What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety encompasses feelings of worry, nervousness, or dread. Although unpleasant, occasional bouts of anxiety are natural and sometimes even productive: By signaling that something isn’t quite right, anxiety can help people both avoid danger and make important and meaningful changes.
But persistent, pervasive anxiety that disrupts one’s daily life, whether at school, work, or with friends, can be the mark of an anxiety disorder. Nearly one-third of adults in the U.S. will grapple with one at some point in their lives, according to the National Institutes of Health, and the condition strikes more women than men.
Anxiety disorders manifest in different ways, and are often diagnostically distinct. Generalized anxiety disorder is a chronic state of severe worry and tension, often without provocation. Panic disorder refers to sudden and repeated panic attacks, episodes of intense fear and discomfort that peak within a few minutes. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is marked by intrusive thoughts or compulsions to carry out specific behaviors, such as handwashing. Post-traumatic stress disorder may develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Anxiety is often accompanied by depression, and the two share an underlying genetic architecture.
Beyond genetics, childhood experiences such as early trauma or parental overprotection can play a role in forming an anxious disposition. In people with anxiety disorders, the brain circuitry that controls the threat response seems to go awry: The amygdala, a structure that detects danger, can become overactive, triggering a threat where none really exists.
Anxiety is often treated successfully using therapy, medication or both. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective options, in which patients learn to identify problematic thought patterns and change how they respond. Mindfulness meditation is another effective technique for some.
How to Recognize the Signs of Anxiety
Individuals suffering from anxiety may feel restless, on edge, and irritable. They may have difficulty concentrating or controlling their emotions. Physical symptoms can also include fatigue, trembling, trouble sleeping, stomachaches, headaches, and muscle tension. Anxiety often involves worrying to an intense, excessive degree. Those worries can apply to any aspect of life, from social situations and family dynamics to physical health and professional concerns.
A person’s angst or dread can be drastically out of proportion to the actual challenges he or she is facing. People may also irrationally believe that the worst-case scenario is inevitable.
1) Stop and Breathe
When anxiety flares, take a time out and think about what it is that is making you so nervous. Anxiety is typically experienced as worrying about a future or past event.For example, you may be worried that something bad is going to happen in the future. Perhaps you continually feel upset over an event that has already occurred. Regardless of what you are worried about, a big part of the problem is that you are not being mindful of the present moment. Anxiety loses its grip when you clear your mind of worry and bring your awareness back to the present.
The next time your anxiety starts to take you out of the present, regain control by sitting down and taking a few deep breaths. Simply stopping and breathing can help restore a sense of personal balance and bring you back to the present moment. However, if you have the time, try taking this activity a little further and experiment with a breathing exercise and mantra. Practice this simple breathing technique: Begin by getting into a comfortable seated position. Close your eyes and inhale slowly through your nose. Follow this inhalation with a deep exhalation. Continue to breathe deeply and fully, in and out of your nose. Allow your breath to be a guide to the present. Use the mantra, “Be Present” as you breathe. With each breath in, think to yourself “be” and with each breath out, focus on the word “present.” Breathing exercises are powerful relaxation techniques that can help ease your body and mind of anxiety while turning your attention towards the present.
2) Figure Out What’s Bothering You
The physical symptoms of panic and anxiety, such as trembling, chest pain, and rapid heartbeat, are usually more apparent than understanding just what is making you anxious. However, in order to get to the root of your anxiety, you need to figure out what’s bothering you. To get to the bottom of your anxiety, put some time aside to exploring your thoughts and feelings.
Writing in a journal can be a great way to get in touch with your sources of anxiety. If anxious feelings seem to be keeping you up at night, try keeping a journal or notepad next to your bed. Write down all of the things that are bothering you. Talking with a friend can be another way to discover and understand your anxious feelings.Make it a habit to regularly uncover and express your feelings of anxiety.
3) Focus On What You Can Change
Many times anxiety stems from fearing things that haven’t even happened and may never occur. For example, even though everything is okay, you may still worry about potential issues, such as losing your job, becoming ill, or the safety of your loved ones. Life can be unpredictable and no matter how hard you try, you can’t always control what happens. However, you can decide how you are going to deal with the unknown. You can turn your anxiety into a source of strength by letting go of fear and focusing on gratitude.
Replace your fears by changing your attitude about them. For example, stop fearing to lose your job and instead focus on how grateful you are to have a job. Come to work determined to do your best. Instead of fearing your loved one’s safety, spend time with them, or express your appreciation of them. With a little practice, you can learn to dump your anxiety and pick up a more positive outlook. At times, your anxiety may actually be caused by a real circumstance in your life. Perhaps you’re in a situation where it is realistic to be worried about losing your job due to high company layoffs or talks of downsizing. When anxiety is identified as being caused by a current problem, then taking action may be the answer to reducing your anxiety. For example, you may need to start job searching or scheduling interviews after work. By being more proactive, you can feel like you have a bit more control over your situation.
4) Focus on Something Less Anxiety-Provoking
At times, it may be most helpful to simply redirect yourself to focus on something other than your anxiety.6 You may want to reach out to others, do some work around your home, or engage in an enjoyable activity or hobby. Here are a few ideas of things you can do to thwart off anxiety:
– Do some chores or organizing around the house.
– Engage in a creative activity, such as drawing, painting, or writing.
– Go for a walk or engage in some other form of physical exercise.
– Listen to music.
– Pray or meditate.
– Read a good book or watch a funny movie.