Anxiety is a natural human emotion that can serve many beneficial purposes. For example, it acts as your body’s built-in warning system, setting off a physiological alarm when a danger or threat is present. While the human brain may be nature’s most complex organic machine, it is also prone to malfunction in various ways. If you have trouble processing anxiety, your body may get stuck in a constant state of threat awareness, even when you are not in imminent danger. Read on to learn more about anxiety, how its symptoms can affect your life, and a variety of practical tips to help you manage its effects and strategies to relieve symptoms.
What Is Anxiety?
According to National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) researchers, anxiety encompasses typical feelings of worry, fear, or threat awareness. Experienced by most people from time-to-time, anxiety is a type of mood state that “consists of a complex cognitive, affective, physiological, and behavioral response system associated with preparation for the anticipated events or circumstances perceived as threatening”. Anxiety disorders can occur when you have trouble processing your anxious feelings, leaving your body in fight or flight mode. Anxiety disorders generally involve intense and persistent worry and fear that interferes with your daily life and causes functional impairment in one or more areas of your life, lasting at least six months.
“Many people worry about things such as health, money, or family problems. But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For people with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, schoolwork, and relationships.” — NIMH Overview of Anxiety Disorders
What Does Anxiety Look Like?
Anxiety can look different for every person who experiences it—which is nearly 20% of American adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. One person may pace nervously while another reacts inwardly, going quiet and still by all outward appearances. However, there are some common anxiety symptoms mental health professionals use to help diagnose anxiety disorders.
Psychological symptoms such as a sense of impending doom, disorientation, trouble concentrating or “brain fog,” nervousness, difficulty controlling worry, and irritability
Behavioral symptoms like changes to your sleep habits or avoiding people and situations that may cause anxiety
Physical symptoms such as stomachaches and gastrointestinal problems, headaches, shortness of breath, hyperventilation, racing pulse, sweating, trembling, neck pain, and fatigue
Developing Effective Methods To Manage Anxiety
The following strategies may help if you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety. However, the most effective step you can take to overcome anxiety’s influence on your life is to work with a qualified therapist. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common treatment for anxiety disorders, and it has a high success rate. The goal of CBT therapy is to help people identify and modify maladaptive lines of thinking and negative behaviors through positive behavioral changes and restructuring thought patterns.
A professional therapist who uses CBT helps their clients change their thinking and behavior patterns to improve their mental health. Medication is often used in conjunction with mental health therapy to help treat symptoms as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Lastly, lifestyle and perspective changes can improve anxiety symptoms and build stress resilience.
Identify What Precipitates Anxiety
To understand your reaction to anxiety, identifying what is causing your response is an important first step. If you can pinpoint what is causing your feelings of fear, worry, or unease, you may be able to examine the surrounding situations and find ways to cope with the reaction. Recognizing what leads to your feelings of anxiety may help you plan for and control your response.
Establish Healthy Sleep Hygiene Practices
Researchers at Harvard Medical School found a close link between inadequate sleep and negative mood shifts. The research reported that even temporary disturbances in your regular sleep habits can cause drastic changes in attitude and outlook, which are remedied when you resume healthy sleep patterns.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, your sleep hygiene habits can be as important as how well you care for your body or teeth. Good sleep hygiene usually includes the following:
Regular physical activity during the day that helps you sleep at night.
A regular sleep schedule where you sleep and wake at approximately the same time each day so your body knows when to expect rest.
A bedroom that is dark, quiet, and kept at a comfortable temperature for sleeping.
You’ll usually sleep better when you avoid large meals, alcohol, and caffeine before bed.
Avoidance of your phone and other electronics for at least one hour before sleeping.
Evaluate Whether You Are Facing A Real Threat
When a person is managing an anxiety disorder, the body and mind’s stress response may be in a persistent state of fight-or-flight. One symptom of this response is feeling as if there is always a threat of some kind - which can lead to feeling there is a constant threat even when none is present. Take the time to evaluate your situation objectively and determine whether you are in danger or experiencing an anxiety symptom.
Assign The Appropriate Level Of Concern To The Situation
If you are in a dangerous situation, feeling anxious is a defensive measure that protects you from imminent harm. Anxiety is your body’s early warning system, telling you when to be aware of potential threats. After making your risk assessment, give it some active consideration and assign an appropriate level of concern to the situation, confident that you are making a sound judgment and not letting anxiety control your reactions.
Challenge Anxious Thoughts And Set A Time For Anxiety
Remember that a person’s instinctual reaction is not necessarily in exact reflection of how you feel.
Balance Anxiety With Mindfulness And Positive Thinking
Personalize your anxiety disorder and visualize it as an external force that lies to you. This practice can help you balance the fear and negative thinking inherent to anxiety disorders with mindful positive thinking. When you feel uneasy and nervous, it can be helpful to remember that the anxiety disorder lies to you and that your first reaction is not always the real response to a given situation. Over time, you may be able to retrain your brain to demonstrate more balanced anxiety levels because you allow the emotion less power over your thoughts and behavior.
Practice Mindfulness And Relaxation Techniques
With mindfulness you can achieve a state of calm and concentration by training your attention and practicing acceptance. This form of meditation has been shown in several research studies to benefit your physical and mental health. Many people with anxiety disorders find practicing relaxation techniques helpful in managing anxiety symptoms. Deep breathing exercises can help you calm yourself and focus your attention on something more productive. Yoga offers both physical activity and mindful introspection that can provide a broader perspective.
Maintain A Healthy Diet And Regular Exercise
If you are trying to figure out how to overcome anxiety, exercise is one strategy that research suggests may be effective. According to many studies about the link between regular exercise and benefits to mental health, physical activity releases endorphins that help your body relax and reduce tension.
Keep A Journal
Many mental health professionals recommend keeping a daily journal to help you express and track the day’s events and your reactions to them. The act of writing requires you to examine the situation and how it made you feel, which helps you identify and process your emotions. A written record allows you to identify that precipitates your anxiety over time, along with the coping skills that worked and what did not help.
Self-Care Habits To Improve Symptoms Of Anxiety
Establish practical, productive morning and bedtime routines.
Practice meditation or other mindfulness techniques to clear your mind.
Take care of your body with a balanced diet, regular exercise, and plenty of sleep.
Prioritize your mental health.
When To Reach Out For Help
While some anxiety is a regular and expected part of life, worry and fear that interferes with a person’s ability to accomplish daily tasks may indicate a mental health disorder. Anxiety is meant to be a transient emotion you experience in response to something, which is then dealt with, and the feeling should fade soon after. If your anxiety is persistent, lingering, and even worsening with time, you may have an anxiety disorder and should speak to your doctor or healthcare provider for an assessment.
How Therapy Can Help You Manage Anxiety Symptoms
If you are having trouble managing the effects and symptoms of anxiety on your own, consider seeking a therapist's professional support and guidance through an online therapy platform such as BetterHelp. Therapy can help you identify negative thought patterns and behaviors and how to consciously shift your habits toward positive choices. With flexible appointment formats through phone, video call, or online chat, teletherapy makes it easy to fit treatment into your busy schedule at home or on the go.
According to a recent study, online CBT can be as effective as anxiety treatments in the traditional in-person format. Internet-based interventions are often less expensive and more available than in-person treatment, and many patients said the added distance made it easier to open up emotionally. Medical professionals agree that the effectiveness of treatment is increased by attending more sessions, and patients also said receiving therapy at home made it easier to reliably dedicate their time to improving their mental health, showing up to 82% adherence to appointment schedules.
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