Anxiety isn’t what you think it is. It comes in many different forms, and no two diagnoses are the same. Socially, we’ve just arrived at accepting that anxiety and depression are mental health issues that affect millions of Americans, who for generations went undiagnosed. But, as mental health advocacy gains traction, we’re embracing these problems instead of swiping them under the rug.
What exactly is anxiety? It’s more than feeling a little rattled over misplaced car keys.
Anxiety slipped into our everyday lives because we’re no longer hunter-gatherers; we’re programmed to dodge the bite from an angry animal or move fast when a situation gets out of hand. The surge of anxiety is an alarm system meant to push adrenaline to the red zone when it’s time to go. But, since we’re not out hunting mammoths with spears or running from hungry bears, that natural adrenaline can build up and manifest in problematic ways. The world is crazy, the news rarely has anything good to say, and there’s just so much information, it’s no wonder how our systems can get overloaded.
Anxiety sufferers can judge themselves harshly, causing an intense loneliness thanks to constant self-doubt, and a never-ending feeling of dread-like doom is always around the corner. That no matter how happy they may be, something will go wrong in their personal and professional lives. For someone with anxiety, there’s a constant stream of emotions, no matter how good or bad a situation may be, and worst of all, the person suffering can’t help it.
Anxiety is the most common of all of the mental health disorders as it affects over 30% of American adults. The term “anxiety” isn’t just one thing, either. There are a few varieties of the disease, and how they manifest varies depending on certain factors, those include:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Excessive worry about all kinds of things like relationships, job, social interactions, personal health, and everyday routine events. An example of this is if you talk to someone and immediately replay the conversation, hoping you didn’t come off like an idiot or over-thinking the possibility of a car wreck while driving to work, despite doing it every single day.
The overwhelming fear or aversion to particular activities or situations. Flying is the biggest in this category with more than 20 million people nervous when it’s time to hit the skies.
People with social anxiety avoid gatherings, social settings, parties, and events. They tend to lock themselves away, despite their friends and family wanting to be around them. People with social anxiety tend to make excuses when it comes to leaving their houses, which can develop into full-blown agoraphobia.
Intense fear that reaches a peak within minutes. Attacks happen with little to no warning, leaving the person feeling like they’re dying or under extreme duress.
You Can Fight Back
It’s getting better. We’re talking about what anxiety does to people, what it does to relationships, to families. Hopefully, we’ll have an idea of what triggers anxiety. We know for some people there are a variety of triggers, but for many, an anxiety attack can come out of nowhere.
The thing about anxiety is that there are so many different symptoms and they’re not just contained to our mind. The body is affected, as well. There’s the fluttering heartbeat, dizziness, sweating, shaky hands, skin pulsing, swelling of the tongue, continually hitting the bathroom, among many, many other maladies. It’s an exhausting, invisible fight which leaves the person feeling like they’ve been hit by a Mack Truck the day following an attack.
Anxiety doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution. Our goal here is to provide those who are working toward their ONE thing a way to put up a fight. First and foremost, if you suffer from heavy anxiety, we’d like to urge you to seek out professional health. If it’s something that happens from time to time—maybe from a situation you’ve encountered on your path to achieving your goals—there are different steps you can take that might work for you.
Get Outside ASAP
There’s something about nature, and it’s calming effects on the spirit. Make talking long walks, even in your neighborhood a part of your daily routine. Put on your favorite podcast or just walk the dog those extra two blocks. The air, the trees, and the movement do wonders for the psyche. Because the fight or flight mode is surging through your body, a long walk is a great way to get it out. Which leads us to the next logical step…
Hit the Gym
The adrenaline racing through you needs to go somewhere. Walking is a great place to burn that energy if you’re not a gym rat, but hitting the actual gym is a great place to kill the body buzzes along with the racing heart. The whole thing about anxiety is getting trapped in a revolving instance of fight or flight, but if your body is adequately worked out, the chances of a freak out are a lot less. Whether it be the stair climber, the weights or the treadmill, whatever you choose, all of it is beneficial for your body, but also your mind.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Learning to relax is a big part of fighting anxiety. Using the right relaxation methods will reduce stress and anxiety thanks to focusing your mind, not on problem areas, but different muscle groups. Muscle tension is a significant part of anxiety, and you don’t even realize it. Learning to program your body to loosen up when you’re feeling anxious is a huge win. You’ll feel less overwhelmed, but also able to concentrate on something other than the anxiety.
Challenge the Mind
Find something that distracts your mind from the source of your anxiety and stress. Do a math problem, a crossword puzzle, write, or even get one of those adult coloring books. Find ways to challenge your perception and occupy your hands.
Get into Therapy
If you suffer from anxiety, therapy is a lifesaver. For many, talking out problems is one of the best ways to gain knowledge about how the world affects us. There are many forms of therapy out there, like meds, you need to find the practitioner and program that works for you.
Some of those methods include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
This form of therapy suggests that our thoughts are what cause our feelings and behaviors. Some believe its situations, but CBT argues it’s the brain and how we interpret things organically. CBT examines patterns, ideations, thought processes and tries to break them down into logical, but also correctable categories.
This one is a little extreme, but some patients opt to purposely experience stressful situations so they can learn what triggers them. Once they’ve established what gets them going, the goal is then to combat the triggers, so they eventually lose power.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Cognitive therapy emphasizing individual psychotherapy, but also working on training people to gather new skills like mindfulness and inner peace to manage their anxiety.
According to some researchers, meditation helps manage anxiety and depression. There are many forms of mindfulness and meditation. Some people believe transcendental meditation calms the mind and offers a center of gravity, while Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is another method taught in eight sessions. Practitioners let go of regrets as well as anxieties about what could happen next.
Say Sayonara to Caffeine
We love caffeine. A cold bottle of Coke, a cup of coffee, a hot tea – all of them can wreak havoc on your anxiety. Caffeine kicks your nervous system into overdrive, but a lot of people ask is the jolt good for their anxiety? No one said you have to give up your morning cup of joe, cutting back could have positive health benefits. Instead of three big cups, maybe do two normal-sized cups. A small change in habits could make a severe impact.
Eat, but Don’t Overeat
People have anxiety tend to stress eat, or not eat at all. There’s upset stomachs, dizzy spells, constipation, all kinds of fun stuff associated with anxiety and the stomach. Skipping a regular mealtime can cause cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Cortisol helps when you’re in fight or flight mode, but when you’ve just skipped a burger at your regular meal time, the shaky hands and gruff demeanor could have been easily fixed.
Another big sign of anxiety is the need to devour sugar. A sugar rush can trigger physical symptoms of anxiety, which when hyper-focused on, could lead to a panic attack. Keeping a smart diet that consists of lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and nuts is easy to not only lose a few inches around the waistline but also keeping anxiety at bay.
Somehow, Americans have grown to celebrate a lack of rest. We love the notion of “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” or “burning the candle at both ends” because we value production and consider a hard worker the person who gives it their all when everyone else is asleep.
The cruel reality of living with anxiety is that it affects our sleep. Insomnia is a real side effect and many times, sufferers are scared to sleep thanks to the bounding pulse or hypnic jerks, scaring them. If you can get at least seven hours of sleep or more, you’re doing your body a huge favor. Science has proven over and over again that a healthy sleep schedule affects us in a multitude of ways. We’ve never known so much about what a good night’s rest can do for our bodies, until now.
Learn to Say No
Some anxiety sufferers tend to want to do everything. They try to give their time, their abilities, their willingness to lend a hand. But, the problem is, they get spread too thin.
It’s critical to make “me” time to do something as relaxing as reading the paper or taking that walk. Whatever it is, it’s essential to know the limits of just how much one person can take on. Many times, because a person is so driven the quality of the projects suffer when that person could have focused the output on fewer, higher quality projects.
Get off Social Media
One of the most significant factors in a spike in poor mental health can sometimes be social media. The constant updates, the bad news, politics, seeing someone’s life who’s better than yours, all of it can factor into how we perceive the world. And many times, those innocuous Instagram photos of Disney World can sting when your bank account isn’t exactly screaming “killing it.”
According to the Anxiety and Depression Center of America, using social media obsessively can affect many parts of life, including relationships, paranoia, and loneliness. There are ways to use social media, which is programmed to function like gambling in Las Vegas. The scroll feeds us with endless information, but most of it is terrible. We’re always on our phones, looking for a nugget of information, a funny meme, but we’re letting the world pass us by- anxiety or not. By taking social media off of the phone, it’s an easy way to be mindful about how one’s time is spent rather than develop feelings of jealousy or inadequacy.
Anxiety can be managed. It takes patience and dedication to change habits, but also a desire to not let anxiety be the end-all-be-all. Different things work in combination with one another. If you’re committed to finding a solution, you’ve got options to live your best life.