Anxiety is a state of apprehension, worry, and111 fear resulting from a real or imagined impending threat. The degree of stress and its associated physiological (body), psychological (mind), and emotional (spirit) changes are directly proportional to the degree of perceived threat. In response to a perceived threat, the body activates the stress response, which enables the body to deal with the risk – to either fight or flee from it – which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the “fight or flight response.”Most people experience anxiety from time-to-time. However, chronic anxiety can affect one’s relationships, work performance, and other areas of life.
Does anxiety have an overwhelming pull in your life? Fortunately, there are some simple measures you can take to manage your stress.
For those with an anxiety disorder, it’s essential 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 a deep breath (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 profoundly calming effect. The weighted blankets also simulate 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 real, 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 them with realistic ones. This means that you should challenge a negative idea 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 starting with the toes. When this part of the body is relaxed, continue likewise with another body part until your body is entirely 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, soothing imaging sensations such as pleasant scents and sounds.
Faith and spirituality: can give you a way of feeling connected to something bigger than yourself. Religion can provide a means 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 help alleviate anxiety.
Psychodynamic psychotherapy and supportive-expressive therapy focus on anxiety as an outgrowth of feelings about essential 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 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 drugs 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), Prozac (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 you can build up a tolerance that leaves them needing higher doses, it would be prescribed for short periods – usually no more than a month. If you stop taking them suddenly, withdrawal symptoms may occur, so it’s essential 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 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 impacts to be felt. It is not useful for the treatment of anxiety attacks, and it must be taken consistently to affect 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. Usually, a combination of methods is needed to alleviate your symptoms. Of course, everyone is different, and what works for one person might not work for you.