Research has found that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness Americans are facing. In fact, according to the National Institute of Health, an estimated 19.1% of U.S. adults had experienced some type of anxiety disorder within the past year. NIHM also reports that around 31% of U.S. adults will experience some sort of anxiety disorder at some time in their lives.
Anxiety is just a part of life. It’s normal to be anxious about an exam for school, interviewing for a job, or moving to a new town. In small doses like these, anxiety may be beneficial since it can help protect us from harm, change our perspective, and hone in our focus.
However, chronic anxiety due to disorders like generalized anxiety, social anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and obsessive-compulsive don’t just interfere with our daily lives, they can also have serious effects on the body. For example, long-term anxiety can weaken your immune and respiratory systems. It can also lead to cardiovascular diseases, headaches, isolation, insomnia, and depression. Anxiety can also impact your central nervous and digestive systems.
There’s also a strong correlation between anxiety and addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse actually estimates that those struggling with anxiety are twice as likely to suffer from substance abuse as a way to self-medicate. But, there may also be some biochemical factors involved, as well as a genetic predisposition.
Needless to say, if you’re dealing with anxiety, you must address it as soon as possible. Whether if it’s speaking with a mental health professional, support group, or caring friends and family, identifying and overcoming your anxiety needs to be a top priority.
But, there are also ways that you can combat your anxiety whenever it strikes. These techniques may not completely eliminate anxiety in your life, but they are effective when you need to relax and regain your thoughts.
1. Stay in your time zone.
This can’t be said enough. Anxiety is worrying about something that has yet to happen. So, one of the best ways to fight against anxiety is to stop thinking about what’s going to happen and instead “reel yourself back to the present,” Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety, tells WebMD.
Take a moment to ask questions like “What’s happening right now? Am I safe? Is there something I need to do right now?” that can put you in the present. If you don’t have the time right now, then schedule an “appointment” for later in the day to check in with yourself. This gives you the chance to revisit those worries so that they don’t prevent you from focusing on what’s going on right now.
2. Write it out.
“One of the worst aspects of anxiety is not knowing why you feel nervous in the first place,” writes Fiona Thomas on Healthline. “You could be lying on an idyllic beach with the ocean waves lapping in the distance and still feel worried for absolutely no reason.”
“That’s when writing can help. It can be an effective way to explore how you feel, especially if talking out loud feels impossible.” There are studies that “show that keeping a journal is actually a healthy way to deal with negative feelings and can help reduce stress.”
“Another study found that anxious test participants who wrote a few notes before the test about how they were feeling and what they were thinking performed better than those who didn’t,” adds Thomas.
3. Start deep breathing.
This is from Linda Esposito LCSW via Psychology Today:
If you're not focused on how to calm your body through slow, intentional belly-breathing, you're missing out. Belly-breathing is free, location independent, and easy to implement. Here's how to get started:
Sit with your eyes closed and turn your attention to your breathing. Breathe naturally, preferably through the nostrils, without attempting to control your breath.
Be aware of the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. Place one hand on your belly, and the other on your chest. Take a deep breath for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of three. Exhale for a count of four. The hand on your belly should go in as you inhale, and move out as you exhale.
Concentrate on your breath and forget everything else. Your mind will be very busy, and you may even feel that the meditation is making your mind busier, but the reality is you're just becoming more aware of how busy your mind is.
Resist the temptation to follow the different thoughts as they arise, and focus on the sensation of the breath. If you discover that your mind has wandered and is following your thoughts, immediately return it to the breath.
Repeat this as many times as necessary until your mind settles on the breath. Don't wait to begin belly-breathing. The sooner you make this a daily habit, the quicker you'll feel relaxed.
When you implement belly breathing, you start the day in a here-and-now state. Better yet, you're not wasting time worrying about the future or reliving the past.
4. Consider what makes you feel in control.
“Anxiety is an excessive focus on something that might happen in the future,” said Bea Arthur, a licensed mental health counselor in New York and founder of the mental health machine learning start-up The Difference, told The New York Times.
“This is always related to a perceived lack of control, so add back things that you do feel in control of,” she said. “Think about how you can contribute, do things, make progress. Just walk outside — even that does wonders.”
Ms. Arthur also suggested, “editing your life” so that you have a sense of empowerment, such as ditching whatever it is in your life that doesn’t make you feel in control. To help you with, she suggests reading “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown.
5. Question your thoughts.
“When people are anxious, their brains start coming up with all sorts of outlandish ideas, many of which are highly unrealistic and unlikely to occur,” Tom Corboy, MFT, the founder and executive director of the OCD Center of Los Angeles, and co-author of The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD told PsychCentral. This is concerning since these thoughts only amplify a person’s anxious state.
One example would be when you’re about to give a wedding toast. Thoughts like “Oh my God, I can’t do this. It will kill me” are probably occupying your brain.
But, remind yourself that it’s not the end of the world. In fact, the chances of you literally dying from giving a toast are non-existent.
“Yes, you may be anxious, and you may even flub your toast. But the worst thing that will happen is that some people, many of whom will never see you again, will get a few chuckles, and that by tomorrow they will have completely forgotten about it,” adds Corboy.
Marla W. Deibler, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia, LLC. also recommends that ask yourself the following questions to challenge you thoughts:
“Is this worry realistic?
Is this really likely to happen?
If the worst possible outcome happens, what would be so bad about that?
Could I handle that?
What might I do?
If something bad happens, what might that mean about me?
Is this really true or does it just seem that way?
What might I do to prepare for whatever may happen?”
Additional coping strategies.
Finally, the next time you feel anxious or stressed, try out these easy to implement coping strategies:
Stop what you’re doing and count to 10 slowly. Repeat and count up to 20 if you need to.
Get out of your head by meditating, listening to music, or talking to a friend.
Take care of your health. Exercise, eat a well-balanced diet and get enough sleep.
Limit your alcohol and caffeine intakes.
Maintain a positive attitude by replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. Surround yourself with optimistic people. Do activities that make you happy. And, go out in be active in your community.
Learn what triggers your anxiety so that how to avoid or handle these situations.
Anxiety shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you believe that anxiety is interfering with your life, then, please use the tips above to help thwart it before it puts your health and wellness in jeopardy. But, if anxiety has become such a concern that it’s uncontrollable, please consult a mental health professional today.