When anxiety takes over, it can change the way you see your world. Suddenly, your home life and job are overwhelming and unmanageable. People who liked you turn hostile overnight. Sinister potential lurks behind simple interactions. Everything – your career, financial situation, love life, future – teeters on the brink of disaster. At least, it looks that way.
Suddenly, there’s just one safe place to be – bed. And when anxiety takes over, you can spend a whole lot of time there. But if you’re struggling with anxiety, the first and best thing to do is to see a doctor and find out what you’re up against.
There are five types of major types of anxiety disorders, including: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, according to the US Department of Health & Human Services. If there’s no one source of stress, chances are you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, says Dr. Sarah Jarvis, a general practitioner in London, UK. “You worry excessively, not just about one thing (as you might if you had a phobia), but about all sorts of everyday things,” says Jarvis, who also promotes healthy living in British media.
When your boss asks for a minute of your time, you’re certain she’s going to fire you. If your teenager is late coming home, you’re sure he’s been in a fatal accident. When you have a stomach ache, there’s no doubt about it — it’s cancer.
“It’s an exhausting and distressing condition which often goes undiagnosed,” Jarvis added. “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting about 40 million adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Illness,” writes KP Whaley. However, only a small percentage seek treatment for anxiety despite it being very treatable.
Seeking professional help is the first step to resolving anxiety.
According to Dr. Kalin, “When you have anxiety that is moderate to severe, these can be disabling problems that not only influence your life from the standpoint of work and family, but can also affect your physical health.” Others with GAD fail to seek help because they believe that they’re just “worrywarts,” and that their runaway anxiety is normal. Thankfully, there are ways to distinguish between GAD and normal worrying.
If you have GAD, experts say you suffer from persistent anxious thoughts on most days of the week for a period of six months or more. Also, your anxiety is bad enough that you display other noticeable symptoms, such as edginess, difficulty concentrating, sleeplessness, persistent headaches or stomach aches and fatigue. Another hallmark of GAD is that your emotions cause “a lot of suffering and dysfunction,” says Sally Winston, co-director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorder Institute of Maryland in Towson.
Here’s the good news: anxiety disorders are highly treatable. If you have GAD, Kalin says, it’s vital that you see a doctor and find a plan to vanquish your problem. Once you’ve enlisted professional help, there’s plenty that you can do to help yourself get better and live a happier, more relaxed life.
Meditation is one powerful tool for managing anxiety, yoga is another and mindful living is a third. Put them together, and you’re fortifying yourself with powerful medicine.
Try some of the following coping strategies the next time you begin to feel anxious or stressed. These are based on the tips on the ADAA website (Anxiety and Depression Association of America). I’ve included some coaching tips to help you integrate these strategies into your daily life. These strategies also work for stress relief, too.
1. Take time for yourself.
Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head. If you want help getting started, try headspace.com for a free trial of a daily 10 minute meditation.
2. Eat well-balanced meals.
Do not skip any meals. Keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand.
3. Limit alcohol and caffeine.
Both can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks. Some people find it is easier to eliminate an addictive substance than it is to try to limit or manage intake.
4. Get plenty of sleep.
When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest. Is your bedroom set up to give you the best quality sleep? It pays to invest in a quality mattress, bed linens and a good pillow. Turn off blue lights two or more hours before you go to sleep. Try using an eye mask.
5. Exercise every day.
When you exercise every day, it helps you feel good and maintain your health. If you are extroverted, find an exercise buddy or join a team sport or activity. Then it will be fun and easy to exercise. If you are introverted, experiment with activities until you find something that you really enjoy. Walking is highly beneficial, free and only requires a decent pair of walking shoes. Build regular exercise into your daily routine so that it becomes effortless.
6. Take deep breaths.
Inhale and exhale slowly. Some yoga classes include guided deep breathing exercises.
7. Count to 10 slowly.
Repeat and count to 20, if necessary.
8. Good enough is good enough.
Instead of aiming for perfection which may not be possible, determine how much is good enough and stop there.
9. Accept that you cannot control everything.
Put your stress in perspective: Is it really as bad as you think?
A good laugh goes a long way to easing anxiety. Try watching some funny films to shift a bad mood.
11. Maintain a positive attitude.
Easier said than done, especially when you are feeling negative. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you focus on the worrying or negative thought and consciously replace those negative thoughts with positive ones. Meditation and journaling are also great tools for putting negative thoughts into perspective. Spending time with pets and in nature can also help.
12. Get involved.
Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community. It creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress.
13. Learn what triggers your anxiety.
Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, and look for a pattern.
14. Talk to someone.
Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed, and let them know how they can help you. Talk to a physician or therapist for professional help. There are no brownie points for suffering or struggling in silence alone. Get the help you need.
A guest blog by Kate Taylor