Five Quick Tips to Reduce Anxiety
1. Remember: This Too Shall Pass
No one managing his or her own life is devoid of stress and anxiety. Too much of it can lead to excessive worry, nervousness, dread, upset stomach, or difficulty breathing.
The first step to overcoming such negative feelings is to recognize that you are experiencing a very common emotional state most commonly associated as anxiety (learn more signs of anxiety). Although it’s uncomfortable, the negative feelings WILL PASS. Fighting the anxiety can make it stronger. Ironically, the body’s natural relaxation response can be activated by accepting that you are feeling anxious.
2. Learn How to Self-Soothe
When we are faced with an anxiety-inducing situation, our body’s nervous system automatically triggers physiological changes.Our breathing quickens, adrenaline is secreted, and our heart begins to race.
This natural survival mechanism — called the fight or flight response — is intended to help us to escape a true, life threatening emergency. However, when the threat is imagined (e.g., I’m going to bomb this presentation and everyone will know I’m a fraud), the fight/flight response is unnecessary very uncomfortable.
SELF SOOTHING TECHNIQUES THAT REDUCE THE STRESS RESPONSE:
Decreasing the heart rate is one of the most effective ways to activate the relaxation response. A rapid heart rate can be lowered with deep breathing. The most commonly utilized strategy is breathing by contracting the diaphragm; a horizontal muscle in the chest located just above the stomach cavity. Click here to learn how deep breathing techniques.
If a small child told you he was nervous about going to school the next day, what would you say? Unless you’re an abusive lunatic, phrases like “you’re such a dumb little kid” or “you should be nervous because no one will like you” would never leave your mouth. This is because we intuitively know how to help others combat stress and anxiety.
To increase emotional comfort, it’s imperative to practice reassuring and realistic self-talk. When anxious, practice self-talk phrases such as:
"This feeling will pass.”
“I will get through this.”
“I am safe right now.”
“I am feeling anxious now, but I have the power make myself calm.”
“I can feel my heart rate slowing down.”
Stress causes our muscles to tighten and become tense. To increase a relaxed state and physical comfort, tighten and release muscles beginning with the largest muscle groups. Watch this video to learn progressive muscle relaxation exercises.
3. Check Your Diet
Our emotional state is largely impacted by what we eat and drink. Foods most associated with exacerbating anxiety are ones containing caffeine and alcohol.
Even consumed in small amounts, studies have found that the stimulating effects of caffeine can cause anxiety, trigger panic attacks, and increase feelings of nervousness and irritability. Caffeine — commonly found in coffee, colas, tea, and chocolate — also causes physical symptoms such as trembling and shaking.
Abruptly eliminating caffeine from the diet can lead to withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, restlessness, and irritability so it’s important to decrease caffeine consumption gradually. Similarly, although alcohol is often consumed to “take the edge off” it dehydrates the body and ultimately increases anxiety.
An imbalance of bacteria in the gut can also cause many symptoms associated with anxiety and other mood disorders. Researchers at McMaster University found evidence that the balance of bacteria in your gut may have more to do with your mood than any other contributing factor, click here to learn more.
4. Get Moving
Most of us know that exercise is good for our physical health. For the past few decades, research has suggested that exercise is even more effective than medication (learn more about how physical health impacts your mood from this helpful Huffington Post article).
Maintaining a regular (healthy, non-obsessive) exercise routine has been proven to reduce stress, improve mood, enhance self-esteem, and increase energy levels. During exercise, the body releases chemicals called endorphins which interact with receptors in the brain to causing euphoric feelings and reduction in physical pain. Read 13 Mental Health Benefits Of Exercise.
5. Get More Sleep
Nearly everyone feels a little crabby after a rough night’s sleep. Disrupted sleep is common in many emotional disorders and it’s difficult to know which started first — stress or poor sleep. A study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that losing just a few hours of sleep increases feelings of stress, anger, sadness, and exhaustion. Click here to read 10 tips on how to increase your Zzzzzs from the National Sleep Foundation.
“People tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will descend like fine weather if you are fortunate. But happiness is the result of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly.”Elizabeth Gilbert, 'Eat, Pray, Love'
Anxiety Signs & Symptoms
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a diagnostic term which describes someone who’s life is interrupted by constant worry, nervousness, and tension.
- Excessive worry about various topics even when there is little to no evidence to support worrisome thoughts.
- Anxious thoughts that intrusively take over thought patterns.
- Difficulty concentrating due to ruminating anxious thoughts.
- Feelings of dread, impending doom or expecting the worst to happen.
Many symptoms of a panic attack physical sensations in the body which may cause an individual to believe they are suffering a medical condition like a heart attack. However, these symptoms last for a discrete amount of time, typically diminishing within minutes.
- Racing pulse, heart palpitations, and/or chest pain.
- Difficulty breathing or hyperventilation.
- Fear of losing control, going crazy or even dying.
- Shakes or tremors.
- Feelings of depersonalization or detachment from surroundings.
- Nausea or Gastro-Intestinal upset.
- Feeling dizzy or faint.
- Fear of experiencing a panic attack again and/or avoiding situations that may elicit an attack.
Phobias are characterized by an exaggerated fear of something specific (e.g., heights, insects, needles).
- The fear can be of something that may pose little to no real threat.
- The person avoids normal activities of life due to the specific fear (e.g., not going to a public place due to fear of germs).
- It is normal to experience stress when exposed to an anxiety provoking situation/object. The biggest sign of fears becoming a phobia is if a person goes to great lengths to avoid the trigger and experiences undue stress.
Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder)
- Intense fear of scrutiny, rejection or embarrassment by others.
- Avoidance of situations that may elicit significant distress/fear (dating, public speaking, dining, etc.)
- Anticipatory anxiety prior to a social event, beyond what is expected (worrying for days prior to a dinner date).
- The avoidance, fear, and anticipatory anxiety interferes with the person’s daily routine, social life, and functioning at work.
Exposure and Response Prevention
There are several ways to treat anxiety. In addition to popular anxiety therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) helps reduce the uncomfortable symptoms of anxiety. Exposure therapy assists people by teaching helpful skills with practice facing fears. For example, you learn how to face a crowd by first learning relaxation techniques and then gradually working up to being in a crowd. ERP can significantly reduce an exaggerated anxiety-response.