What to know about anxiety
Anxiety is a normal and often healthy emotion. However, when a person regularly feels disproportionate levels of anxiety, it might become a medical disorder.
Anxiety disorders form a category of mental health diagnoses that lead to excessive nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worry.
These disorders alter how a person processes emotions and behave, also causing physical symptoms. Mild anxiety might be vague and unsettling, while severe anxiety may seriously affect day-to-day living.
What is anxiety?
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”
Knowing the difference between normal feelings of anxiety and an anxiety disorder requiring medical attention can help a person identify and treat the condition.
It turns out, I do suffer from anxiety. My mind races, my heart races, I feel as though I am in a constant state of worry, and I find it hard to focus on anything as my brain spirals to an immediate worst-case scenario.
While a number of different diagnoses constitute anxiety disorders, the symptoms of a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) will often include the following:
I. Restlessness, and a feeling of being “on-edge”
II. Uncontrollable feelings of worry
III. Increased irritability
IV. Concentration difficulties
V. Sleep difficulties, such as problems in falling or staying asleep
While these symptoms might be normal to experience in daily life, people with GAD will experience them to persistent or extreme levels. GAD may present as vague, unsettling worry or more severe anxiety that disrupts day-to-day living.
If you’re at a loss with the way to cope once your anxiety acts up, try these exercises to regain control.
1. Keep Track of Your Triggers
Every time you feel your anxiety symptoms, take note of what triggered it. In the future, you can take steps to avoid these triggers or be aware that one is coming up so you’re prepared to deal with it. Having a sense of control can make your anxiety less scary — you’re the boss of your anxiety, anxiety is not the boss of you!
2. Create a Plan
When I feel anxiety creeping up on me, I pause. I take a few deep breaths, remind myself that my anxiety is only thoughts, and take a moment of quiet solitude to keep from spiraling out of control. This is something completely silent and personal that I can do if I feel myself getting overwhelmed in a meeting or out in public. You can create an anxiety exercise like this one that works for you, though it may take a little trial and error. Maybe a few sips of cool water or excusing yourself to take a walk around the block outside helps you. Once you find a plan that works, stick to it whenever you feel anxious.
3. Have Someone to Rely on
Sometimes anxious thoughts are louder than our internal voice of reason. It’s helpful to have someone that understands your anxiety, like your mom, significant other, or your therapist. When you’re feeling out of control and need some help, send them a text that says “Hey, I’m feeling a little anxious right now, can you remind me that everything is going to be OK?” Hearing that everything is alright from another person will facilitate bring you back to reality and quiet the anxiety monster.
4. Find Physical Relief
When we’re anxious, we tend to build up tension in our bodies. You may have tight shoulders, or be a jaw-clincher like Maine. Take a flash to relax every muscle and shake out any tension. A physical release can often lead to a mental one — the simple act of relaxing can help tame your anxiety.
5. Talk to Your Doctor
Of course, I’m not a medical professional. These tools help many, but they may not work for everyone. Talk to your doctor to see if a prescription medication can help you get in control of your anxiety alongside these coping exercises.