How to Manage Anxiety
When the symptoms of anxiety have you saying, “Anxiety makes me feel like I am losing my mind,” it is time to meet with a mental health professional. At the initial meeting, a therapist will evaluate what type of anxiety you are suffering from and design an individualized treatment plan to help manage symptoms. Treatment is usually an integrated approach involving psychotherapy, medication, and stress-reducing holistic activities.
Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy for anxiety disorders will be determined based on the type of anxiety, but cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been effective in helping individuals identify distorted or irrational thoughts and the maladaptive behavioral response to them. CBT then guides the individual toward replacing those with positive self-messaging resulting in constructive, productive behaviors.
Exposure therapy. When there is a history of trauma there are specific types of psychotherapy that are tailored to reduce the impact of the traumatic memories or thoughts. Exposure therapy introduces the triggering memory or situation in guided increments that allow the individual to become less sensitive to it over time.
Medication. Medication for anxiety disorders may involve benzodiazepines (Ativan, Valium, Xanax), drugs that swiftly produce a sedative response to calm nerves. In some cases, antidepressants are used to treat anxiety as well.
How Deep Breathing Can Help Quiet Anxiety
There are two types of breathing patterns, chest breathing (thoracic) or abdominal breathing (diaphragmatic). Although we are not even aware of it, we breathe differently when we are anxious or stressed. Instead of deep, even breathing from the diaphragm, our breathing pattern shifts to chest breathing. When experiencing anxiety, the shallow, rapid breathing from the chest that ensues can cause an upset in the body’s oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. The lack of oxygen to the brain, as well as the reduction of carbon dioxide being expelled can result in muscle tension, dizziness, increased heart rate and other symptoms of anxiety.
Although a lack of control may accompany anxiety, we do have the power to control our breathing. By becoming aware of how we are breathing, for example through silent repose, mindfulness, or practicing yoga, we can make a positive change in our response to people, situations, or other things that trigger anxiety.
Becoming aware of your breathing pattern is one thing, but actually using your ability to control breathing to reduce stress is accomplished through deep breathing exercises. Deep breathing shifts the breathing pattern from chest breathing to abdominal breathing, which in turn stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, eliciting a state of calm and tranquility. Deep breathing benefits can include:
- Helps relax both body and mind
- Releases feelings of stress and anxiety
- Increases oxygenation in body tissues
- Evokes peaceful feelings
- Decreases blood pressure
- Slows brain waves
- Helps diminish physical pain
- Promotes sense of control of stimuli
Practice deep breathing: Find a quiet place and sit comfortably. 1) Close eyes and inhale through your nose to the count of 5 counting slowly in your mind, 2) Hold the breath for a count of 5, 3) Exhale through the mouth, making a whoosh sound while mentally counting to 5—expelling as much breath as possible. Repeat this 2 or 3 more times.
6 Actions To Take When Anxiety Strikes
If anxiety is an ongoing condition that threatens your quality of life it is good to have some go-to tips for managing it. Here are 6 actionable steps to take, in addition to deep breathing, when you sense your anxiety level is rising:
- Get moving. Just getting outside in the fresh air for a short daily walk will net both physical and mental health benefits.
- Check your diet. Are you snacking on sweets or processed foods? Are you drinking too many caffeinated drinks? Are you skipping meals? Grab some nuts, a banana, or a yogurt to help quell anxiety.
- Unplug. Recent studies show that social media is responsible for ramping up stress and anxiety. In addition to social media stressing us out, news coverage can also ramp up anxiety, so it is smart to limit both.
- Journal. Writing in a journal about struggles, conflicts, and worries can promote relaxation by helping to process emotions and thoughts.
- Take a bath. When stress and anxiety threaten to upset you, taking a nice hot bath with some lavender oil will help to relax your body and your mind.
- Get good sleep. Sleep-deprived people do not manage stress well. Humans need at least 7 hours of sleep per night to be able to face the demands of the day. Establish a regular sleep routine, such as sipping some chamomile tea, listening to soothing music, and turning off electronics for better sleep quality.
Holistic Therapies That Help Manage Stress
Including holistic therapies in the treatment plan is becoming more and more common. This is because these mostly Eastern-inspired activities are excellent complimentary interventions to the traditional psychotherapy. Some of the holistic activities accessed for treating anxiety include:
- Mindfulness meditation
- Guided imagery
- Massage therapy
- Equine therapy
When A Higher Level Of Care Is Needed
If the anxiety causes impairment, meaning that it has become so disruptive to normal functioning that it negatively impacts one’s life, it is appropriate to consider a higher level of care. A residential mental health program provides a more intensive approach to treatment where a customized plan can be designed for each individual. A residential program offers an excellent opportunity to step away from the demands of daily life for a period of time to focus solely on getting better. Residential anxiety treatment includes an integrated approach that includes medication, psychotherapy, group therapy, family therapy, psychosocial education, holistic therapies, and nutritional counseling.