by Teresia Smith
Anxiety, including panic attacks, is now the most common psychiatric condition in the U.S., affecting nearly one in five adults, and prevalence rates are increasing worldwide, according to Dr. Glenn Schiraldi.
For many, anxiety seems to have a life of its own. When it hits you, it seems excessive and unreasonable and you can’t pinpoint what is triggering it and you can’t will it to stop. However, there are some ways you can work to lessen the effects.
First, try to address the underlying cause. Often, past traumas wire our brain to be on “high alert” and our memories have connections to the survival areas in our brain of which we are not always conscious of. Those trauma memories fuel our anxiety and will continue to do so until we process them and find relief. If you are struggling with past traumas, talking with a trauma therapist is highly recommended. And as always, talk with your trusted physician to help manage anxiety.
Let’s look at some self-care skills that you can also practice that may bring some relief.
Allow yourself to feel what you feel. We often tend to fight our worries or run away and ignore them. Some fall into self-medicating with drugs and alcohol in an attempt to run away. However, this is temporary and avoiding fears and worries doesn’t work. It only increases stress and anxiety. It is more effective to allow yourself to examine your fears. Before you begin, make sure to be in a safe space and calm yourself with deep breathing. Be aware of the anxiety you feel in your body. Remind yourself that you deserve the same kindness and compassion you show others and work to relax your body.
Journal your feelings. Research shows that simply writing about your feelings and thoughts related to your fears for 15-30 minutes each day dramatically reduces symptoms and improves health and sleep. You can write about old hurts or you can write about present worries. If you being to feel overwhelmed, stop writing until you feel like trying again. When worries peak during the day, you can push them aside knowing you can address them and write about them later.
Take care of your health. People with anxiety tend to have an imbalance of microbes in the gut, which activates the brain’s fear center, increasing anxiety. You can optimize good gut health by following a Mediterranean-style diet, which emphasizes vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, seeds, beans and healthy fats, while limiting red meats and processed foods. Also, make sure to stay hydrated. Even mild dehydration can cause anxiety symptoms. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Avoid caffeine and energy drinks as they can increase symptoms of anxiety, fatigue and they can disrupt your sleep. Sleep is also very important when combating anxiety. Quality sleep has been shown to help regulate anxiety. Most adults need 7-9 hours per night to best function. Going to bed and rising on a schedule can help your sleep cycle.
Get moving. Many studies over the years have shown that exercise improves anxiety, depression, and troubled sleep. Exercise has been shown to consume excess stress energy and produce molecules that help the brain make new calmer neural pathways. Exercise is especially helpful for trauma survivors. You don’t have to join a gym or even carve out hours to exercise. Short walks, hikes in nature or especially near water, and even yoga or tai chi can be calming.
So, while anxiety is very common, it doesn’t have to rule your life. There are small changes you can make that may have large benefits. If you are suffering from debilitating anxiety, your first step should be to consult your doctor to rule out any physical issues. From there you may be referred to a trauma therapist. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.
If your anxiety is fueled by trauma from sexual assault or domestic violence, Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free and confidential services for survivors. You may reach out local office at 256.574.5826 for an appointment. We also offer a 24/7 HELPline where you can speak with trained crisis counselors at 256.716.1000. You are not alone.