It is normal to get nervous or worried every once in a while about an important or intimidating event, like taking the ACT or public speaking. But, if you have this feeling all or most of the time, what you may be experiencing is anxiety. It is one of the most common disorders that Americans struggle with, effecting 40 million adults in a given year. Anxiety is on a continuum of severity and intensity and can look vastly different in different people.
Although anxiety disorders can look different amongst those who experience it, all anxiety disorders are accompanied with an excessive and uncontrollable worried feeling that is disproportionate to the source of worry and that interferes with daily functioning. Anxiety symptoms can also include:
- Body aches and tension
- Trouble breathing/swallowing
- Difficulty concentrating
- Change in body temperature/sweating
- Skin rashes
- Racing heart
- Racing thoughts
- Trouble sleeping/eating
Extracted from the NIMH website.
Most people can make changes in their lifestyle and learn coping skills to manage mild and infrequent anxiety, but if you are experiencing these symptoms most of the time, most days, ongoing for several months, it is recommended that you see a mental health care professional in your area. A professional can provide a formal evaluation and create a treatment plan to manage your anxiety so you can begin feeling better.
All of us, however, can benefit from making healthy lifestyle choices and reducing our vulnerabilities to problems like anxiety by getting plenty of sleep, eating nutritiously and exercising regularly.
Other methods for coping with anxiety include:
- Facing the fear. Repeating the feared circumstance desensitizes us to the experience and can make the situation seem less daunting.
- Schedule time to worry. To avoid letting worried thoughts monopolize our minds all day, schedule a block of time to think about the problem and come up with a plan. If you routinely have worries before bed, keep a piece of paper and pen on your nightstand to write down the thoughts and address them in the morning.
- Take action. If applicable, it is important to try and take action over problems and situations that cause anxiety. Whether that means getting organized, breaking a large project into chunks so it feels less stressful or starting to work on a project early to avoid feeling overwhelmed later.
- Exercise. There have been many studies concluding that exercise eases the symptoms of depression, but is the same true for anxiety? It seems so. Regular exercise like walking has been shown to dramatically reduce the symptoms of anxiety. Other exercise options, like yoga, are great for balancing our mind and bodies and helps reduce stress.
- Relaxation. There are so many activities that promote relaxation and ease our body’s reaction to anxiety. Deep breathing can help slow our heart rates down, which has a calming effect all over the body. There are even apps for the iPhone that can assist deep breathing like Breathe2Relax. Other options may include taking a hot bath, light reading or having a cup of hot chamomile tea.
- Challenge the worry. Many of our worried thoughts exacerbate our anxiety and are based on a distorted reality we have created in our minds. Talk therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy are based on teaching skills to challenge these distorted beliefs. The next time you are feeling anxious, ask yourself what are the facts surrounding the source of worry? Sometimes just stating the facts can help remind ourselves that the problem is more manageable than it feels and puts things into perspective.