How to cope with extreme anxiety
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If you deal with anxiety, there are strategies you can use to avoid feeling consumed by it. Here are some quick solutions to help you address the situation immediately, as well as long-term methods to combat a recurring issue.
Breathe: There are ways to calm your anxiety
Know that feeling of your heart beating faster in response to a stressful situation? Or perhaps, your palms get sweaty when you’re confronted with an overwhelming task or event.
That’s anxiety — our body’s natural response to stress.
If you haven’t recognized your triggers yet, here are a few common ones: your first day at a new job, meeting your partner’s family, or giving a presentation in front of a lot of people. Everyone has different triggers, and identifying them is one of the most important steps to coping with and managing anxiety attacks.
Identifying your triggers can take some time and self-reflection. In the meantime, there are things you can do to try to help calm or quiet your anxiety from taking over.
5 quick ways to cope with anxiety
If your anxiety is sporadic and getting in the way of your focus or tasks, there are some quick natural remedies that could help you take control of the situation.
If your anxiety is focused around a situation, such as being worried about an upcoming event, you may notice the symptoms are short-lived and usually subside after the anticipated event takes place.
1. Question your thought pattern
Negative thoughts can take root in your mind and distort the severity of the situation. One way is to challenge your fears, ask if they’re true, and see where you can take back control.
2. Practice focused, deep breathing
Try breathing in for 4 counts and breathing out for 4 counts for 5 minutes total. By evening out your breath, you’ll slow your heart rate which should help calm you down.
The 4-7-8 technique is also known to help anxiety.
3. Use aromatherapy
Whether they’re in essential oil form, incense, or a candle, natural scents like lavender, chamomile, and sandalwood can be very soothing.
Aromatherapy is thought to help activate certain receptors in your brain, potentially easing anxiety.
4. Go for a walk or do 15 minutes of yoga
Sometimes, the best way to stop anxious thoughts is to walk away from the situation. Taking some time to focus on your body and not your mind may help relieve your anxiety.
Getting some quick exercise can help boost your mood and calm your mind.
5. Write down your thoughts
Writing down what’s making you anxious gets it out of your head and can make it less daunting.
These relaxation tricks are particularly helpful for those who experience anxiety sporadically. They may also work well with someone who has generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) when they’re in a bind!
However, if you suspect you have GAD, quick coping methods shouldn’t be the only kind of treatment you employ. You’ll want to find long-term strategies to help lessen the severity of symptoms and even prevent them from happening.
When is my anxiety harmful?
Identifying what sort of anxiety you’re dealing with can be somewhat challenging because how one’s body reacts to perceived danger can be entirely different compared to another person.
It’s likely you heard anxiety as a blanket term for that general feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease. It’s often a feeling in response to an upcoming event that has an uncertain outcome.
Every person deals with it at one time or another, because it’s part of our brain’s response to a perceived danger — even if that danger isn’t real.
That said, there are times anxiety can get serious and turn into anxiety attacks that initially feel manageable and then gradually build up over a few hours. (This is different from a panic attack, which is out of the blue and subsides.)
Signs of an anxiety attack
These are some of the more common mental and physical symptoms of anxiety:
- feelings of danger, panic, or dread
- nervousness or restlessness
- rapid heart rate
- trembling or chills
- tiredness or weakness
- gastrointestinal problems
- difficulty focusing
It’s also possible to experience an anxiety and panic attack simultaneously. The quick coping strategies mentioned above may also help with a panic attack.
Other mindful strategies to cope with panic attacks include focusing on an object, repeating a mantra, closing your eyes, and going to your “happy” place.
Symptoms of a panic attack
- fear of dying
- feeling like you’re losing control
- a sense of detachment
- heart palpitations
- shortness of breath
- chest pains or tightness
- feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- numbness or tingling in your extremities
- feeling hot or cold
If you notice that quick tips haven’t been working, you may want to consider seeing a professional for help. Especially if you believe you have GAD and it’s interfering with routine activities and causing physical symptoms.
A mental health professional can help with streamlining the process of identifying your triggers, maintaining long-term strategies through behavioral therapy, medications, and more.
Anxiety may always be a part of your life, but it shouldn’t overtake your day-to-day. Even the most extreme anxiety disorders can be treated so that the symptoms aren’t overwhelming.
Once you find what treatment works best for you, life should be a lot more enjoyable and a lot less daunting.
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Support is also available if you’re finding it hard to cope with anxiety, fear or panic.
Most people feel anxious or scared sometimes, but if it’s affecting your life there are things you can try that may help.
Symptoms of anxiety
Anxiety can cause many different symptoms. It might affect how you feel physically, mentally and how you behave.
It’s not always easy to recognise when anxiety is the reason you’re feeling or acting differently.
- faster, irregular or more noticeable heartbeat
- feeling lightheaded and dizzy
- chest pains
- loss of appetite
- feeling hot
- feeling tense or nervous
- being unable to relax
- worrying about the past or future
- feeling tearful
- not being able to sleep
- difficulty concentrating
- fear of the worst happening
- intrusive traumatic memories
- obsessive thoughts
Changes in behaviour
- not being able to enjoy your leisure time
- difficulty looking after yourself
- struggling to form or maintain relationships
- worried about trying new things
- avoiding places and situations that create anxiety
- compulsive behaviour, such as constantly checking things
Symptoms of a panic attack
If you experience sudden, intense anxiety and fear, it might be the symptoms of a panic attack. Other symptoms may include:
- a racing heartbeat
- feeling faint, dizzy or lightheaded
- feeling that you’re losing control
- sweating, trembling or shaking
- shortness of breath or breathing very quickly
- a tingling in your fingers or lips
- feeling sick (nausea)
A panic attack usually lasts 5 to 30 minutes. They can be very frightening, but they’re not dangerous and should not harm you.
If you’re not sure how you feel, try our mood self-assessment.
Having occasional feelings of anxiety is a normal part of life, but people with anxiety disorders experience frequent and excessive anxiety, fear, terror and panic in everyday situations. These feelings are unhealthy if they affect your quality of life and prevent you from functioning normally.
Common symptoms of anxiety disorders include:
- Feeling nervous
- Feeling helpless
- A sense of impending panic, danger or doom
- Increased heart rate
- Obsessively thinking about the panic trigger
These feelings of anxiety and panic can interfere with daily activities and be difficult to control. They are out of proportion to the actual danger and can cause you to avoid places or situations.
You should see your health care provider if your anxiety is affecting your life and relationships. Your provider can help rule out any underlying physical health issue before seeing a mental health professional.
While most people with anxiety disorders need psychotherapy or medications to get anxiety under control, lifestyle changes and coping strategies also can make a difference.
Here are 11 tips for coping with an anxiety disorder:
- Keep physically active.
Develop a routine so that you’re physically active most days of the week. Exercise is a powerful stress reducer. It can improve your mood and help you stay healthy. Start out slowly, and gradually increase the amount and intensity of your activities.
- Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs.
These substances can cause or worsen anxiety. If you can’t quit on your own, see your health care provider or find a support group to help you.
- Quit smoking, and cut back or quit drinking caffeinated beverages.
Nicotine and caffeine can worsen anxiety.
- Use stress management and relaxation techniques.
Visualization techniques, meditation and yoga are examples of relaxation techniques that can ease anxiety.
- Make sleep a priority.
Do what you can to make sure you’re getting enough sleep to feel rested. If you aren’t sleeping well, talk with your health care provider.
- Eat healthy foods.
A healthy diet that incorporates vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fish may be linked to reduced anxiety, but more research is needed.
- Learn about your disorder.
Talk to your health care provider to find out what might be causing your specific condition and what treatments might be best for you. Involve your family and friends, and ask for their support.
- Stick to your treatment plan.
Take medications as directed. Keep therapy appointments and complete any assignments your therapist gives. Consistency can make a big difference, especially when it comes to taking your medication.
- Identify triggers.
Learn what situations or actions cause you stress or increase your anxiety. Practice the strategies you developed with your mental health provider so you’re ready to deal with anxious feelings in these situations.
- Keep a journal.
Keeping track of your personal life can help you and your mental health provider identify what’s causing you stress and what seems to help you feel better.
Don’t let worries isolate you from loved ones or activities.
Your worries may not go away on their own, and they may worsen over time if you don’t seek help. See your health care provider or a mental health provider before your anxiety worsens. It’s easier to treat if you get help early.
Learn more about anxiety management:
Siri Kabrick is a nurse practitioner in Psychiatry & Psychology in Fairmont, Minnesota.
Anxiety disorders are characterized by worrying and anxiety that persist. An anxious reaction to stressful situations or difficult events in your life is completely normal. Even a little worry when there is no real cause for it is not uncommon.
What isn’t normal is when you feel overwhelmed by anxiety, when you feel anxious more days than not for months on end, and when you can’t function normally. If anxiety keeps you from activities and hobbies, socializing, and work or home responsibilities, it is no longer normal.
You could have an anxiety disorder. A mental health professional can diagnose you, but generally the signs of generalized anxiety in addition to worrying and feeling anxious are restlessness, fatigue, difficulty focusing, irritability, muscle tension, and difficulty sleeping.
If you have generalized anxiety, you tend to feel anxious in any situation with no reasonable triggers. Other types of anxiety disorders are triggered by social interactions or specific fears and may cause panic attacks.