The author is a mental health coach with over 15 years' experience. Currently, she is an ADHD coach.
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common forms of mental illness, affecting nearly 20 percent of the American population. Though they are highly treatable, only 37% of those suffering from anxiety seek treatment. This means nearly 240 million people, in America alone, are struggling to cope with everyday life. Perhaps they don't know how to get help, or where to go to find it. In this article, I will explore the many ways to manage and conquer anxiety, so that you can bring more ease and fulfillment to your life.
What Is anxiety?
Normal anxiety is the kind of fear that one may feel before a job interview, an exam, or going on a first date. Physically, it is a nervousness set off by a rush of adrenaline in the body, which causes a nervous system response called the flight-or-fight syndrome.
Evolutionarily speaking, the fight-or-flight syndrome has been a necessary mechanism in survival. When faced with a perceived threat, the adrenaline coursing through the body prepares the person to either face and fight the dangerous situation, or to run away from it. Blood rushes away from the less vital organs, such as the brain and stomach, to the organs that are more crucial for fight-or-flight—the heart and lungs. That is the reason behind the intense physical sensations one might experience when suffering a panic attack.
In today’s society, it is much less likely that one would encounter situations that would necessitate the flight-or-flight syndrome than we would, say, in caveman days when physical threats would have been constant. However, as the fight-or-flight response is still a necessary part of human survival, it has never been phased out. Therefore, it more often occurs in situations where the threats are less tangible.
For example, a threat to a person’s psychological safety (i.e., potential embarrassment, being judged by others, loss of a loved one) is a more common reason for anxiety symptoms than fear of actual bodily harm (though this still remains a cause for anxiety for many people). Psychologically speaking, anxiety can be explained by the following equation:
Ways to Avoid Anxiety & Manage Anxiety Symptoms
There are a few simple behavioural things you can do to reduce anxiety:
- Reduce caffeine intake. Caffeine is a stimulant which in high doses causes symptoms similar to anxiety symptoms – such as increased heart rate and palpitations. Even low doses can cause insomnia and sleeplessness, another side effect of anxiety. Sources of caffeine include coffee (espresso being the highest in caffeine), black tea, cola drinks and chocolate.
- Get regular exercise. Physical exercise is one of nature’s antidotes to stress. A long, brisk walk or going swimming are relaxing ways to unwind and release bodily tension.
- Reduce alcohol intake. Although alcohol is a depressant which may temporarily relieve anxiety symptoms, hangovers reduce a person’s resiliency and make them more receptive and prone to anxiety symptoms.
- Avoid narcotic drugs. Stimulant drugs such as amphetamines and cocaine are notorious for causing anxiety and panic, as are hallucinogens such as marijuana, LSD and Psilocybin mushrooms. Other culture-specific uses of substances, such chewing Khat or Betel Nut have also been associated with triggering anxiety.
- Sleep and rest. Insomnia can be a big problem in times of high stress and anxiety. See the next section for ways to cope with sleep problems.
- Get organised. If part of the reason you are feeling anxious is due to multiple responsibilities, getting organised can go a long way to reducing the stress that you feel because of them. If need be, enlist the help of a professional organiser or assistant.
- Reduce your work load. If you have a lot on your plate - be it at work, home or in your extra-curricular activities, try to cut down on what you are doing. Or if that is not possible – ask for help. Being overworked or over-busy in your personal life is a key stress-trigger that not only gives you too much to worry about, but causes you to become run-ragged and therefore lessens your resilience to the effects of stress.
- Spend at least 15 minutes a day on relaxation activities. Yoga, meditation, guided imagery, deep-breathing and progressive-muscle relaxation training are fantastic ways to reduce anxiety and stress. Alternative medicine such as acupuncture and reiki can also help stress.
- Eat well. Eating healthy and avoiding too much junk food keeps the body and its defences strong and able to cope with demands of everyday stresses.
- Have fun whenever you can. Laughing causes the body to release endorphins, a natural antidote to pain which causes a sense of well-being.
Tips for Better Sleep
- Stick to a routine. Make sure that you do the same thing every night, and that the activities you do before bed (and the hour up to it) are relaxing, such as having a bath, reading a book, or listening to music. Avoid high-intensity exercise or eating large amounts before bed.
- If you don’t fall asleep within half an hour, get up and do something else for a bit. Anyone who has ever suffered from insomnia will know that the harder you try to fall asleep, the less likely it is you will be able to do so. Trying to fall asleep is near impossible. Do something else, like read or listen to soft music, and wait to drop off naturally.
- Don’t become dependent on sleep medication, prescription or over-the-counter. These can become habit forming and if you rely on them too much, you won’t be able to sleep without them and will need increasing doses to achieve the desired effect.
- Some people find that warm milk before bed in a natural sedative to help them fall asleep.
- Don’t worry about how much sleep you get. Obsessing over how many hours you get a night will only give you something else to worry about. The truth is, most people can function on very little sleep; simply lying in bed and resting can be enough to recharge your batteries for the next day. Besides, most people actually get a lot more sleep than they perceive that they have.
How to Do Deep Breathing for Relaxation
Psychological Tips for Managing Anxiety
- Try and let it go. It sounds rather cliché, but if you give up the need to control your situation, sometimes the anxiety will dissipate on its own. Often, the ‘fear of the fear itself’ is enough to keep it going. But if you’re not afraid feel to anxious, you’ve already overcome at least part of the problem.
- Set aside a worry period and stick to it. Worry periods are specific times that you set aside during the day, usually around half an hour to an hour, to think about the issues that are worrying you or causing you anxiety. Then, when thoughts about the worry pop up at others times, you banish them from your mind until it is time again for your next worry period. This may sound like an unusual tactic to make a point of worrying, but the reason for it is simple. If you are worrying, trying to simply stop is not going to happen. On a subconscious level, your mind feels that by worrying about a problem, it is doing something to resolve it. In reality though, constant worrying does nothing and is counterproductive. An ‘organised’ worry period during the day can fruitful whilst also limiting the damaging effects of worry.
- Write out your worries or the issues that are causing your anxiety. Make a list of what is within your control and what is out of your control (i.e. worrying that it may rain on your wedding day!). For the issues that are within your control, jot down steps that you can take to address them and, if possible, ameliorate the anxiety - and then act on them!
- Make a list of your strengths, coping skills, and resources – including other people who could help you with your difficulties. Talk to other people for an objective perspective about the issue that is causing you anxiety. However, beware not to rely too much on reassurance-seeking for anxiety relief – its benefits are usually only temporary and can exhaust other people if you do it too much!
- Ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that could happen’ and what is the actual likelihood of it happening? Often, as described in the anxiety equation earlier, people appraise the anxiety-causing stimulus as being much worse than it actually is. Be careful not to catastrophise, a phenomena by which people who are worrying assume that the very worst thing that could happen is likely to happen, without any evidence to base it on. This usually involves a bit of mind-reading (assuming you know what other people think and what they will do) and fortune-telling (presuming that you know what is going to happen before it does) too!
Example of Catastrophising
When Anxiety Spirals Out of Control…
We’ve talked about anxiety, worry and stress as normal part of the range of human emotions. However, there are times when anxiety can become so intense and so debilitating that professional help is needed. Anxiety disorders are mental health problems whose roots are based in anxiety and worrying. Examples include:
- Panic Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder
- Specific Phobias
- Social Phobia/Anxiety
If your anxiety symptoms become so severe that they interfere with your daily functioning - either by causing you to do things you normally wouldn’t or by stopping you from doing things you would like to be able to do – then it is time seek help from your physician, a psychiatric professional or a counsellor.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Breanne Ginsburg on December 27, 2014:
I really enjoyed reading this! You have excellent advice on how to work through anxiety and panic attacks. I especially like your description of anxiety being the overestimation of danger and the underestimation of our ability to overcome our fears.
Adrian Hill on November 15, 2012:
This is a fine hub page. With the messed up economy and stresses of life many of us in the USA are developing harsh anxiety symptoms and need help. I know I am one of them. That is why I started http://howtoovercomeanxiety.org After losing my job and being unemployed, I can understand the difficulties of anxiety attacks. If you want more information on how to overcome anxiety you can visit my site.
Nordy (author) from Canada on April 23, 2012:
Many, many thanks!
Nordy (author) from Canada on April 14, 2012:
Thanks for the comment, I have really enjoyed reading some of your work on anxiety as well!
meloncauli from UK on April 13, 2012:
Enjoyed reading your hub. Keep writing!
Nordy (author) from Canada on February 23, 2012:
Hi there, thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear about your health anxiety but please know that it is very treatable! What mental health services do you have available in your area? Cognitive-Behavioural therapy can be very helpful with this kind of anxiety.
cheri on February 23, 2012:
I really found your article interesting! I suffer from a health phobia( fear of illness and aging) Do u have any advice or info. about this?
Nordy (author) from Canada on October 19, 2011:
Glad to hear that you have managed to put your anxiety behind you!
soulunique from Peterborough on October 03, 2011:
I suffer from An anxiety disorder and overcoming it is a struggle, but once you learn that your fears are an over estimation, you can train your brain into believeing there is no fear. It's a liberating feeling when you establish that your fears are irational and actually prevent you from progressing in life.
Nordy (author) from Canada on February 12, 2011:
I'm glad! Keep on writing!
Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on February 12, 2011:
Perfect timing for me!
Nordy (author) from Canada on November 24, 2010:
Lorlie6- thanks as always for your comments. I am glad to hear you have found a good professional to work with. BPD is such a difficult thing to live with as you well know, but it sounds like you are on the right path to recovery. It is heart wrenching how many people get caught up in self-medicating, not knowing exactly what it is they are trying to "treat" and then later end up with addictions on top of the original problems they were trying to medicate. I truly believe that if we were able to talk more openly about mental illness, then people would be more likely to get help sooner and eliminate at least some of the dependency on street drugs. My hat goes off to you and a wish you all the best in your journey in wellness.
Lindajot, thank you as well for your comment. You are so right- you are not alone. Even people who don't meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder can suffer from anxiety and even panic now and then. Best of luck to you!
lindajot from Willamette Valley - Oregon on November 12, 2010:
Thank you for some great information. at least those of us dealing with panic and anxiety disorders can know we are not alone.
Laurel Rogers from Grizzly Flats, Ca on October 30, 2010:
Hi Nordy-Wonderful article! My psychiatrist is terrific, I must say, and has diagnosed me with BPDisorder, and an alphabet soup of anxiety disorders. I am finally medicated to take care of many of these problems without being stoned! That's been my fear, being too high-especially since I am in recovery.
Nordy (author) from Canada on October 29, 2010:
Thanks PanicAnxietyInfo, you certainly know your stuff! I wish that panic attacks were something that were presented as a topic in health classes for young teenagers, I am sure that would do a lot to prevent more serious escalations for many. If only it was known how normal and benign they truly are! BTW, love Syndey! Spent a few months in Coogee Beach yonders ago, one of the greatest cities on this earth!
PanicAnxietyInfo from Sydney on October 29, 2010:
Excellent hub - i like your example of catastrophic thinking. You can see how this ties into extreme panic attacks when the fear really takes over.
Nordy (author) from Canada on October 14, 2010:
Panic - You are so right that the time it takes to recover from anxiety differs person to person, and also in that professional help can expediate that process. Thanks for your comment!
Goodpal, thanks for your review. I have had a look at your website, interesting stuff. Esp. the info on brainwaves and mindfulness. I am by nature a theta type person (i.e. under normal circumstances, my brain sort of settles in this dreamy zone) but have, as I now realise, spent most of my adult life forcing myself to live in the beta zone, trying to keep up with everyone else. I am slowly trying to let go of this over-compensation, mindfulness being my vehicle. Strangely, when I first started ``trying`` to be mindful, my mental chatter and inattentiveness seemed to quadrupal. Then I let go of trying, and lo and behold I seem much more able to just be. Have to keep working at it, but I really do think the art of mindfulness is a one key to living a life well-lived. I look forward to reading more from you!
Goodpal on October 14, 2010:
Your "anxiety formula" sums up every thing neatly. Crystal clear presentation of topic.
Panic on October 13, 2010:
It's all in the mind. I used to have high levels of panic and anxiety attacks especially while driving but once I learned to control my mind, I was able to overcome the episodes. The time it takes for everyone to overcome their fears will vary. Some people may take days, some weeks and some may even take years. However, if you want to overcome your high levels of panic and anxiety attacks in the shortest time possible, I encourage you to get help from a professional.
Nordy (author) from Canada on August 23, 2010:
Hi GodsAngel1 - Thanks for your input. I'm not sure where you are, but in the UK marijuana is considered to be a mild hallucinogen, but maybe its effects are not as profound as say with LSD. It does induce perceptual disturbances, particularly with hearing, though maybe not visual illusions the same as with other drugs. Probably you are right that marijuana, used very occasionally, is "fairly" safe. But having worked in inner city community mental health for many years, I also know that there is a strong correlation between heavy cannabis use and psychosis, so I would not consider it 100% safe. I thank you for your points though, certainly good food for thought.
GodsAngel1 on August 23, 2010:
This was a very informative Hub, but I must disagree with one point. Marijauna is not a halucinagin in any way shape or form. In fact, many doctors today find it to be a fairly safe drug, providing you don't smoke it, which would be detrimental to your lungs. I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who has halucinated just from marijuana use.
Nordy (author) from Canada on August 01, 2010:
Thanks for your kudos Japemewellows, and i hope that many do!
Japemwellows from 5ifth Dimensi0n on July 23, 2010:
Nice hub Nordy, wish I had found this kind of information 5 or 6 years ago.
I'm sure many will benefit from this!
Nordy (author) from Canada on June 24, 2010:
Hi Kulsum - I am glad you liked it and that it has helped. I also like your hub on Breathing Exercises and am going to link it to this one if you don't mind. God Bless You also! :)
Dr Kulsum Mehmood from Nagpur, India on June 24, 2010:
This hub seems to be written specifically for me at this point of time. I received just the advice I need now. Many thanks and God Bless You.
Nordy (author) from Canada on April 28, 2010:
Thanks andromida for such glowing comments! I'm glad you enjoyed!
syras mamun on April 25, 2010:
This is simply awesome detailed hub about anxiety.Thank you so much for the info.
Nordy (author) from Canada on April 24, 2010:
Thank you Donna Panic - seems you know a lot about panic & anxiety and have written some very good hubs yourself! I look forward to reading more.
Donna Panic from San antonio on April 24, 2010:
This is a really good hub on anxiety attacks. Thanks for all the great advice on how to manage and overcome anxiety.
dragonbear from Essex UK on January 24, 2010:
A hat trick! Another great hub Nordy.
Nordy (author) from Canada on August 26, 2009:
Thank you tayoadjaponymoah, i hope they help!
tayoadjaponyamoah from Massachusetts/Ghana on August 18, 2009:
you're great. i'm going to try these things
Nordy (author) from Canada on June 15, 2009:
Thank you Madison and Enelle for your comments. I do hope that you have found relief for your panic & anxiety Madison (have you tried CBT?), and that your son is getting help with his problems Enelle. It sounds like he must be having a lot of difficulties, especially as many symptoms of those particular disorders overlap. Good luck to both of you and thanks so much for your comments!
Enelle Lamb from Canada's 'California' on May 09, 2009:
Excellent information...my son is ADHD/ODD, Anxiety Disorder and some PTS...I will have to come back and read more! Excellent hub
Madison_18 from New Jersey on March 15, 2009:
Wonderful and informative. Thank you. I am working on getting my panic and anxiety under control. Thanks for the helpful tips!
Nordy (author) from Canada on October 15, 2008:
Thank you very much!
Ryan Hupfer from San Francisco, CA on October 13, 2008:
Wow, what an awesome Hub!!! Thanks so much for answering my Request, you did an amazing job! Keep up the great Hubbing. :)