There is absolutely no doubt that we live in a world with stressors seemingly around every corner. More than ever, in our new Covid-conditioned reality, a day likely does not go by without being bombarded with information, ideas, directives, news about death, and statistics about mortality. And this is on top of the already significant job of balancing family, work, and personal lives. If you think about it, many of us have lived this reality for over two years. While we do not show on the outside, the latent stress we’ve internalized is tough to avoid.
Since the onset of Covid, some dentists have seen the rise of patients who grind teeth at night so dramatically that they not only crack their teeth but some even crack the night guards designed to protect them from this. There is a rise in headaches, neck tension, squinting, and restless nights. Our children are exhibiting anxieties and worries never processed by them before, and many of us live in a constant state of concern for our loved ones. Even if we have mentally prepared ourselves for this “new normal,” the reality is that there are no answers that promise this to be behind us.
This new reality, combined with the everyday stressors of life like work, family, health, marriage, and for many of us, addiction, create the perfect storm for anxiety. If you’re one of the 40 million Americans suffering from an anxiety disorder, then you understand precisely how debilitating it can be. Anxiety disrupts you in the workplace, fuels negative thoughts, and distances you from those you love most. While stress is a natural physical and emotional response to high-pressure situations, an anxiety disorder creates excessive apprehension that doesn’t necessarily have any basis in reality. Individuals who are anxious, worried, and freaked out about life are more likely to turn to alcohol and drugs for relief. Anxiety is one of the most common co-occurring disorders with drug addiction.
A simple definition of anxiety is the worry and fear of events of everyday life that can cause such distress that one cannot function normally. In a seemingly average or “moderate-stress” situation, someone with an anxiety disorder can have responses like panic, sweating, rapid breathing, feeling irritable, stomach aches, and muscle tension, to name a few. And the stressors can be anything from walking into a crowded restaurant or having to give a speech in front of a crowd of people. Our bodies have an instantaneous response that has been hard-wired in us from our most primal roots. When threatened, the human body sends signals of impending danger, often releasing hormones and inflammation. It’s a literal factory setting for risk. And while today’s trouble may have nothing to do with hunting food or the threat from the next tribe, we still can feel like the walls are closing in.
Though anxiety impacts different people in different ways, there are some fundamental shifts you can make in your life to help you learn to deal with stress as it arises. More now than ever, there are proven ways to prevent anxiety from taking over your life, so you feel stressed less often. Suffering from an anxiety disorder usually leaves people feeling like they have no control. By learning to take back control over your life, you will be able to make room for the things you enjoy without anxiety holding you back. So, what can we do about it before it starts to manifest itself in our mental and physical health and well-being?
Here are 10 essential and practical tips for overcoming the symptoms of anxiety. These anxiety relief tips combine reactionary and preventative methods for relieving stress and worry in your daily life. Whenever fear arises, and particularly stressful situations occur, use the information that provides reactionary methods to restore calm at that moment. On the other hand, preventative strategies can be practiced as daily habits to reduce feelings of anxiety, so fewer stressful and emotional instances occur over time.
1. TAKE A DEEP BREATH. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is one of the most potent tools for anxiety disorder relief. When you breathe deeply, you turn off the body’s fight-or-flight response and replace it with the relaxed response of the parasympathetic nervous system. Slowing down your breathing and focusing on strong, deep breathing patterns lowers your heart rate and can bring a sense of calm to your body. Everything around you slows down. By focusing your attention on your breathing, you can further calm your nerves. You can use this anxiety disorder relief method whenever your stress levels rise.Practice the four-four-four breathing pattern. Inhale deeply to a count of four, gently hold your breath to a count of four, then exhale to a count of four. Repeat this for at least two minutes or ten times to fully calm your nervous system and regain focus on the present moment.Other helpful breathing techniques include using your imagination to move the breath to the areas of your body that are the tensest. This is an instructional practice in yoga to help release tension in tight muscles and joints. When you inhale, pretend the breath is drawing up the top of your head. As you exhale, move the breath to your hips, neck, shoulders, or back, often feeling the tensest during anxiety attacks or stressful events.This repeated pattern will ease your mind and clear your negative emotions and thoughts. It gives you the time and space you need to collect your feelings and to think about your subsequent actions. Forming this habit whenever the rush of anxiety arises will help you be healthier and more productive throughout your day. The deep breathing habit also acts as a buffer to prevent your anxiety disorder from taking control of your emotions. The more you remember to bring your focus back to your breath when anxiety wells up, the more improvement you will see in your overall happiness.
2. GET ENOUGH SLEEP. One of the most important health topics to come to light in the past few years has been the issue of developing good sleeping patterns. Research has shown that patterns of insomnia can eventually lead to depression and the development of anxiety disorders such as panic attacks. A major study has shown that adults with insomnia are five times more likely to develop depression. Generally speaking, adults receiving fewer than 4.5 hours of sleep on average each night are at greater risk of developing anxiety symptoms.If you’re not getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep, there may be severe consequences. Lack of sleep impacts your physical health, directly tied to your overall anxiety and stress levels. Getting enough sleep allows your body to relax, keeping anxiety levels low throughout the day.The issue of sleep and stress is a vicious cycle. If you’re too stressed out, you may not sleep properly. If you don’t sleep properly, you’re more likely to feel stressed out. Treating your sleeping patterns as a habit will help you to ensure you’re getting a total of 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Proper sleep is a basic method of preventing stress and anxiety and should be treated as a top priority.
3. USE CALMING SELF-TALK, or “MINDFULNESS.” Sometimes you may need to be your coach. If you feel the flood of nervousness that takes over your entire body, one of the best and most immediate measures you can take is to state in your mind that you must remain calm. This is sometimes referred to as the power of auto-suggestion. Thoughts that you transmit repeatedly and often enough will eventually impact your psyche. These thoughts will become regular patterns that run through your mind whenever you feel immediate threats.
4. DISTRACT YOURSELF. Something that may come naturally — as opposed to happening consciously — when an anxiety attack strikes are that your mind may become distracted by something else. Often anxiety arises in a flash and will eventually dissipate as you get back on track with the next item on your to-do list or if an unexpected phone call comes in. But if your anxiety causes a particularly frantic emotional state, then it may require a more directed effort to distract yourself. Finding a distraction is an effective way to calm your emotions almost immediately.Since it’s difficult for the brain to focus on more than one thing at a time, focus on something other than the anxiety disorder symptoms you are experiencing. Distract yourself through work, entertainment, or a relaxing walk. If you concentrate on something else, you may even find you forget about whatever was giving you anxiety.Though actively distracting yourself is a reactionary way of alleviating anxiety, it may give you the space to come back to whatever was causing you stress and deal with it in a clearer headspace.
5. SCHEDULE RELAXATION. Today, we live in a culture of go-go-go. It seems impossible to take a break from picking up the kids at school to meeting deadlines at work. This is why it’s important to sit down and look at your schedule. Start by finding half an hour every day to dedicate to you.To become good at scheduling your relaxation time, you must develop strong habits that improve your willpower. At the beginning of each week, take the time to prepare your relaxation periods ahead of time. Program them as reminders into your phone if you need to. You may have a combination of many different relaxation activities. Whether it’s doing yoga, taking a walk, going to the gym, reading a book, or watching television, it’s important to your health to schedule a period of relaxation.Knowing your hobbies and sticking to them is also a meaningful way to prevent stress and anxiety in your daily life. Hobbies give you something to look forward to. These are activities you do because they are your choice and you enjoy doing them. Don’t let them fall by the wayside. Be sure to prioritize them by giving them a designated time slot each week.Once you’ve mastered the habit of scheduling relaxation every week, you may decide to expand this to monthly activities such as spa days, a weekend cooking class, or some other form of exercise you can do every month.It may sound counterintuitive, but scheduling in your vacations will mean there’s a greater chance you will follow through and take them. Having rest periods like smaller getaways and vacations is crucial to living a peaceful and calm life. Taking these breaks regularly and having them scheduled not only gives you something to look forward to, but it also allows you to have time to not worry about your daily life.
6. DISTINGUISH BETWEEN SOLVABLE AND UNSOLVABLE WORRIES. An anxiety disorder can take many forms and have many different causes — it depends entirely on the person. However, one common trait among those who suffer from anxiety is an overwhelming sense of worry when faced with challenges. People who aren’t inclined to feel anxious are like this because they can immediately distinguish between events or situations they can control and those they cannot. If they determine these events are not within their control, they don’t feel any threat or worry.On the other hand, those who suffer from an anxiety disorder feel a solid connection to each problem or situation that arises. If you suffer from anxiety, you may feel like you want to help or solve each case. It becomes incredibly stressful and even painful if you cannot. However, it is essential to assess each situation by asking yourself some basic questions. This will immediately slow down your mind and emotions and ease a sense of anxiousness.Can you directly face the problem that’s stressing you out? Or is an imaginary “what-if” causing you anxiety? By distinguishing between solvable and unsolvable stressors, you know what issues to face and what problems to ignore. In many cases, unnecessary anxiety is caused by unsolvable worries.If you determine it is an unsolvable worry that you cannot control, such as canceled soccer practice or a delayed flight, then take solace in knowing this is something out of your hands, and you can move on without anxiety. Remind yourself that it won’t matter in a day, a week, or a year from now.
7. ACCEPT UNCERTAINTY. Similar to item six above, those who feel anxious usually do not accept uncertainty and feel stressed thinking about the possibilities ahead. You may feel your mind instantly gravitate towards worst-case scenarios. You may do your best to mitigate uncertainty by scheduling in your plans and thinking forward, but the reality is there will always be things that come up you did not foresee. Don’t beat yourself up over this.Chronic worriers are unable to cope with unpredictability. Accepting that the “unknown” is part of life can take a heavy weight off your shoulders. Learn to face situations that are out of your control.The only thing you can do is handle them quickly and efficiently when they do arise without stressing or worrying. Cultivating this mindset will help to prevent feelings of anxiousness over time.
By facing those fears directly, you eliminate the chance for your brain to imagine unnecessary fear. Having a sound support system around you, such as friends, family, and community, helps ease these challenges as they present themselves.
8. HEALTHFUL EATING. No one said that carrots will ever make you happy, but they won’t make you sad. Junk food, fast food, and processed foods loaded with unidentifiable artificial ingredients are a recipe for emotional disaster. Not only does our skin, waistline, and mood change when we consume poor-quality foods, but we don’t absorb nutrients and minerals that are the building blocks of our bodies. These components are required for us to function correctly, and when they are deficient, they can influence how our bodies are fueled, how we digest, and even the function in our brains.
9. SELF-CARE. “Self-care “is a catchy little way of saying taking care of ourselves. There are countless memes, blogs, t-shirts, you name it – that remind us that we should prioritize. For most, that’s easier said than done when juggling so many responsibilities like our children, spouses, work, households, and families. Add to that the daily grind of being in recovery and the commitment to staying clean and sober, and sometimes self-care gets pushed further down the list.
Anyone who faces addiction will know that self-care is not selfish; it is necessary for survival. If we could take that lesson and implement it in other factors of our lives, we can better take stock of what’s going on around us, take the necessary steps to nip stressors in the bud before things get worse, and even set a precedent that we matter. That our feelings, no matter if they pop up at a convenient or inconvenient time, are worth stopping and taking stock off. Self-care can be a warm bath, alone-time with a book, treating yourself to something you’ve had your eye on, or giving yourself the grace when you mess up and understanding that there’s no need to punish yourself.
10. TALKING WITH A PROFESSIONAL. Sometimes we attempt all these beautiful things, and we walk out the door with a green juice, our pedometer, had a great warm bath, and a pedicure, and yet that nagging heaviness on our hearts and minds won’t go away. The stresses of life are real and complex, and not everything can be washed away by a beach walk or a good salad. When you know that things are heavier than you can handle, speaking to a mental health professional is the best thing you can do for yourself and those you love. A professional will identify and talk you through these thoughts, help you plan and approach these feelings, get past them, and place them before the next time. Talking about them can figuratively “purge” them from your mind, and sometimes doing this in a setting with no judgment and no expectation is exactly what we need. As the words come from our mouths, we sometimes see them in a new light. Only now do we have the help of a professional to navigate and understand our next steps. However, the most critical component is that you take action to control your anxiety instead of letting it control you.
If you are struggling with an anxiety disorder and chronic worrying, seeking professional counseling will help you take control of this disorder. The experienced team at JourneyPure Emerald Coast will provide you with the resources and treatment you need to overcome anxiety. Our world-class facility is here to help you recover from the combination of anxiety and depression that has resulted from addiction. Learn more about our anxiety treatment services so you can begin to enjoy your life once more.
In summary, identifying and accepting that anxiety is a part of life and identifying when these triggers approach is key to managing stress. We can’t change the world we live in, but small steps can add up in changing the environment, the influences, and our choices in how we tackle each day as it comes.