Does even hearing the word "anxiety" make your heart beat faster? This word comes from the Latin term anxius, meaning “solicitous, uneasy, troubled in mind,” in turn derived from angere or anguere, meaning “to choke, squeeze” and “torment, cause distress” when used figuratively. The word seems perfectly descriptive, given the physical and mental agony anxiety brings with it.
If you struggle with anxiety, you certainly aren't alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness in the United States, affecting over 18% of the adult population (18+ years old). The ADAA further relates that less than 40% of those suffering from anxiety seek treatment.
Interestingly, women are reported to be twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. A certain amount of anxiety is normal, but if you feel it gets in your way too often, there are several things you can do to lessen its discomfort. Consider these coping tips for reducing anxiety:
Recognize When You’re Becoming Anxious
Simply being aware that anxiety is affecting you can help put a stop to the downward spiral that tends to occur when it strikes. Get in the habit of being more attuned to your emotions so that you know when you’re beginning to become anxious. When you sense negative thought patterns, consciously work to change your focus to more positive and calming ideas.
Although it takes practice, becoming more aware of your emotions is a valuable skill. Besides helping calm those intense reactions to upsetting events in the moment, being connected to your feelings in the long term allows you to identify specific triggers or problem areas so you can learn to deal with them more constructively.
Focus on Your Breathing
It is widely known that deep, controlled breathing can help lower your heartrate and reduce anxiety. Concentrate on slowly inhaling as you count to three or four, and then exhale for the same count. Centering yourself in this way can effectively derail anxious thoughts, so try taking a calming breath the next time you feel tension beginning to take hold.
Regular exercise helps soothe an anxious mind through triggering your body to release endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that interact with brain receptors to reduce the perception of pain and support feelings of wellbeing. From running or walking, to high-energy workouts or yoga geared to reducing anxiety, exercise options are unlimited.
In addition to all its stress relief benefits, regular exercise pays off in better overall health. This includes lowering your chances of suffering stress-related conditions like overweight, blood sugar imbalances, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Use the 5-4-3-2-1 Technique
Here’s how this popular coping technique works: First, identify five things you see around you. Then recognize four things you can touch around you. After this, find three things you can hear. Next, distinguish two things you can smell, and finally, one thing you can taste.
This technique is, in effect, a practical guide to mindfulness, which is a type of therapy based on directing one’s awareness on the present moment. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to facilitate calm connection to and acceptance of what’s going on in your mind and body, with the effect of reducing anxiety.
Last but certainly not least, talking openly with others about your anxiety is a great comfort and relief, as it prevents feeling isolated with the issue. Worry and tension are common among all of us, so it’s easy to find others who can relate. And as with every problem or concern, sharing about your anxiety lessens its perceived power and paves the way for solutions.
The above is just a partial list of suggestions, as there are many other ways to work on lessening the troublesome symptoms of anxiety in your life.
If anxiety is so intense that it gets in the way of normal functioning, it may be time to explore additional avenues of treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy. There is never shame in asking for help from experienced professionals, and doing so shows that you’re caring for yourself responsibly and maturely.