Do you feel uneasy around crowds, or places where new people will be present?
Do you avoid these places, and as a result become withdrawn and isolated from those around you?
Anxiety is more common than you think – 18% of Americans are diagnosed with the mental illness
Anxiety can lead to depression. It makes it difficult to succeed in life – in school, in work, and in social and familial scenarios.
Anxiety is not just “nerves” that you need to get over.
Anxiety is not a weakness.
So what is anxiety? Anxiety is meant to protect you. It’s supposed to be good – it originated as part of the fight-or-flight response so that you’d be alert when you were in danger – such as years ago when we were hunters and gatherers in the woods, needing to be alert for predators.
It’s not good when your body’s fight-or-flight response fires up when there isn’t an actual physical danger in front of you.
What are methods of treating anxiety?
Psychotherapy (talk therapy): there are various types of talk therapists you can see, and finding the right one for you may take many tries – a good fit doesn’t always happen on the first time. There are dozens of different forms of psychotherapy, but the most common used for anxiety are:
Talk therapy: sessions are client-centered, and the therapist provides little authority, feeding off of the client’s thoughts to offer subtle guidance that allows for a sense of control over one’s life.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT treats dysfunctional thinking that leads to maladaptive behaviors and emotions. The behavior centers on changing these thoughts to change the behaviors and feelings and is a more direct approach than talk therapy. Generally, CBT is short-term (no more than 2 months).
Integrative/holistic therapy: integrative approaches to psychotherapy will entail multiple styles or elements from different approaches to tailor each client’s treatment.
- Diet: What you consume for sustenance is what fuels your body – if you’re feeding it refined sugars, chemicals, high-fat dairy, and otherwise poor diet options, your brain (and thus your emotions and thoughts) isn’t operating optimally. In addition, a poor diet contributes to excess weight, which can cause poor body image, leading to an increased risk of depression and/or social anxiety.
- Opt for a predominantly plant-based diet high in fiber and heavy on the veggies. If you’re a meat eater, you don’t need to cut it out entirely, but limit it to a few times a week. Do not consume excess caffeine (no more than 2 cups of coffee or caffeinated tea per day), and avoid refined sugars such as cereals and processed foods. The best rule of thumb: if it looks the same way as it did if you were to pick it out of the ground (or out of the ocean), it’s likely good for your health.
- Exercise: in addition to improving your body image, exercise releases endorphins, which naturally contribute to feeling good. In addition, taking a fun workout class or forcing yourself to focus on 30-60 minutes of a physical task takes your attention away from negative and/or anxious thoughts.
- Meditation: for someone with anxiety, a meditation practice can sometimes be even more anxiety-inducing (am I doing this right? Why can’t I get rid of my thoughts?! I can’t sit still for this long!). There are many free apps you can download on our phone to get practice started, but if the idea of sitting still drives you up a wall, consider taking a yoga class instead. Taking yoga just 3 times per week has been proven to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Throw yourself into a hobby: painting, dancing, hiking, playing cards, knitting, coloring, doing puzzles – anything, even if it seems “childish,” that will keep your mind occupied on the task at hand will allow you to be here, now, with minimal anxiety.
Self-help & coping mechanisms
The way you cope has a direct impact on the amount of anxiety you are experiencing, whether you are actively seeing a therapist or not, and whether you’re on medication or not. A therapist will usually give you the tools to establish cooping skills, but it’s up to you to put them to use.
Recognize that you’re in control of your life. Be here, right now, and if you feel like you’re lacking in control of your life, recognize that you may not be able to change the specific situation at hand, but you absolutely can control your attitude toward it.
Do something that makes you feel needed (note: this is not desired). Doing something with someone else in mind can carry you through the most difficult of times; doing so provides a higher purpose that gives you a reason to bypass your negative thoughts – this can be in the form of volunteering, social networking in a way that improves the community, cleaning up the environment, taking care of your family and kids, or doing something that will help future generations – anything. It doesn’t necessarily need to be volunteering – it just needs to be something for anyone other than yourself (it can be something as simple as sending nice letters or cards to friends to brighten their days).
Medications: if talk therapy and lifestyle changes are not helping, consult your psychiatrist (or ask your primary physician for a referral) to discuss prescription options. Anxiety is inevitable in many situations (public speaking, trying something new, and otherwise nerve-wracking experiences), but it’s not something that should keep you from your daily activities.
Anxiety can be debilitating. If you are having suicidal thoughts,
call 1-800-273-8255 immediately, or chat online with someone here.