A little anxiety keeps us from doing ridiculous things, like kayaking over waterfalls or drinking milk two weeks past the expiration. And despite the cute idea to envision the whole audience in their birthday suits, most everybody gets at least a little anxious speaking in public.
But that is about the extent of elevated anxiety levels being a good thing.
An anxiety disorder is on the other end of the spectrum from being nervous about, say, making a toast. It can describe something as serious as a panic attack, or an emotion so strong a person feels completely paralyzed and can’t drive (or get out of bed, or join the party, or wash the dishes, that sort of thing.)
One way to think about anxiety is to consider each person’s natural tendency to react to a stressor (real or imagined) with a physiological response. This alarm system of sorts helps keep us safe. A good example would be the flush of adrenaline you get when a dog comes racing out of the bushes as you walk by.
Your body “on alert” may develop feelings of fear, concern, unease or tension, as well as what we call “somatic” symptoms. They include difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep, changes in appetite and rapid heartbeat.
An anxiety disorder, though, takes this helpful system and uses it to alert us far more often that there is a threat. Or, it gives us a blast of warning when a simple nudge would be appropriate. This broken alarm syndrome can manifest as many different issues all known as “anxiety disorders.”
They can vary wildly from person to person in frequency and severity, so you probably won’t be surprised to learn that different people with anxiety disorders have varying levels of success with different anxiety-reducing techniques.
That said, there is anxiety help for anyone with a “broken alarm” in place of a fine-tuned alert system might want to try. Here are five to start with:
Rev up your metabolism
Just because one part of your body isn’t functioning optimally doesn’t mean you can’t jump-start the rest of it to combat anxiety. According to NAMI, studies show just 30 minutes of vigorous, aerobic exercise can eliminate symptoms. Even low-key outlets for your anxiety, like yoga or Tai Chi, relieve stress. The most important part is to keep moving forward.
It would be so nice if the solution to just one mental health issue was. “Eat unlimited donuts,” but that’s just not realistic here. Eating balanced meals (ample protein, plenty of veggies, not too much refined sugar) and watching out for food sensitivities can both help relieve stress and anxiety. Some people also need to eliminate the foods or additives that cause them physical reactions that in turn increase irritability or anxiety.
Avoid drugs and alcohol
This is more of a “don’t” than a “do,” but these substances in all their many forms may disrupt emotional balance and restorative sleep patterns, along with interacting with prescribed medications. Yes, alcohol or recreational drug use may seem to help anxiety at first, but the positive effect lasts only a short time before the negative side effects kick in. Coffee, energy drinks and nicotine products (truth!) also make anxiety worse.
Consider joining a group where you can share your thoughts, concerns, and questions with others in similar situations (and where you won’t hear disparaging comments about “toughing it out.”)
Get professional help–we’re here for you
Anxiety is one of those many mental health disorders that tend to get the reaction of “you don’t look ill” and “get over it” or “where’s your willpower?” from other people, according to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Don’t let these insensitive responses keep you from seeking professional counseling for anxiety, because today’s therapy options have a lot to offer.
Since anxiety disorders can run from mild to profound, a full resolution might involve medical intervention along with mental health counseling. At Real Life Counseling, our counselors create a personalized plan that may include a variety of talk therapy strategies. It all depends on the type of anxiety you’re dealing with. Remember, there’s no shame in asking for help with anxiety. NAMI offers this timely reminder:
“Every year people overcome the challenges of mental illness to do the things they enjoy. Through developing and following a treatment plan, you can dramatically reduce many of your symptoms. People with mental health conditions can and do pursue higher education, succeed in their careers, make friends and have relationships. Mental illness can slow us down, but we don’t need to let it stop us.”
Real Life Counseling is very experienced with successful anxiety counseling, so we know that people who need help may feel anxious about the therapy process, too. We’d like to reassure you that we won’t judge and our trained counselors and sympathetic support staff await the chance to personalize an issues-based process that will help you address your anxiety or other mental health issues. Reach out to us today and let’s get started.