Anxiety can be a word used for both a temporary feeling of unease or an outright life-crippling disorder. All of us will have experienced the former, and many will struggle in controlling these feelings of anxiety.
Some mental illnesses are attributed to chemical imbalances, meaning that medication is the primary treatment to correct this. This is not the case for anxiety, and although we can be prescribed medication that can help, it’s important to have a holistic approach to treatment. Here are some tips for dealing with anxiety.
Consider online therapy
We can talk a lot about changes to our habits and environment to help eradicate the source of the anxieties, but ultimately if the anxiety is getting in the way of daily life, immediate therapy is a safe bet.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in particular is commonly used to help patients understand their triggers – perhaps a negative feedback loop that commonly proceeds the person’s panic attack – and this is what the therapist can help you identify and ultimately not be consumed by.
There is one issue that is particularly difficult when looking at how to treat anxiety: the person may be too anxious to seek professional help. This is why online therapy is a great stepping stone because it allows the patient to remain more in their comfort zone, but ultimately receive CBT and have meaningful conversations despite the tech-centric medium. Anxiety help online is in growing demand which is why online therapy options for anxiety have never been more plentiful.
Having anxiety or a panic disorder without your closest friend, parent, or partner knowing is so much worse for the anxiety than if they do know. Being alone with anxiety is fuel on the fire, which is why talking to someone you trust can take a huge weight off your shoulders. It can be the relief that you need – someone who understands why you’re turning down invites to nights out, for example, can make you less worried about what others think.
If you are unable to open up to someone close to you, then beyond a therapist, try and contact a charity dedicated to anxiety. In the UK this may be Samaritans, in the US this may be Contra Costa Crisis Center – they often have live chats, too.
Breathing and mindfulness
Anxiety is such a primal feeling, it’s the very same one that gives you adrenaline when you see a wild bear in your path. It’s helped keep us alive for so long, but somehow hurts us too, especially when that wild bear is replaced with the idea of getting up out of bed.
Because it’s core to us, the advice so far is in line with these basic essentials: talking, sharing, and breathing. Breathing is important because it helps us feel more in control at a very fundamental level. Certain breathing exercises are shown to reduce stress, but they can also be powerful when on the cusp of a panic attack (the very thing that makes us lose our breath).
Controlling our breath also implies we are paying attention to it, and anybody that’s tried out meditation knows this is step 1 of mindfulness. Often the cause of anxiety is derived from worrying about the past or future, so being mindful is an antidote to this as it forces us to be in the present moment. If you’re able to pay full attention to your breath, it may pull you away from a negative train of thought.
Exercise and suffering
Anxiety is fairly synonymous with suffering. The issue is, that it’s completely void of meaning. You may feel the craving to avoid any form of suffering because anxiety is so unpleasant, but actually, leaning into more meaningful forms of suffering can help replace the anxiety. Like exercise.
If you woke up in the morning with sore legs and struggled to walk to the car, you would have a pretty worried, negative reaction to this. But, if it’s because you had the hardest workout of your life yesterday, your interpretation of the soreness would be entirely different and mostly positive – it’s not a pointless pain.
Letting off steam in the gym or by running can be extremely helpful for our mental health. Some people will describe it as having no anxious energy left after a hard workout. Putting yourself in difficult scenarios voluntarily can build your self-esteem, make you feel more in control, as well as some hormonal and chemical benefits from it too. Plus, you can see yourself improve each week.
Sleep and diet
When looking at how to treat anxiety, it can’t be overstated how important diet is to our mental health. Our gut produces 95% of the serotonin in our body, as well as other chemicals and hormones. It’s no surprise then that certain foods can cause shifts in our mood, particularly in regard to irritability and anxiety.
Sugar is perhaps the worst culprit as it spikes our blood sugar, followed by a crash. But processed meat, refined cereals, refined oils, and simple carbs are all culprits too. Don’t try following a specific, temporary diet, just go by the rule of having more variety and less processed foods. Ensuring you’re not deficient in any minerals and vitamins is also important.
Not getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night is one of the biggest causes of mental health problems. This goes hand in hand with food and exercise, as it becomes much more difficult to sleep after having sugary food and not exerting energy. It is common, though, that sleep issues derive from the anxiety problem, and treating the latter will best improve your sleep.
There’s no doubt that much of the above can help improve symptoms of anxiety, but you may be wondering why your friend who eats junk food and doesn’t exercise isn’t also anxious. The truth is that there are many causes and often they’re environmental. For example, you’re deeply unhappy living with your student housemates or that you’re lonely.
Connecting with others is as fundamental to our wellbeing as breathing, sleeping, and eating – yet modern society severely is lacking in it, with the average American having only one close friend. It’s not your fault, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and better it.
Unlike much of the above advice, these are environmental factors that are difficult to fix overnight. A therapist will be a great way to help give practical advice about how to improve your environment though, be it giving you the tools to talk out issues with family or building social skills to make friends.