When you are dealing with anxiety, it can feel like you are very much alone. But that is far from the truth: anxiety disorders are astonishingly common. They are, in fact, the most common mental health condition in America. About 18% of people in the U.S. deal with anxiety — that’s about 40 million American adults.
Another surprising statistic? Only 36.9% of people who suffer from anxiety get treatment for it. It’s easy to understand why that might be. Living with anxiety can be cloaked in shame, and the anxiety itself — the scary, negative thoughts — can convince you that you will never feel better. But that’s not true: the fact is, as difficult as anxiety can be, there are many ways to successfully treat it. You don’t have to just put up with anxiety: you can live a calmer, more balanced life.
Let’s look at some of the triggers for anxiety, how it manifests, and most of all, how to deal with anxiety so that you can live your best life.
What Is Anxiety?
All of us get anxious from time to time, but having an anxiety disorder means that this anxiety is intense, persistent, and interferes with your daily life in some way. There is no one way that anxiety manifests: we all experience it in slightly different ways. There isn’t one “type of anxiety” either. Anxiety disorders can take many forms.
The most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Social Anxiety Disorder
You shouldn’t self-diagnose yourself with an anxiety disorder. Seeing a therapist, psychiatrist, or doctor can help clarify whether you are dealing with anxiety, and what type of anxiety disorder you may be facing.
What Are The Causes Of Anxiety?
The reason some people develop anxiety disorders is complicated and experts aren’t sure the precise causes of anxiety disorders. Usually, anxiety disorders are attributed to several factors. Among the top suspected causes of anxiety disorders include: genetics, environment, and reactions to trauma.
Anxiety disorders tend to run in families, which is why genetics are often cited as a cause. But environmental factors may be just as likely to cause anxiety disorders. Many cases of anxiety stem from a traumatic experience, such as the loss of a loved one at an early age, any childhood abuse, experiencing a health emergency, or being witness to war or a natural disaster.
Simply experiencing a build-up of stress — such as job or relationship stress — and not addressing it, can trigger anxiety. Some medical issues, such as hyperthyroidism, can worsen or trigger anxiety. Substance use issues, and withdrawal from drugs or alcohol, can cause anxiety as well.
What Are Physical And Mental Symptoms Of Anxiety?
The way anxiety manifests for me may look very different than how it may manifest for you. Anxiety symptoms can be physical, mental, and can cause changes in behavior. Some of us seem to have the more “classic” symptoms of anxiety, like shortness of breath or racing thoughts. But sometimes anxiety can look “quieter” and simply be a flood of negative thoughts, or even a feeling of detachment from the world around you.
So what does anxiety feel like? Here are the most common symptoms of anxiety:
- Feeling worried and nervous
- Feeling like something bad is going to happen
- Feeling like you’re in danger
- Experiencing racing thoughts
- Feeling detached or like you’re “going crazy”
- Hyper-focused on your worries, unable to think of anything else
- Feeling a strong desire to avoid situations that feel scary
- Feeling jittery and restless
- Feeling tight and tense
- Increased heart rate
- Tight, labored breathing
- Rapid breathing (hyperventilating)
- Feeling weak or depleted
- Experiencing insomnia
- Trouble concentrating
- Gastrointestinal symptoms: diarrhea, nausea, upset stomach
What Are The Signs Of An Anxiety Attack?
Sometimes anxiety is something that just generally permeates your life. Other times, it seems to come out of nowhere, and can be very intense and intrusive. This is usually what is thought of as an anxiety attack or a panic attack. You may not even realize you are having an anxiety attack, because they often begin with strong physical sensations such as racing heartbeat, sweating, trouble breathing, and digestive upset. Some people even go to the emergency room with these symptoms, thinking they may be as serious as heart issues, only to realize they are having an anxiety attack. Along with these symptoms, most people also experience uncontrollable thoughts, feelings or panic, and an impending sense of doom.
How Do You Deal With Anxiety?
If you are experiencing anxiety symptoms — especially if they are overwhelming or causing intensive physical symptoms — you should visit a doctor or therapist. You want to first rule out other issues that may be causing these symptoms, such as medical issues or reactions to medications.
The first time you experience a diagnosis of anxiety, you might feel a certain amount of shame. How could you not control your emotions? Does anxiety mean that you are weak? Will you always feel this way?
You can tell those negative thoughts to quiet down! Many of us experience anxiety at one time or another. It doesn’t mean you are weak — anxious people are often among the most creative, passionate, and hardworking out there. But that doesn’t mean that you have to live in misery, because anxiety sure can make you miserable if you don’t learn how to manage it.
Let’s talk about the best ways to deal with anxiety — from lifestyle choices, to mental health professionals who can step in and help you.
Most plans for dealing with anxiety involve a multi-faceted approach. You can start by making some simple changes to your lifestyle as well as employing techniques to help manage anxiety when it creeps into your life.
Exercise can help combat anxiety by releasing stress relieving, feel-good hormones like endorphins. Just getting out of the house for a walk can help you “get out of your head,” change the scene, and help you start to feel better. Yoga is also a wonderful way to combat anxiety because it combines movement with mindful breathing.
Meditation sometimes gets a bad wrap because it’s portrayed as sitting quietly with your thoughts and then somehow making your thoughts disappear, something anxious people have trouble doing in the first place! But meditation isn’t about shutting out your thoughts. It’s about becoming more aware of them, and looking at them in a more mindful, detached way. This can really help you manage and challenge negative thoughts. You can try meditation alone, in a group, or with a medication app or video.
Learning to breathe deeply and mindfully can really help with anxiety. Anxiety causes our breathing to tighten and become more labored. Learning how to slow down and lengthen the breath can really help. Practicing breathing techniques when you’re not feeling anxious is helpful so that you will know what to do when anxiety rears its ugly head. Popular breathing techniques include diaphragmatic breathing, deep breathing, 4-7-8 breathing, alternate nostril breathing, and more. The technique doesn’t matter as much as the focus and slowing down of the breath.
Writing Your Way Through Anxiety
One wonderful way to combat anxiety is through journaling. When thoughts swirl around in our head, they tend to build up and get worse. Being able to purge them onto the page can be very freeing. You don’t have to be a professional writer to write your way through anxiety. Just get a notebook and jot down anything that comes into your head, even the scariest thoughts. No one even has to see, but you will feel better having released these negative thoughts. They might not seem as scary as you thought they were.
Changing Your Diet
There are certain foods and substances that don’t necessarily cause anxiety, but can make it worse. For example, caffeine is a stimulant and can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Sugar also can rev up your system and exacerbate anxiety. You might have your own specific food triggers. You can keep a food log to determine what seems to make your anxiety worse, and then see if reducing those foods helps you stay balanced.
There are two main treatment options for dealing with anxiety: therapy and medication. Sometimes therapy alone is enough to help you deal with your anxiety. Other times, medication can be helpful. Usually, if you are using medication, it’s recommended that you continue therapy while on your medication for the best result.
There are several different therapy treatments that can be used to help you deal with anxiety. Here are the most common types used for anxiety treatment:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on identifying and becoming more aware of negative thought patterns, better understanding them, and working to change or reframe them.
Exposure therapy requires patients to face their fears by gently exposing them to the things they are afraid of. This method works best for panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
Based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) encourages participants to accept their feelings as they work toward change.
Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)
Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is considered a short-term therapy solution (12-16 weeks usually) that focuses specifically on interpersonal relationships.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Used to treat PTSD, panic disorder, phobias, and more, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is based on the premise that practicing certain eye movement, combined with psychotherapy, can improve our mental health.
Some therapists specialize in only one type of therapy, but most combine different methods for optimal treatment. As you reach out to therapists for help dealing with anxiety, ask each what type of methods they use, and what their particular approach to treating anxiety is. Remember, too, that it’s not just the methodology that is important: finding a good therapist means finding someone you trust personally and who puts you at ease.
Medication For Anxiety Disorders
There are two types of medications that are typically used to help with anxiety: medication used on an as needed basis, and medication taken daily and for prolonged periods.
The first are medications that can be used in anticipation of an anxiety attack or panic attack, or during an anxiety attack or panic attack. These are fast-acting medications that are not necessarily used daily, but when needed. The most common of these are benzodiazepines, such as Xanax.
The second set of medications work to change the chemical balance in your brain so that anxiety symptoms are reduced. The most commonly used daily medication for anxiety are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Paxil or Lexapro.
There are several approaches to managing anxiety with medication and many different available medications. You should discuss your options with your doctor or psychiatrist.
Bottom Line: Hope Is Out There
When you are dealing with anxiety, especially if it has disrupted your life or made it difficult for you to function on a day-to-day basis, you may feel utterly hopeless. You may feel as though there is no way for you to ever feel normal again. You may even start to feel anxiety about your anxiety! One thought feeds into another and you start to think that you are doomed to live a life of anxiousness, worry, obsessive thoughts, and negative rumination.
Whatever type of anxiety you are faced with — and for however long you have lived with anxiety — there is hope. Yes, there are people who are particularly prone to anxiety, and there are people who have experienced a trauma that makes them more likely to experience anxiety. But that doesn’t mean that anxiety needs to be a permanent part of life.
There are so many effective ways of dealing with and treating anxiety. It’s a matter of finding one or two (or more!) that feel right for you and then dedicating yourself to moving toward wellness, balance, and calm. If you’re looking for help with your anxiety consider online therapy, a convenient and inexpensive way to get started. Reach out today — you deserve it.