Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health disorders in the world. An estimated 40% of adults suffer from anxiety disorders. There are many types of anxiety disorders and symptoms appear in many different ways. However, it is possible to learn how to deal with anxiety and acquire coping mechanisms that can reduce the impact of anxiety on your life. In this blog post, we’ll explore some treatment methods therapists recommend to help patients deal with anxiety.
What is an Anxiety Disorder?
An anxiety disorder is characterized by recurrent, excessive fear, worry and distress brought about by a particular event or situation. While we all may experience anxiety, and this can help motivate us to prepare for the situation, people with anxiety disorders experience fear and distress more intensely and more often, to the point where it becomes harmful. Anxiety disorders often interfere with everyday activities, such as socializing, driving a car, or confronting someone about a problem.
There are many different types of anxiety disorders which appear in different ways. Some of these include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Social anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Separation anxiety disorder
What are the Effects of Anxiety?
Some effects of anxiety disorders include physical symptoms like nausea, sweating, shaking, or pounding heartbeat. Other people may find it difficult to concentrate, or experience outbursts of emotion. The constant state of nervousness and fear anxiety produces can even suppress the immune system, causing people to heal more slowly from injuries and get sick more often. Often, people with anxiety disorders try to avoid the situations which worsen their anxiety, and this can lead to isolation, or a difficulty performing everyday tasks. Anxiety disorders and their effects can make people feel guilty or inferior, leading to low self-esteem or depression.
Though there is no cure for a anxiety disorder, you can learn how to deal with anxiety disorders and the effects in constructive ways. Which of these methods is effective for you will depend on the type of anxiety and symptoms you have. If you have or think you have an anxiety disorder, a professional counselor can help you find ways to deal with anxiety that are best for you.
Here are the 6 Best Methods for Dealing with Anxiety:
1. Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a treatment method usually conducted in therapy under the instruction of a licensed therapist or counselor, and this has helped many people learn how to deal with anxiety. CBT is an effective treatment for many disorders, including anxiety. It focuses on recognizing and interrupting cycles of thoughts, feelings and behaviors that worsen anxiety. In CBT, people with anxiety learn to recognize triggers and challenge negative thoughts that accompany them. They learn to develop coping mechanisms for triggering situations and constructive behaviors.
For example, someone with social anxiety may think that others are judging them or making fun of them in social situations. These thoughts may make them feel more insecure and more anxious, leading to a self-reinforcing cycle. With CBT, they learn to recognize and challenge the validity of these thoughts before leading to more stress. With a therapist, they may practice things to say or how to approach social situations. Though this person will still have social anxiety, CBT can help them deal with anxiety, fight negative feelings, and become less avoidant.
2. Lead a Healthy Lifestyle
Food, sleep and exercise are key elements that determine how your body and your mind operate. These things determine how you process vitamins and minerals, create and use energy, and produce hormones. These activities can have dramatic influences on anxiety disorders. Making a healthy lifestyle a priority in your life is one of the best ways to deal with anxiety and lessen the effects. This means making time to get at least eight hours of sleep each night, eating fruits and vegetables, drinking water, and exercising for at least thirty minutes a day.
Since anxiety disorders can make it difficult to sleep, can cause negative body image, or make it difficult to be outside or around others, it can be understandably difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Here are a few strategies that can help:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, regardless of whether you are or aren’t tired.
- Limit or avoid caffeine.
- Avoid drugs, alcohol, nicotine and tobacco products.
- Set realistic healthy eating goals, with the focus on getting vitamins and minerals instead of on changing your weight or body.
- Exercise at the same time each day, again with the goal of reducing stress and making time for yourself, instead of on changing your weight or body.
- Do exercise you enjoy, such as walking your or a friend’s dog, taking a walk through the park, playing sports, hiking, yoga, or another activity.
- Replace at least one sugary drink with water, and increase this when you can.
- If you make a mistake or slip, don’t punish yourself. Remember that you can always continue and start fresh tomorrow.
3. Exposure Therapy
Often, particular activities or situations trigger or intensify anxiety. This might include meeting new people, speaking in front of a group, eating in front of people, driving a car, or being in a public place. It may seem easiest to simply avoid these situations altogether, but this can be an unhealthy coping mechanism. Avoidance often creates more anxiety, as you may feel guilty or wonder about the consequences of skipping an activity. Avoiding the situation can also make it seem more intense and less bearable. This is where exposure therapy comes in. Exposure therapy can be a very helpful technique for learning how to deal with anxiety in some forms.
As the name suggests, exposure therapy involves taking part in some anxiety-triggering activities, but in measured amounts. Exposure therapy is best conducted with a therapist, so you can have a plan and coping mechanisms prepared before you try the activity. With the right preparation, you can make the experience successful and personally fulfilling, or prepare for circumstances that might hinder you. Though it will still be difficult, taking part in the activity will help to prevent “rumination,” or dwelling on negative outcomes or uncertainties. You will also prove to yourself that you can do it, which is essential positive reinforcement.
In some cases, you can prepare for and try exposure therapy yourself. However, if your anxiety disorder is severe, especially if you experience physical symptoms or thoughts of harming yourself or others, you should not try exposure therapy without the help of a therapist.
4. Relaxing Activities
Anxiety is a type of hyper awareness and hyper vigilance which causes elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and the release of stress hormones. Normally, this response would help us avoid or flee from threats, but anxiety disorders cause the response to occur too much, too often. This is where relaxing activities can be helpful. Certain activities have show to have calming effects on the mind and body, reducing heart rate, blood pressure and hormones to normal levels. These activities can also distract you from anxious thoughts or feelings.
At certain times of the day, or before or after stressful activities, relaxing activities you enjoy can help you deal with anxiety. It should be calming, require relatively little critical thought or physical activity, and it should be enjoyable for you. Remember that the goal is to help you deal with anxiety, so there’s no need to focus on winning, doing it perfectly, or even completing it. Try to simply focus on the activity itself and what you enjoy about it.
Some of these activities include:
- Gentle yoga
- Taking a walk
- Listening to music
- Sudoku or puzzle games
- Non-violent video games
- Paper crafts or origami
- Building a model
- Card games
5. Meditation and Mindfulness
Meditation and mindfulness have both shown to be effective methods to deal with anxiety of all types. Meditation and mindfulness are very similar. It’s helpful to work with a therapist as you learn about mindfulness and meditation, but you can start this by yourself, or you might find guided mindfulness and meditation sessions online.
Mindfulness is an awareness of your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. You can practice mindfulness anywhere, and there are many ways to do it. One of the most common mindfulness exercises, which is especially helpful to learn how to deal with anxiety, is a breathing exercise and a type of meditation. It’s helpful, though not required, to find a quiet, comfortable place for this exercise. Focus on your breathing and the sensations you feel as you breathe. You might be breathing fast or slow, and there’s no need to change. As thoughts or feelings come to you, acknowledge them, and then focus back on your breathing. You might find it helpful to visualize a peaceful place, or to visualize your thoughts as some type of image floating or gliding away. If you get distracted from your breathing, refocus when you can, and let go of any judgements you may have about how you practice mindfulness. You can also do this activity while you’re walking and focus on your steps, while you’re laying down before you sleep, or any time you have a few quiet minutes throughout your day.
6. Compassion and Honesty
If you have an anxiety disorder, you may feel that your anxiety makes you an inadequate friend, partner, worker, or citizen. You may feel the need to punish yourself and lie to others about activities you struggle with. Practicing honesty in your life and being compassionate towards yourself is a subtle, yet very important way to help you learn how to deal with anxiety. Consider the following strategies:
- Make a list of the people you trust, and be honest with them about your anxiety.
- Be honest with yourself about your anxiety and ask for help, either from friends or from a professional, when you need it.
- Write down things you like about yourself, and keep it handy.
- If you feel guilty about cancelling or avoiding events, suggest an alternative you’re more comfortable with.
- Remind yourself that it is okay to have an off day.
Self-awareness is one of the best ways you can deal with anxiety, and will help you implement any or all of these coping strategies. Be aware of what situations trigger your anxiety, and what thoughts or feelings you have during these times. Ask yourself what activities make you most calm and comfortable. Be honest with yourself about your lifestyle, and set realistic goals focused on improving your health. Though it will take time, you may be surprised at how much these strategies can help you deal with anxiety.
We provide counseling services in Bloomfield Hills and Taylor, Michigan for anxiety and many other disorders. Request a consultation to start treating your anxiety and start living happier.