We asked a leading mental health author and former psychotherapist to tell us how to get a handle on anxiety. Here’s what she had to say.
If you suffer from chronic stress and anxiety, you are not alone. Anxiety disorders are incredibly common. They have the highest prevalence of any mental disorder in the United States. About 1 in 5 adults are affected by anxiety disorders each year. People with depression and other mental disorders are even more likely to have anxiety disorders. Approximately 90 percent of patients with an anxiety disorder also have another mental disorder, such as depression, at the same time.
In the largest study of its kind, published in JAMA, researchers identify similarities in the brain activity of people with major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders. They found that anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and mood disorders often overlap significantly.
Dealing with an anxiety disorder can be downright difficult. But, having two or more mental illnesses can be even harder. The good news is that there are many things that you can do to help anxiety. The best thing about these tips is that they can also help you cope with the symptoms of other mental illnesses, as well.
Know Your Triggers
The first step in coping with anxiety is to know what triggers it. Understanding what makes the symptoms come on is the key to avoiding flare-ups. The thing is — everybody’s different. Everyone has different experiences with anxiety. So, keep a log of your panic attacks or other anxiety symptoms to know what triggers your symptoms.
Take note of when and where symptoms or panic attacks happen. What was happening when the anxiety started? Look for common themes. When are anxiety symptoms the worst? Is it Monday morning when it is time to go back to work? Or perhaps, symptoms flare up around the beginning of the month when bills are coming due. What if there doesn’t seem to be a pattern? Still, take note of much detail as possible. Eventually, you’ll notice triggers. Once you identify the trigger, you can find ways to manage it. For instance, if you notice that you have anxiety right before starting the work week, it could indicate that you are burned out. Perhaps embarking on a new career will help relieve burnout — and anxiety.
Connect With Others
There’s still a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness. So, many people are reluctant to talk to others about it. However, trying to avoid talking about the issue can make it hard to cope. It adds even more stress when you feel like you can’t talk to others about what you are experiencing. Therefore, find ways to connect with others who understand what you are going through.
One way to connect with others is through the internet. Look for support groups for people who have anxiety. Or, check with your local National Alliance On Mental Illness (NAMI) chapter for in-person meetups for people with anxiety. NAMI also has family support groups, as well. Realizing that you are not alone — that others also go through the same things, can help you feel better. You can discover new ways to manage your anxiety while building your support network.
Strike A Pose
Yoga can be an incredible way to manage anxiety. Study after study shows that yoga is helpful for anxiety. Recent studies have demonstrated that it also helps with depression. A recent research study, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice, found that people who practiced yoga along with breath exercises had lower levels of anxiety and depression at the end of the three-month study.
How does yoga work for anxiety? Researchers believe that it raises levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a chemical in the brain related to mood. The thing is that you have to do yoga regularly to see results. The study in question found that the positive effects of yoga were present three days after practice, but not eight days.
Fortunately, there are lots of yoga practices that you can do that specifically target anxiety levels. The good news is that these practices take as little as fifteen minutes per day. Try this 15-minute yoga routine to calm anxiety.
Develop a Relaxing Bedtime Routine
How often do you climb into bed hoping for a good night’s rest, but instead find yourself tossing and turning for what seems like hours? Your mind starts racing. Maybe you look at the clock and mentally calculate how many hours of sleep you’re going to get until you have to wake up. Anxiety creates a lot of physical changes that make it hard to fall asleep. It causes your muscles to tense, your heart to race, and your breathing to speed up. This is the exact opposite state of what you need to be in when you’re trying to fall asleep. Having a relaxing bedtime routine can help ease these physical signs, which can help ease anxiety — and help you sleep better. Here are some tips to help you relax before bed:
- Listen to soothing sounds. If you need some help getting to sleep, find some soothing sleep sounds that work for you. Try the sounds of soft rain, a thunderstorm, or a bubbling brook.
- Turn down the lights. Studies have shown that warmer lighting can help you feel relaxed. A Himalayan salt lamp is a great bedtime lamp. They emit a warm ember glow and many feature adjustable dimmer switches. And, they also have a subtle soothing scent perfect for bedtime.
- Write down worrying thoughts. To silence worrying thoughts, write them down before bed. This is sometimes called a “brain dump.” Once you write the thoughts down, make a conscious effort to let them go until the morning. You can then focus on them at that time.
There you have it — four actionable things that you can do right away to cope with anxiety.
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