Anxiety is an endless, tiring, and toxic mental cycle. It feels like you have absolutely no control over it. When it’s happening, it’s happening at the front of your mind. When you should be focusing on the task at hand, you’re obsessing about what happened last night, or something that might happen in a couple of days from now. Anxiety loosens your grip on the present moment.
Anxiety is an experience that is relative to each person. If someone tells you that your anxiety is you simply overreacting, take comfort in the fact that they are seriously misled. Anxiety is a real issue that can become an overpowering source of distress in your life. Although triggers, or things that causes anxiety, may differ from person to person, the experience of anxiety is overall shared. Therefore, it’s important to know what exactly is the trigger of your anxiety.
Anxiety disorders are the most common diagnosed mental illnesses today. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 40 million adults in the United States ages 18 and up are diagnosed with anxiety disorders. That equates to around 18% of the total population of the country. While these statistics represent the prevalence of anxiety disorders, it opens up the window of possibility that even more people experience anxiety itself, whether it’s diagnosed or passing.
As anxiety is relevant to this day and age, these tips point you in the right direction when it comes to working towards overcoming anxiety.
1. Get acquainted with your trigger to overcome anxiety.
As stated before, the term “trigger” is used here to represent something that causes anxiety. The term itself is meant to be broad, because causes of anxiety differ on a person-to-person basis. For example, while one person may feel anxiety from examinations, someone else may feel anxiety by seeing snakes.
Acknowledging your trigger is important because it helps you to better develop a game plan to address and overcome your anxiety. You can work around the trigger to see which preventative measures help, and what coping strategies work the best. This requires collecting data of your own. Think about the times when you’ve felt anxious. If this is too overwhelming, start with the times in which it has escalated the most.
Reflect on the occurrence, step-by-step. What led to your initial feelings of anxiety? What caused it to escalate even more? Is this a common occurrence, with a similar trigger?
If it’s difficult to keep track, start a journal. You don’t have to get too detailed, but try and keep track of the occurrences. Although it may not feel great to bring light to your feelings of anxiety, it does take some courage to start tackling the issue of your anxiety head-on, hopefully before it starts becoming an overwhelming presence in your life.
2. Manage your diet and rest to help overcome anxiety.
This might seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how many people fail to manage what they eat, and how much they sleep. When you feel like anxiety has been a prevalent factor in your daily life, then think about how well you’ve been taking care of yourself physically. Work on the areas that you know you can control – like how much sleep you get, and how much or what you are eating.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a serious lack of sleep can cause health issues including anxiety disorders and heart disorders. Anxiety could be your body telling you that you’re not having enough down-time or rest. On the other hand, sleep disorders can cause anxiety as well, so if you see a disturbance in your sleep like insomnia, where sleeplessness is out of your control, then you should consult a physician right away.
When looking about what you eat, for some, this may just mean limiting your caffeine intake. Caffeine is known as a psychoactive drug, meaning it contains chemicals that alter your mood. Although it may not be apparent when you take a sip of your coffee, energy drink, or soda, caffeine actually increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and triggers the release of stress hormones. These internal reactions in your body actually mimic the sensation of reacting to a stressful situation, and thus your body registers this as anxiety.
If you’re someone who does not eat regular, balanced meals, then this could also be a pertinent issue. Although I’m not against having fast food once in awhile, your body still needs enough nutrients to function correctly, and a Big Mac doesn’t necessarily fulfill all of your nutritional needs for the day. That also means choosing to skip a meal over having a Big Mac can also be bad for you. In fact, an article by Harvard Health Publications found that skipping meals can result in a drop in blood sugar, causing jitteriness that can highlight underlying anxiety.
On the other hand, they found that there are certain foods that can actually help reduce your anxiety. These include foods high in magnesium (like spinach), high in zinc (like oysters and cashews), as well as foods high in B vitamins (like avocados or almonds). A study also found that antioxidants have anxiety-relieving symptoms, so eating foods rich in antioxidants such as apples, artichokes, and strawberries can help reduce your anxiety as well.
Regardless of what may be your trigger, this could be the first step you can work on. For some, this may even be the hardest, but keep in mind that disciplining yourself in this way can get the ball rolling for developing other good habits for overcoming your anxiety.
3. Exercise regularly – as much as you can to overcome anxiety.
Research about exercise demonstrates that it improves not only physical fitness, but mental fitness as well. This means that exercise helps you to manage mental and emotional fatigue. Participating in regular aerobic exercise has also been found to improve and stabilize mood, as well as increase self-esteem. In fact, five minutes of aerobic exercise can help stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
A different study found that exercise has a calming effect on certain areas of the brain. A study using mice found that mice that are more physically active are less susceptible to certain aspects of stress than sedentary mice. These findings can be applied to people as well.
In fact, according to the United States’ Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), dedicating at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic activity (like brisk walking) per week, or at least 1 hour and 15 minutes to vigorous-intense aerobic activity (like jogging) per week, can lead to “substantial” health benefits. It may not be easy to find time to make for exercise, but the ODPHP reassures that getting as much exercise as you can into your schedule is surely better, and healthier than remaining sedentary.
4. Practice mindfulness to overcome anxiety.
Mindfulness is the act of bringing light to the present, without focusing your attention on the past or future. When put in terms of meditation, it’s the act of sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and practicing mindfulness.
Mindful meditation works because of the mind-body duality. That is, if your mind is stressed, your body will be stressed as well. On the other hand, if you relax your mind, your body will be relaxed as well. Meditation works on the power of your mind, and its ability to control and regulate how your body reacts to stress.
Whether or not you choose to incorporate the meditation portion, mindfulness in itself is a game changer. By removing yourself from the distractive future or past, and focusing your thoughts on what is present and tangible, you are forcing yourself to look at things that are solely pertinent, real, and maybe even more urgent. It helps you to distinguish and prioritize. Does this exam really determine who I am as a person, or what I am capable of as a scholar? Is worrying about the next business meeting really going to help me to do better and be productive, or is it actually negatively affecting the tasks that I’m doing right now?
5. Talk it out to overcome anxiety.
Whether it be a friend or a therapist, don’t be afraid to talk about anxiety. Hearing your thoughts outloud can help you process and see how much anxiety is affecting your life as well. If you have access to professional help, this can be even more helpful.
Starting a dialogue on anxiety – even if it’s just about your personal struggles, can help you connect with other people who struggle with it as well. As stated earlier in the article, a lot of people struggle with anxiety disorders – you can probably guess that even more struggle with just “passing” anxiety.
When you’re struggling with anxiety, or any mental unwellness for the matter, it can get lonely because you feel like no one understands you. But as you get the conversation going, you’ll realize that you’re not the only one struggling with feelings of anxiety. And if the person you’re talking to didn’t know about anxiety before, they might begin to understand their own instances of anxiety as well.
An important reminder when talking about your anxiety is to not just focus on the symptoms that you’re having, but to focus on the trigger, or cause of anxiety itself. Talking about the symptoms can only get the conversation so far. Instead, talking about your trigger can help generate productive and reflective thoughts about why you might be experiencing anxiety in response to it.
Just as triggers can differ from person to person, so can the helpfulness of strategies to overcome anxiety. Some strategies work better depending on the person. Don’t limit yourself from trying only a few of these strategies. Anxiety can end up putting you in a mental prison, and may leave you under the impression that your capabilities are limited. The best thing that you can do to tackle the crippling effects of anxiety head on is to go out of your way to find what works for you.