Have you ever noticed that your heart rate increases in stressful situations? Or that your palms sweat when you face a formidable event or task?
If so, you’re experiencing anxiety—the way your body naturally responds to stress. We’ve all used the word “anxiety” to describe that general feeling of unease, nervousness, or worry. Often, it’s that feeling that builds in response to an important upcoming event, or to one with an unpredictable outcome.
Everyone deals with anxiety because it’s an inherent component of the way our brains respond to perceived dangers. Even though those dangers aren’t always real, our bodies’ responses are.
Reducing Situational Anxiety
If your anxiousness is related to a specific situation, such as an imminent event, your symptoms will probably be temporary and will dissipate after the event ends. If this type of anxiety sometimes hinders your tasks or focus, here are five quick tips that may help you control the situation.
- Challenge your fears.
It’s easy for negative thoughts to take hold in your mind and intensify a situation’s severity. One way to regain control is to analyze your thought pattern and challenge your fears. Ask yourself if the fears are real, then think through how you could regain control.
- Practice deep, focused breathing.
Stabilizing your breathing slows your heart rate, which will help you calm down. Try inhaling for a count of four, then exhaling for a count of four. Continue this controlled breathing for about five minutes.
- Give aromatherapy a try.
Scents like bergamot, chamomile, sandalwood, and lavender can be calming and soothing. Aromatherapy, whether in the form of candles, incense, or essential oils, helps trigger certain emotional responses in your brain, which eases anxiety.
- Take a walk outside.
The most effective way to stop anxious thought patterns is to simply walk away from the stress-inducing situation. But taking a walk outside and focusing on your body instead of your mind goes that extra step toward relieving your anxiety.
- Write out your thoughts.
If walking away doesn’t help, perhaps writing about the thoughts that are making you anxious will get them out of your head, which makes them feel far less intimidating.
Facing General Anxiety
If you suspect you have generalized anxiety disorder, quick coping methods shouldn’t be the only kind of treatment you employ. These techniques may help you if you have GAD when you’re in a bind, but you need to find more reliable long-term strategies to lessen and even prevent severe symptoms. Here are five longer-term strategies to help cope with long-term anxiety.
- Learn to identify and manage triggers.
Everyone’s triggers are different, but identifying yours is the most effective way to get a handle on anxiety. Figuring out what your triggers are will involve self-reflection and a time commitment. You can often pinpoint triggers by yourself, but you may need outside help, such as a friend or a therapist.
Some triggers are obvious, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or consuming caffeine, or situations such as meeting your significant other’s family, the first day of a new job, or giving a speech or presentation to a crowd of people. Other triggers are more subtle. Longer-term difficulties, such as work-related or personal financial situations, will probably take more time to identify.
When you do identify a trigger, try to limit your exposure to it if at all possible. If you can’t limit it, using other coping techniques may help.
- Practice mindfulness, such as meditation.
It may involve a learning curve to successfully practice mindful meditation, but when done routinely, it can help you retrain your brain to recognize anxious thoughts and dismiss them.
If you find it difficult to sit still and concentrate, consider starting with yoga instead. Other mindful strategies to ground yourself include repeating a mantra, focusing on a comfort object, or closing your eyes and mentally transporting yourself to a happier place.
- Try taking supplements.
Consuming supplements and nutrients such as lemon balm, green tea, omega-3 fatty acids, kava, valerian, ashwagandha, and dark chocolate helps reduce anxiety.
Note that taking supplements is a long-term strategy. It can take three months or longer for your body to run on the superior fuel these foods and herbs provide. If you’re taking medications, be sure to discuss supplements with your doctor.
- Keep your mind and body healthy.
Regular exercise, healthy eating habits, getting enough sleep, and maintaining relationships with people who care about you are enjoyable and effective ways to prevent anxiety.
- Consider medications.
If your mental health provider is recommending that you consider medication, there are multiple options, depending on your symptoms. Consult your doctor for further assistance.
Consider Professional Help
If anxiety is part of your daily life, or that quick tips aren’t helping, you may feel like you don’t know what to do next. Mental health professionals help clients streamline the processes of identifying their triggers, managing their long-term strategies, supervising behavioral therapy, recommending medications, and more.
Anxiety can become a serious issue. Attacks that feel scarce and manageable can gradually build up over an extended time. Some of the more common physical and mental symptoms of anxiety include feelings of dread, panic, or danger; restlessness or nervousness; increased heart rate or hyperventilation; sweating, chills, or trembling; weakness or fatigue; gastrointestinal issues; and difficulty focusing. But how one person’s body reacts to perceived danger may be entirely different compared to another person, so identifying the type of anxiety you’re experiencing can be a challenge.
Anxiety may always be a part of your life, but you don’t have to let it take over your day-to-day routine. Even severe anxiety disorders are treatable so you’re not overcome by the symptoms. Once you find the treatment that works for you, your life will feel more enjoyable and less daunting.