note that deep breathing should not be saved for only when you are experiencing anxiety. Practice this exercise daily to manage the symptoms of anxiety and fend off stress.
Use deep breathing with other relaxation strategies. Deep breathing can be practiced alone or in conjunction with other relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga as complementary treatments for anxiety.
Recognize faulty thought patterns. Cognitive distortions are unhealthy or irrational thoughts that worsen feelings of anxiety or depression. Consider the most common cognitive distortions below and see if you can spot these patterns in your own self-talk.
- All or nothing (or black and white) thinking: Viewing situations in absolute categories — something is good or bad, right or wrong, with no subtleties, complexities, or gray areas.
- Mental filter: Exaggerating the negatives while minimizing the positives.
- Jumping to conclusions: Assuming someone else’s negative reaction is because of you; predicting the future to be negative.
- Magnification or minimization: Either maximizing or minimizing the importance of a situation.
- Overgeneralization: Seeing a negative event as a part of a nonstop pattern.
- “Should” statements: Judging yourself or others by what they “Should,” “Ought,” “Shouldn’t,” “Have to,” or “Must” do.
- Emotional reasoning: Reasoning based solely on your emotions — “I feel stupid, so I must be.”
- Discounting the positives: Diminishing the value of your accomplishments or positive attributes.
Question the validity of cognitive distortions. To eliminate negative self-talk, you have to notice yourself taking part in these cognitive distortions, and then make a conscious effort to challenge these self-statements.
- First, you notice negative self-talk: “I can see everyone watching me and I know they think I’m awkward.”
- Next, you challenge this thinking with one of the following questions:
- What would I say to a friend who said something like this?
- What evidence I have that this thought is true?
- What evidence do I have that this thought is not true?
- Am I confusing “possibility” with “certainty”?
- Is this thought based on how I feel rather than on facts?
Aim to reframe negative thoughts. The primary focus of cognitive restructuring is to notice when you are having unhelpful thoughts, challenge the reality of these thoughts, and transform them into thoughts that are life-giving and positive. Reframing negative thoughts is one way to think more realistically and reduce anxious feelings.
- For example, the statement from above, “Everyone is watching me and thinks I’m awkward,” can be transformed to lift your mood instead of lowering it. Try to reframe it into something like, “I have no idea how others perceive me; it could be bad or good. But I know who I am, and I’m proud of it.”
Designate a “worry time” to half an hour each day. Complete the exercise daily at this designated time. Choose a time away from your usual bedtime so that worries and anxiety don’t interfere with your sleep.
Identify and postpone worries. Become aware of your worrying by noticing how it makes you feel. If any thoughts you are having create tension in your body, a pounding heartbeat, wringing of the hands, or other signs you are anxious, label them as worries. Then, as you go through your day, when you start to feel anxious and notice yourself worrying, identify what you are thinking about.
- Write the worry down on a worry list, if necessary, and remind yourself that you can think on it later. Try to clear your head and continue on with your daily activities.
Go over your worries at the designated time. During your worry time, don’t just think about what’s been bothering you over the course of the day. Grab a pen and your worry list, and strive to problem-solve each worry.
- Research on stimulus control therapy shows that the four-step process of identifying worries, setting aside a time to deal with them, catching and postponing worries throughout the day, and brainstorming solutions is the best method for reducing worrying.
Acknowledge the power you have to control worrying and negative thinking. Early on, trying to postpone worries may seem impossible. However, after much practice, you will find that you actually can decide when and where you want to worry. Therefore, worries don’t have to lay claim on your entire day.
Schedule a visit with your doctor. If anxiety starts interfering with your life to the point where you are unable to function in school, work, relationships, or other activities, it’s time to see a doctor. Your doctor can conduct lab tests and an examination to determine the source of your anxiety.
- In some cases, anxiety is not simply indicative of a mental illness, but, in fact, a precursor to another health problem. Anxiety could be an initial warning sign (or side effect) of heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and even drug abuse or withdrawal.
- In other cases, anxiety may be a side effect of medications. Talk to your doctor to determine if this is possible in your situation.
Consult with a mental health professional. If your general physician finds no known medical cause to your anxiety, you may need to get a referral to see a psychiatrist, psychologist, or psychotherapist who has experience in diagnosing and treating anxiety. Your doctor may be able to offer you relief by prescribing medications, but many people find that a combination of therapy and medication works best to manage anxiety.
Have your therapist clarify your diagnosis. Simply labeling what you’re going through as anxiety does not give you all the answers you need to recover. Even within the realm of mental health disorders, there are a class of disorders in which anxiety is a hallmark feature. A psychologist may evaluate your personal history, administer assessments, and ask questions to determine which type of anxiety is affecting you.
- You may have an anxiety disorder, such as panic disorder, a phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or social anxiety disorder.
Decide with your therapist which treatment option is best for you. Although you can use some self-help techniques to manage the symptoms of anxiety, these disorders should be treated by a professional. Depending on the type and severity of the disorder, mental health professionals use one of three methods to treat anxiety:
- Prescription medication. The diagnosis of anxiety is often confused with depression because psychiatrists frequently prescribe antidepressants to improve the symptoms of anxiety. A class of medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been found to be effective in treating anxiety. Other options include serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), benzodiazepines, and tricyclic antidepressants.
- Therapy. An empirically-proven, effective treatment for anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on becoming aware of and changing unrealistic thought patterns that contribute to anxiety. Other potential therapeutic approaches include exposure therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
- A combination of the above two.
Be patient. People often assume they failed at treatment or it didn’t work because they did not give the interventions enough time to work. Also, consider that many anxiety-sufferers may try several different treatment options before finding the one most effective in treating their symptoms.
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