Anxiety is a normal feeling that serves as our internal alarm system. It is part of being human and helps to keep us safe. Anxiety is like an alarm: sometimes it goes off like the subtle alert of a cell phone vibrating in your bag while sometimes it goes off like an air raid siren.
Everyone deals with some amount of anxiety in their lives; however, for most individuals, anxiety presents itself at a level which can be tolerated or alleviated relatively easily. However, for some, anxiety can be extremely debilitating and can interfere with their ability to function on a day-to-day basis. The most severe cases can result in panic attacks, social isolation or even catatonia.
For those that suffer from mild to moderate amounts of anxiety, there are simple strategies that can be learned to modulate the anxiety.
One of the first areas to concentrate on to help with anxiety is breathing. Deep breathing techniques, such as those in Pranayama Yoga have an immediate positive effect on anxiety. Often, when a person’s anxiety state increases, they “forget” to breathe, or breathe in a constricted and shallow manner. Pranayama is the formal practice of controlling the breath; the breath is the source of our prana, or vital life force.
Another technique for the anxiety sufferer is to practice mindfulness, a mental state achieved by focusing completely on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Mindfulness implores us to move away from the “what if’s” and “maybes” and “shoulds” that inundate our daily lives. Regular practice helps us avoid rumination and shut off destructive recurring thoughts that increase anxiety and suffering. Mindfulness also helps benefit the body by regulating the nervous and endocrine systems, allowing relief from the physiological symptoms of anxiety.
In situations where the anxiety trigger can be identified, it is always beneficial to remove yourself (when possible) from that situation until the anxiety can be reduced. This can be simply moving to another room or location, or it can be actively seeking out a peaceful place such as a quiet room with a view, a park with trees to sit under, or a walk on the beach.
When the anxiety trigger is not as obvious, there are methods to help reduce overall anxiety. Meditation is a common practice that has empirical evidence showing its benefits in reducing anxiety. By bringing the mind into a calm, peaceful present moment, meditative practice allows for an individual to be able to better modulate their anxiety and reduce the somatic symptoms that coincide with the stress.
Exercise and Activities
Exercise is also a very important regulator of anxiety. A steady consistent exercise routine has been shown to reduce anxiety. Aerobic exercise is also useful to help control an ongoing anxiety state or attack. Scientific research has shown that exercise can be as powerful as medication in controlling anxiety. Physically active people also have lower rates of depression and anxiety than sedentary people.
Experiential activities such as knitting, pottery, painting, writing and singing or playing music also help to distract the mind from the thoughts and feelings related to anxiety and can diminish the physiological or somatic symptoms of anxiety.
Healthy Sleeping Patterns
A regular sleep routine is also beneficial in reducing anxiety. By sleeping eight hours a night at a consistent time, the body becomes more resilient to deal with anxiety when it hits. A healthy sleeping pattern has been shown to be effective in not only reducing anxiety, but also depression, stress, and mood dysregulation.
Avoiding Caffeine and Substances
Avoiding caffeine, stimulants, drugs, and alcohol can also help in minimizing anxiety. Caffeine and other stimulants raise the heart rate, a common somatic symptom that coincides with anxiety. They also directly increase anxiety through central effects. Other drugs and alcohol wear the body down to be more ill-equipped to handle anxiety during an onset.
Finding Support from Loved Ones
Nurturing, supportive relationships and spending time with loved ones during helps to reduce anxiety by creating a safe, contained environment. By having reliable relationships, the triggers that instigate the anxiety will be reduced, while also having a strong support system to help when anxiety takes over.
Seeking Professional Help
For individuals with debilitating anxiety, these remedies may not be enough to alleviate the suffering associated with anxiety and associated depression. For those who find their anxiety to be interfering with their ability to function in daily life, we recommend that they seek out professional treatment. At PCH Treatment Centers, we utilize mindfulness-based stress reduction, meditation, yoga, exercise, and experiential therapies combined with daily individual Psychodynamic Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and neurofeedback.
We also teach our clients the skills listed above so that they have tools to address the inevitable bouts of anxiety that will arise in their lives. While everyone experiences some levels of stress and anxiety, our therapy targets the root of the problem to widen their window of distress tolerance to cope with everyday situations that initiate stress and anxiety. By enlisting all of these therapies together, our clients are able to leave our treatment center feeling much more capable to cope with and lessen their anxiety, allowing them to lead more fulfilled and happier lives.
Visit our page to learn more about anxiety disorders and the ways in which the PCH team treats them.