The tell-tale signs of anxiety are familiar: the sweaty palms, the racing heart, the worrisome “what ifs.”
Almost everyone, even the most seasoned actor, gets this kind of “stage fright” anxiety at some point. But free-floating anxiety with no obvious cause can make you and your doctor get, well, anxious.
According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, as much as 18 percent of the adult U.S. population has an anxiety disorder, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress and panic disorders.
Many more people, both men and women, experience intermittent anxiety, a low-grade unease that is harder to pinpoint and equally hard to experience. Part of what makes anxiety disorders uncomfortable is that people want an explanation. But even when there is no easy explanation, there are steps you can take to lessen both the impact and the frequency of anxiety.
If attacks of anxiety are impacting your routine, and you find yourself not wanting to spend time with friends or avoiding activities in which you used to participate, it may be time to consult a medical professional. Your physician will evaluate your anxiety symptoms, looking at eating and sleeping routines, external stresses, depression and related illnesses. He or she may recommend a stress management program or refer you to a specialist, or suggest specific anxiety management techniques.
Many effective coping mechanisms are easy to learn, starting with what not to do. People suffering with anxiety often try to think through their circumstances to look for causes. For example, if they have a panic or anxiety attack in the grocery store, then they decide that they are not going to go to the grocery store anymore. But the attack can just be random, and the grocery store might not have anything to do with it.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you “unlearn” these types of thinking patterns by following a strategy to mitigate anxiety-producing thoughts. If someone is afraid of heights, for example, treatment might include standing on a step and discussing what thoughts come to mind, and then gradually increasing the height to boost confidence.
Guided relaxation, meditation and biofeedback can also be helpful in coping with anxiety by slowing down breathing and lowering an accelerated heart rate. Some doctors like the “fake it until you make it” approach, where patients engage in the behavior they want to exhibit, such as feeling confident while practicing a speech.
Having something else to focus on besides yourself can also reduce anxiety. Even something as simple as caring for a pet can help take the internal focus off of you and lower your stress level.
Another recommendation is journaling, such as writing down things for which you are grateful, because it can have the same calming effect. If you are a worrier, try scheduling a specific time to worry, and then cataloging your concerns in writing. Getting your thoughts on paper may help you solve some of your problems–or realize that you’ve been letting them weigh too heavily on your mind.
You may also want to re-examine your diet to eliminate refined sugars and reduce caffeine consumption. Paying attention to the way certain foods make you feel can have an impact on anxiety levels. In addition, determine when exercise gives you the best personal boost—morning, afternoon or night—and pledge to work out then.
6 tactics for managing anxiety:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Guided relaxation