Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every high school or college curriculum included a prerequisite for graduation called Anxiety Regulation 101? Seriously, life has become so intense and stressful that all of us could benefit from having a toolbox of coping techniques for anxiety. Every day we are challenged to keep our cool while navigating situations that stoke feelings of worry or fear, so why not have a good grasp of coping skills to help manage stress and anxiety.
Anxiety is a very pervasive mental health condition that impacts about 40 million American adults each year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. While feeling stressed out is uncomfortable and we may occasionally lose sleep over this or that situation, everyday stress is not an anxiety disorder. When you become impaired, meaning your health, work, relationships, and sanity suffers due to extreme fear, dread, and worry, is when an anxiety disorder is likely to blame.
Thankfully, anxiety disorders are very treatable. Anxiety treatment usually involves an integrated regimen that includes psychotherapy, medication, and holistic practices. Together, these elements can help the individual better manage an anxiety disorder and improve their quality of life.
Information About Anxiety
Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in the US. There are several different types of anxiety disorder, each with specific features or characteristics and symptoms. Underlying each anxiety disorder is a common feature: fear. Individuals with an anxiety disorder experience irrational fear of people, places, situations, and objects. Alongside the fear is the sense of having no control over the fear-inducing situation.
The different types of anxiety disorder include the following:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): Excessive and irrational fear and worry can cause shortness of breath, insomnia, trouble concentrating, heart palpitations, irritability, sweating, or dizziness.
Panic disorder: Sporadic, unpredictable episodes that feature a sense of impending doom, chest pain, trembling, shortness of breath, and nausea, mimicking a heart attack.
Specific phobia: Extreme and unreasonable fear related to a specific object or situation, causing avoidance behaviors that lead to social isolation.
Social anxiety: Intense fear of being publically judged or rejected by others, causing such symptoms as sweating, blushing, nausea, muscle tension, rapid heartbeat, and lightheadedness.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Lingering anxiety symptoms after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event that features flashbacks, nightmares, irritability, detachment, insomnia, substance abuse, and avoidance behaviors.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Obsessive thoughts and fears that lead to compulsive behavioral responses to the fear as a means of mitigating the anxiety.
Medication, such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines along with psychotherapy are the core treatment elements for managing anxiety. The psychotherapies that help with treating anxiety disorders include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps the individual improve symptoms of anxiety through psychosocial interventions that act as coping skills. Through identifying thought distortions that lead to anxiety, and then shifting toward more rational, self-affirming thoughts, a new response to stressful situations can be accomplished.
- Prolonged exposure therapy: When trauma is at the core of an anxiety disorder, prolonged exposure therapy can be an effective psychotherapy. Exposure therapy helps to alleviate the potency of the past trauma by having the individual process the memories and talk about them, or actually visit the location of the trauma, eventually reducing the power of the trauma.
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT): MBCT is a short-term intervention that blends mindfulness exercises with CBT. By practicing mindfulness in routine activities throughout the day, and then decentering, or stepping back and seeing thoughts as passing events, the individual becomes more aware and emotionally balanced as a result.
Although anxiety disorders are treatable, only about 36% of those afflicted ever seek professional help for the condition.
8 Coping Techniques for Anxiety
Adding complementary treatment elements to the evidence-based approaches can further enhance clinical results. The following coping techniques are easily accessible:
- Deep breathing. A very effective stress reducer that can be accessed pretty much anywhere at any time is deep breathing. Deep breathing produces several physiological responses, including slowing heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and reduce body tension. A basic deep breathing exercise involves breathing in deeply through the nose to a count of 5, holding the breath for a count of 5, and then releasing the breath slowly through the mouth for a count of 7 until all breath is expended. Repeat 4 or 5 times.
- Mindfulness. The practice of paying purposeful attention to the present moment, while focusing on the breathing process, can help rein in runaway stressful thoughts. Mindfulness teaches us how to pay close attention to the physical and emotional sensations of the moment while also expressing self-affirming thoughts. By tuning in to the specific sensory experience of a given moment, while acknowledging a thought or concern without judgment, helps to rein in runaway ruminating over what has happened in the past or what might happen in the future.
- Exercise. Aerobic activities, such as walking, cycling, swimming, dance cardio, running, or spin classes, helps produce the feel-good hormones, called endorphins, and the neurotransmitters dopamine, and serotonin. These natural body chemicals help to improve mood, reduce stress, and provide better sleep quality. Regular exercise can serve as an important stress management tool for individuals who struggle with an anxiety disorder.
- Nutrition. Maximizing the positive effects of nutrition for helping to control anxiety, it is important to consume a diet rich in sources of omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, tuna, spinach, walnuts, eggs), lean proteins, whole grain breads or pastas, and fresh fruits and vegetables, while limiting excessive caffeine intake, alcoholic beverages, refined sugar, fried and processed foods.
- Yoga. Yoga has a wide range of restorative health benefits, including stress reduction. Yoga uses purposeful poses and stances that involve stretching, balance, and core work, calming the central nervous system along the way. It is a peaceful, quiet form of exercise that relieves stress and reduces muscle tension while lowering cortisol levels.
- Gardening. The effects of gardening can do wonders to improve mood and reduce stress. Just being outdoors on a beautiful, sunny day is relaxing. Add to that the process of working the soil and nurturing new plant life, and gardening can be a healing, calming activity that helps keep anxiety at bay.
- Meditation and prayer. The spiritual realm can provide a sense of serenity that calms the mind. Whether one relies on meditation podcasts or videos, group classes, or quiet prayer time, these activities help lead the individual on a mental journey toward a calm, happy place.
- Aromatherapy. A natural remedy for anxiety involves essential oils, or the concentrated extract of specific plants or flowers that can be used medicinally. Aromatherapy uses the essential oils to help relieve a large list of mental health and medical issues. The essential oils with anti-anxiety properties lavender, chamomile, rose, bergamot, and sweet orange oils. Aromatherapy can be administered through inhaling vapors through a diffuser, cupped hands, or as a diluted topical oil.
When anxiety holds your life hostage, access the essential professional evidence-based treatment as well as these coping techniques for anxiety. Combined, these measures should help alleviate symptoms and help you reclaim your emotional balance, energy, and productivity.
Nina Dreyer is the Clinical Supervisor at Medical Concierge Recovery. Being part of the Medical Concierge team she strives in providing outstanding mental health care through the mental health facility, and help improve the quality of life of their clients.