Does anxiety have an overwhelming pull in your life? Fortunately, there are some simple measures you can take to manage your anxiety.
For those with an anxiety disorder, it’s important to look into strategies you can take to manage or reduce anxiety in the long term.
Many people with an anxiety disorder can benefit from a three-pronged approach: lifestyle modification, psychotherapy, and medication. Each person may need a different combination of these three elements, and in different orders.
Daily exercise: can alleviate anxiety symptoms. Go for a brisk walk or undertake an active sport that you enjoy. Get your heart rate into the healthy range by exercising 30 minutes a day. Since anxiety is often associated with shallow breathing, exercises that incorporate deep breathing (e.g. swimming) can also be helpful. Exercise also stimulates our body to produce endorphins, which can improve your mood.
Use aromatherapy: Scents like lavender, chamomile, and sandalwood can be very soothing, potentially easing anxiety. Keep a bottle of essential oil on hand. Breathe in the scent whenever you feel stressed. NOTE: Lavender essential oil should NOT be combined with benzodiazepines – this combination can induce drowsiness.
Invest in a weighted blanket: Weighted blankets are heavier than your typical blanket. For many people with anxiety, weighted blankets may be used in complement to existing treatment modalities. Weighted blankets can help reduce anxiety in both children and adults – without the dreaded side effects that typically come with anti-anxiety medications. Weighted blankets help ground your body during sleep by pushing it downwards, conferring a deeply calming effect. The weighted blankets also stimulate deep pressure to reduce chronic anxiety.
Fact-check your thought pattern: Negative thoughts can take root in your mind and distort the severity of the perceived threat. One way is to challenge your fears, ask if they’re true, and see where you can take back control. Instead of fixating on worst-case scenarios, ask yourself how realistic they are. Getting into a pattern of rethinking your fears helps train your brain to come up with a rational way to deal with your anxious thoughts. Identify the negative thoughts and replace it with realistic ones. This means that you should challenge a negative thought and evaluate it in a balanced and objective manner, without being overly negative or positive. Doing this can help lower your distress.
Breathe and relax: When anxiety flares, take a time out and think about what it is that is making you so nervous. Regain calmness by taking a few deep breaths. Inhale and exhale in an even manner – this will re-center your mind and restore a sense of personal balance. Alternatively, you may also practice progressive relaxation – it begins by tensing and then relaxing one part of the body, usually beginning with the toes. When this part of the body is relaxed, continue likewise with another body part until your body is completely free of tension.
Stay in your time zone: Anxiety is a future-oriented state of mind. So instead of worrying about what’s going to happen, reel yourself back to the present moment. Hold a relaxing image in mind. Once the image is in place, imaging soothing sensations such as pleasant scents and sounds.
Faith and spirituality: can give you a way of feeling connected to something bigger than yourself. Faith can provide a way of coping with anxiety. And attending church, for example, can connect you with a valuable support network.
Psychotherapy, with or without medication, is often considered a fundamental aspect of treatment for anxiety. Several specific forms of psychotherapy are helpful for alleviating anxiety.
Psychodynamic psychotherapy and supportive-expressive therapy focus on anxiety as an outgrowth of feelings about important relationships.
Cognitive behavioral therapy involves learning behavioral relaxation techniques as well as restructuring patterns of thinking that foster anxiety. As the name suggests, CBT involves two main components – cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. Cognitive therapy examines how negative thoughts contributes to anxiety. Behavioral therapy examines how you behave and react in situations that trigger anxiety.
Biofeedback is another helpful tool. In a series of sessions with a therapist, you watch your own brainwave patterns on an electroencephalograph and gradually learns to control the waves. This teaches you to achieve a more relaxed state at will. Practitioners estimate that after about a dozen sessions, you will be able to exert control over mental activity without the help of the therapist or monitoring instrument.
Medication is useful for alleviating the symptoms of anxiety and is often prescribed in conjunction with lifestyle modification and psychotherapy. Anti-anxiety medications are not cures for anxiety disorders, but they can help manage some of the symptoms.
Here are the subclasses of drugs that are commonly used to treat anxiety – and anti-depressants are on the front line. Be careful though! Some types of anti-anxiety medications can be habit-forming and are usually prescribed on a short-term or as-needed basis.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are a class of anti-depressants widely used as first-line treatment for anxiety disorders. Examples of SSRIs include Paxil (paroxetine), Proxac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), and Lexapro (escitalopram). SSRIs increase the amount of serotonin in the brain, which helps improve mood. Side effects include headaches, dry mouth, drowsiness, diminished sex drive, and weight gain. They can also increase the risk of suicide ideation (thinking about or planning suicide), particularly in young people.
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are also a class of anti-depressants that can be used to treat anxiety disorders. Examples of SNRIs include Effexor (venlafaxine), Cymbalta (duloxetine), and Pristiq (desvenlafaxine). SNRIs increase the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine to help boost mood and are similar in effectiveness to SSRIs. Side effects are similar to those of SSRIs.
Benzodiazepines can offer immediate relief of anxiety symptoms by enhancing neurotransmitter activity in the brain and by generating a sedative effect. Examples of benzodiazepines include Valium, Xanax, and Klonopin. Drawbacks include drowsiness, irritability, dizziness, memory, and attention problems, and physical dependence. Because people taking them can build up a tolerance that leaves them needing higher doses, they are usually prescribed for very short periods of time – usually no more than a month. If you stop taking them suddenly, withdrawal symptoms may occur, so it’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions for tapering off your medication.
Another anti-anxiety drug is buspirone (BuSpar). It has fewer side effects than benzodiazepines and is not associated with dependence. BuSpar, however, can have its own side effects and may not always be as effective when a person has taken benzodiazepines in the past. BuSpar requires one to two weeks for initial effects to be felt, it is not effective for the treatment of anxiety attacks, and it must be taken consistently in order to have an effect on symptoms.
The Bottom Line
If you have anxiety, medication can help to alleviate anxiety, and often help you calm down. Other approaches to anxiety relief, such as psychotherapy and developing relaxation techniques, can also reduce your anxiety. Often, a combination of approaches is needed to alleviate your symptoms. Of course, everyone is different and what works for one person might not work for you.