Anxiety is a mental condition that causes fear-based thoughts, leading to overwhelming feelings of fear, apprehension, and worry. Anxiety can also cause physical symptoms like sweating, shaking, and shortness of breath. Sometimes, anxiety can make you feel like you’re losing control. But there are treatment options and other things you can do to manage your anxiety and keep the symptoms from running your life.
In this blog, we will break down these coping skills into two categories: how to help yourself mentally and how to help yourself physically.
The first part of dealing with anxiety is helping yourself mentally. Since anxiety is a mental condition, helping yourself mentally is the first part you should focus on. Learning the following skills can help you become more self-aware and reduce your anxiety.
Anxiety can cause you to feel like you’re losing control, but it can also occur because you feel like you don’t have control over things in your life. For example, a common symptom of anxiety is a constant fear that something bad is going to happen.
Unfortunately, you only have control over your own actions and decisions. So sometimes, things may not go your way. To avoid being triggered when you have a setback, you need to understand that you don’t have control over everything.
Accepting that some things are out of your control will free you up to think about things you can do to improve your outlook. Since your instinct is to worry, you will have to actively remind yourself that you can’t control everything and sometimes life just happens.
Another thing that can be helpful when you have anxiety is to learn what your triggers are. If you know what causes your anxiety, you can avoid those people or situations and be better prepared to deal with the ones you can’t avoid. Some triggers are unavoidable, like work, school, driving, etc. If you have a plan for dealing with those triggers when they come up, you can control how you react to them in a constructive way.
Anxiety can cause you to have a negative outlook more often than not. You’re constantly worried, thinking “what if I fail?” or, “what if I get hurt?” However, what if you succeed or become stronger or learn something new? Actively taking the opposite approach to a situation can also help reduce your anxiety. One helpful trick to beating anxiety is to challenge those negative thoughts when they happen.
Ask yourself: “Is that really true? What evidence do I have that the worst is going to happen?” Most of the time, the answer will be no – acknowledge it, and you will be able to separate a worry thought from reality, and realize there is nothing to fear.
The other thing to work on when you have anxiety is learning how to manage the physical symptoms anxiety causes. There are some things related to your lifestyle that have the power to aggravate or prevent your symptoms:
Did you know that about 95% of your serotonin levels are produced in your gastrointestinal (G.I.) tract? Your G.I. tract is what helps you digest food and absorb the nutrients that your food contains, but the G.I. tract also contains neural pathways that travel directly to the brain. So it makes sense that the food we eat would affect not only how we feel physically but also mentally.
Studies show that people whose diets are high in processed foods and refined sugars have a significantly higher risk of developing a mental condition like depression or anxiety. Although people who eat a healthy diet may still deal with symptoms of anxiety or another mental illness, eating the right foods can help a lot. Unhealthy foods and other substances that cause inflammation in the body can have a direct impact on our mood in very negative ways.
Just as eating the right things will support your physical and mental health, it also helps a lot to avoid the wrong things. Alcohol and caffeine are two substances that you should try to limit, as they are known to cause mood instability. If you occasionally have a drink with friends or drink small amounts of coffee and tea, you probably don’t need to worry, but be aware of how these substances affect you and manage your intake accordingly.
If you drink a lot of coffee, tea, and/or energy drinks, though, you should consider changing your habits. Caffeine is a stimulant that gives your body a boost of energy. Caffeine will often only worsen your anxiety symptoms by making you more fidgety, increasing your heart rate, and even increasing your blood pressure. That boost of energy caffeine gives you is also short-lived, usually followed by a crash, which can induce feelings of depression.
Alcohol is another substance that can aggravate the symptoms of mental conditions like anxiety. Alcohol is a depressant, which means that it lowers the function of your nervous system. You might think that is good if you have anxiety, but too much alcohol impairs your judgment and leads to behavior that creates the very problems that trigger your anxiety, making it worse.
Exercise is an extremely effective tool you can use to combat anxiety because physical exercise actively produces the “feel-good” chemicals in the brain that promote feelings of happiness and reduce pain. Exercise keeps not only your body healthy and in shape but also your mind. Studies show that exercise reduces stress and fatigue and even help you sleep better.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), exercise can, in some cases, work just as well as medication to reduce anxiety symptoms.
Trouble sleeping is a common symptom of anxiety. Ironically, lack of sleep also exacerbates other anxiety symptoms. If you usually stay up late, try to get to bed a little bit earlier so you can get your recommended 7–9 hours of sleep. When the body’s biological clock is in tune with a regular sleep cycle, this improves mood function as well.
Also, try not to spend a lot of time on your phone or other devices before bed, because the blue light from your screen can actually stop your brain from producing melatonin — the hormone that your body produces to tell your brain it’s time to sleep. If you still have trouble falling and/or staying asleep, talk to your doctor about your options, such as mild sleep aids that are not habit forming you can try.
There are many more habits you can develop and activities you can engage in to improve your mental health. In fact, Harvard recently published their findings from an 80-year study on adult development and found that things, like giving back to the community and engaging in healthy relationships, can be the key to a long, happy life.
Another important aspect of managing anxiety is, of course, professional treatment. Many forms of anxiety treatments exist, including medication and non-drug options like TMS or talk therapy.
Psychiatrists commonly prescribe antidepressants (SSRIs and SNRIS) to treat anxiety, and many patients find relief from their symptoms. Benzodiazepines like Xanax and Klonopin can also be prescribed to treat anxiety and panic attacks. Rather than taking a benzodiazepine at a set time every day, like you would an SSRI or SNRI, you take benzodiazepines as needed when you start to panic or feel anxious. Keep in mind that benzodiazepines can be habit forming, so talk it over with your doctor and carefully review all your options before you make a decision on medications.
Another drug option is ketamine, originally used as a surgical anesthetic. However, evidence from medical research has shown that ketamine infusions in micro-doses are very effective at treating the symptoms of anxiety and depression within hours. Recently, the FDA approved a drug that is a derivative of ketamine called esketamine or Sprovato. This drug is administered at a doctor’s office in the form of a nasal spray and is intended to be used along with a regular SSRI or SNRI.
Although many people find relief through medication, many are not able to tolerate their side effects or simply do not respond as well to such medications and struggle to find adequate relief from traditional drug therapy. Others may not be able to take medication for various reasons, including breastfeeding, for example.
For those people, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) can be a very good option. TMS is a completely drug-free and non-invasive treatment using MRI technology to repair neural connections in the brain that cause anxiety and depression. TMS is a well-tolerated outpatient treatment with few side effects and no downtime.
Another great option to help manage anxiety is professional counseling. Therapists can teach you the skills you need to deal with situations and life events that trigger anxiety. How well you manage stress has a big impact on how susceptible you are to anxiety.
Here at Serenity Mental Health Centers, we offer a variety of treatment options for anxiety, such as TMS, ketamine infusions, and medication management, and we work closely with patients find the best course of treatment to match their symptoms. To learn more about managing anxiety, contact us to schedule an appointment.