If you are someone who struggles with anxiety, I want you first to know that you're not by yourself. Currently, around 40 million people are diagnosed with some kind of anxiety or anxiety disorder. The good news is there are ways we can work through it. I find that understanding what it is and what it looks like is a helpful first step with this process.
And It’s important to remember that anxiety is not a bad thing and it doesn’t define you. We will all have some sort of anxiety for the rest of our lives because it is simply a response that happens in us when we are presented with something that could be harmful to our overall well-being or just a threat to our safety.
Anxiety also drives emotion and moves us into action. That action looks differently depending on what the threat is and we need that to keep us safe. If we didn't have this response inside of us, there would be nothing to tell us to warn or alert us to danger.
However, it becomes disordered for some, meaning they have a fear response that is disproportionate or not appropriate to the actual threat that's being posed.
These individuals develop maladaptive behaviors to cope with the anxiety-producing or provoking situation or entity. But it’s something that's really not harming them. They end up doing things to avoid that fear that are affecting my quality of life. For these individuals, anxiety is excessive and can interfere with daily life.
Symptoms of Anxiety
When it comes to the symptoms of anxiety, some of us have more physical symptoms. Others have more psychological symptoms. And all of us have behavioral symptoms. We aren’t always aware of it though. Let’s go over some of the various signs and symptoms of anxiety and see if any of it resonates with you:
Physical symptoms of anxiety include: Heart-pounding, feeling flushed, headaches, dry mouth, some stomach pains, nausea, diarrhea, muscle aches and pains, restlessness, or just an inability to relax, sweating or dizziness.
Psychological symptoms: Excessive worrying, irritability, anger or lashing out, feeling on edge, impatience, difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts, or fatigue. Even sometimes difficulty retaining memories.
Behavioral symptoms: Obsessive or compulsive behavior, phobic behavior, avoidance, or distress in social situations.
Now this is definitely not an exhaustive list, but some of the common ones that we see. We also have to keep in mind that these symptoms, when isolated don't always mean it's anxiety. Like we talked about above, anxiety is excessive and all-consuming.
The Cycle of Anxiety
The cycle of anxiety starts with an anxiety-producing situation that leads to uncomfortable symptoms. Some of the symptoms that we just talked about, like fear and a racing heart and sweating and feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed or worrying. And then, when we are presented with this situation and we have these symptoms, what do we do in this cycle? We avoid it.
It's simply human nature to want to move away from things that make us feel scare us or make us feel bad. When these uncomfortable symptoms come up, the way that we control them is by avoiding it. And when we avoid it, we have what is called short-term relief from the anxiety. Our brains go “crisis averted” and we don't feel anxious anymore.
But our brains learned that when this anxiety-producing situation is avoided, our symptoms will go away. So, guess what happens the next time we are presented with this same situation? We're going to feel anxiety again.
How to Cope With Anxiety
Guided deep breathing. There are tons of apps and free videos on YouTube that can help guide you through deep breathing exercises. I have Three Minute Mindfulness on my phone which I really like and works well - I even use it in sessions with clients.
Physical activity. Even just five minutes can help elevate and stabilize your mood, decrease tension, and stimulate anti-anxiety effects in the body.
Call it out. When you admit or express that you’re having anxiety out loud, in the moment, it can help diminish the severity of it.
Listening to relaxing music. There are going to be times when this works better than others - if you’re in a full-on panic attack, this may not be the most effective. But incorporating things like this in your day-to-day routine and being intentional about creating calmness in your life can help reduce anxiety when it does come on.
Grounding. This is an exercise that involves you incorporating all five senses. You start by identifying five things around you: Five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
Repeating a mantra while deep breathing. This can be a short sentence that you repeat to yourself when you start to feel anxiety coming on, like, “This too shall pass” or “I release all my worry and fear” or “this is only temporary.” One of my favorites is, “I release this fear, it is not mine.”
Journaling. There is a correlation between our stressors and anxiety triggers. So, journaling can help transfer them from our mind to paper so we can problem solve fear-based thoughts. Try listing the fears that you’re experiencing in a certain moment and then thinking about what it is exactly that triggered those fears. Getting your fears out in the open can remove them and give you space to examine them (figuring out what’s a healthy fear or unhealthy fear).
Aromatherapy. Essential oils have been found to be helpful for relieving stress, some of which are valerian, lavender, jasmine, sweet basil, frankincense, patchouli, chamomile, or ylang-ylang.
Therapy. Therapy has been proven to be helpful with anxiety management. A therapist can help you understand the nature of your anxiety and help you identify ways to effectively cope.
Again, anxiety is not a bad thing. It is an instinctual response alerting us to what we think is a threat. But we CAN be liberated and get to a place where we realize we’re not in any real danger and not allow anxiety to have a hold on us.
If you want more, head to my podcast episode on No Tea, Just Juice Episode 10