Anxiety is a normal feeling of unease, worry, or fear that everyone experiences at some point. When confronted with a dangerous or stressful situation, our mind and body prepare to react accordingly. Although this is a typical response, persistent or excessive anxiety can result in difficulty handling everyday situations.
SABEResPODER understands the complications and concerns that this can cause. That’s why we created this guide with information and tips to help you learn how to keep your anxiety at bay and prevent it from developing into a more serious problem.
Keep in mind that this guide is intended to help you relieve mild anxiety symptoms. The advice provided can be effective in a broad range of situations for different people. In the case of severe anxiety, however, it’s always best to consult a specialist.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a series of physical and psychological reactions that take place in our bodies when confronted with threatening or dangerous situations. It causes feelings of uneasiness, dread, fear, or tension. Anxiety can also occur in other moments, like before a big job interview or waiting to hear back about something important. It’s a typical adaptive mechanism that serves to prepare the body for danger and help us survive. Normal levels of anxiety are characterized by low intensity and brief duration.
Problems arise, however, when anxiety responses are disproportionately intense compared to the situation or when there is no true cause of concern. When this happens, typical responses to anxiety are exacerbated to the point of becoming pathological. As a result, the anxiety becomes unbearable and distressing, affecting a person’s quality of life.
Common types of anxiety
There are many types of anxiety-related disorders. The most common are:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). People who suffer this are extremely concerned about everyday events, even when there is little or no reason to worry. They have a difficult time controlling their anxiety and staying focused on the rest of their daily activities.
- Panic disorder. This condition is characterized by frequent panic attacks. Even when there’s no obvious danger, people suffering from these episodes frequently experience a sudden feeling of intense fear or discomfort. Panic attacks are frequently accompanied by physiological symptoms, such as sweating, nausea, shortness of breath, and elevated heartbeat.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This condition causes frequent and distressing obsessions or compulsions, resulting in a strong desire to repeat certain behaviors that disrupt daily life. Fear of germs, getting hurt, or something bad happening are common obsessions.
- Phobias. This is a strong and irrational aversion to or fear of a particular object or situation. People with a phobia experience exaggerated fear and take extreme precautions to avoid the perceived danger. They may also experience intense anxiety when confronted with the object or situation. Some common phobias include fear of flying, confined spaces, bugs, and needles.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People who experienced a traumatic event, such as war, an accident, a natural disaster, or physical or sexual abuse, may suffer from this disorder. PTSD can result in involuntary and distressing flashbacks, nightmares, difficulty sleeping, and unexpected outbursts of sadness, worry, or anger.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety symptoms emerge when typical anxiety intensifies and loses its adaptive function. They vary from person to person, even more so if it’s linked to a specific disorder. There are, however, many symptoms common to different types of anxiety. The symptoms of anxiety can be categorized in three interconnected ways:
Physical reactions (physiological symptoms):
- Increased heart rate
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Nausea or stomach ache
- Feeling of a knot in the stomach or lump in the throat
- Dry mouth
- Excessive sweating
- Tremors or nervous movements (tics)
- Muscle tension
Thoughts (cognitive symptoms):
- Difficulty concentrating
- Fear of rejection
- Fear of losing control
- Extreme negative or catastrophic thoughts
- Repetitive and distressing thoughts
- Excessive worry over everyday things
- Feelings of impending doom
- Feelings of insecurity and sadness
Behaviors (behavioral symptoms)
- Problematic behaviors, like excessive drinking and/or eating
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Avoidance of situations that generate the anxiety
- Wearing charms and/or performing “good luck” rituals
People who suffer from anxiety don’t necessarily experience all of these symptoms, but they do experience many of them.
What Causes Anxiety?
There is no known cause of anxiety, although risk factors that may play an important role in its development have been identified. The following are some of the primary factors that contribute to anxiety:
- Stress. Stressful situations, such as trouble at work, problems in family relationships, and/or serious health issues may increase the frequency or intensity of anxiety symptoms.
- Physical health. Anxiety can sometimes be linked to illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and thyroid issues.
- Side effects of medication. Anxiety can sometimes be a side effect of prescription drugs or medications.
- Family history. Some types of anxiety are genetic. This means that if someone has anxiety, their relatives may be more likely to suffer from it as well. However, genetics is just a risk factor, not a determinant.
- Certain personality traits. People who are shy may be more prone to developing anxiety.
- Other mental disorders. Suffering from another mental disorder, such as depression, may be a predisposing factor for developing anxiety.
- Alcohol and/or drug use. When a person consumes drugs and alcohol, they might feel temporarily relaxed, but once that wears off, anxiety symptoms can appear.
- Traumatic events. Abuse or any other type of traumatic situation increases the likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder.
- Complicated situations or substance use during pregnancy. Serious nutritional deficiencies; alcohol, substance, and tobacco use; and even some prescription drugs taken during pregnancy can all lead to anxiety.
- Parenting style. A baby's upbringing impacts their future. A precarious bond between the baby and its caregivers, as well as an overly authoritarian or overprotective parenting style are linked to a greater chance of developing anxiety.
Remedies for Managing Anxiety
Although it’s impossible to pinpoint the exact causes of anxiety, there are steps you can take to avoid or mitigate your symptoms.
Regular exercise or playing sports has been proven to improve mood and help reduce anxiety symptoms. Physical activity promotes the following effects on your body and mind:
- It releases endorphins, natural brain chemicals that generate a sense of well-being.
- It takes your mind off worries and negative thoughts that feed anxiety.
- It's a healthy way to manage anxiety. Rather than hoping it will go away on its own or doing something counterproductive to alleviate symptoms (like drinking alcohol), physical activity is an excellent way to channel anxiety.
Get proper sleep
Quality sleep allows your mind and body to recover from the stresses of the day. Adequate rest can improve your mood, attitude, and overall response in stressful situations. As a result, this reduces and alleviates anxiety. It’s best to establish a healthy sleep routine that includes:
- Going to bed at the same time every day
- Avoiding the use of cell phones or other screens before bed
- Avoiding caffeinated beverages after lunch
- Doing relaxing activities in the evening, like taking a hot bath
- Waking up at the same time every day
Friends and family can help you get through difficult periods. Sharing good times and laughter with people who care about you can help alleviate anxiety, stress, and emotional burdens.
Avoid alcohol and tobacco
Although it’s widely believed that smoking a cigarette can alleviate your anxiety, this is a myth. Tobacco provides temporary relief, but once nicotine’s "soothing" effect wears off, withdrawal stress sets in. This is also common with excessive alcohol consumption. Drinking as a means of numbing anxiety symptoms actually generates the opposite effect. Although breaking the habit of smoking and/or drinking alcohol can be difficult, doing so will reduce overall stress and anxiety, improving both your mood and quality of life.
Drink herbal tea
Many people find that drinking herbal tea helps them relax, unwind, and fall asleep. The ritual of preparing tea can also be therapeutic in and of itself. These beverages are caffeine-free, meaning they won’t interfere with your rest. Chamomile, valerian root, and lavender are some herbal teas that can help relieve anxiety symptoms.
Exercises and relaxation techniques
Relaxation techniques can help manage stress and reduce the effects of anxiety. The following are some of the most common:
- Breathwork. You can learn to do this almost anywhere and at any time.
- While standing, sitting, or lying down, place one hand on your abdomen and one over your heart
- Inhale slowly, feeling your belly rise as it fills with air
- Hold your breath for a few seconds
- Exhale slowly, feeling your belly release the air
- Repeat the whole process as many times as you feel necessary
- Meditation. This practice can help you connect with and react to your emotions and thoughts more calmly, even if they trigger anxiety. Some common meditation practices are:
- Slow, calm breathing
- Staying silent in a quiet place for the duration of the meditation
- Standing, sitting, lying down, or even walking
- Focusing your attention on the present (this means concentrating on your breath, a certain object, or a set of words known as a mantra)
- Keeping an open mind to any thoughts that may arise without passing judgment on them
- Progressive relaxation. This method involves concentrating on contracting and then relaxing your muscles for several seconds. It’s best to begin with your toes and work your way up, one muscle group at a time.
- Yoga. This practice combines movement with focused breathing and meditation. Yoga can require a variety of complex poses, so we recommend doing this activity under the guidance of an instructor who can help you practice safely.
Aromatherapy is a relaxation technique that stimulates different parts of the brain by using both the scent and particles released by various essential oils. It can be an effective complementary treatment for stress reduction and anxiety management. Aromatherapy can also be used to relax on a daily basis or in stressful situations, such as right before an exam or a job interview. Lavender, bergamot, and tuberose are some of the most commonly used essential oils in aromatherapy.
Express your emotions
Healthy emotional expression can help you cope with anxiety and other negative emotions. First, pay attention to your emotions. Assess what emotion you’re experiencing and learn to identify and name it. Then consider what might trigger this feeling. Don't suppress your feelings once you've recognized them. Accept, express, and share your emotions with others. Doing this helps alleviate pain and anxiety. Understanding what’s going on inside you and talking about it with others can provide almost immediate relief.
See a specialist
In the most severe cases of anxiety (where symptoms worsen or last for an extended period of time), consult a specialist. If you have an anxiety disorder, you should seek treatment; symptoms won’t go away on their own. Depending on the severity of your condition, the specialist may recommend psychological treatment (such as therapy), pharmacological treatment (medication), or a combination of both.
How Long Does It Take To Cure Anxiety?
To answer this, let’s distinguish between:
- Normal anxiety, which occurs in common everyday situations
- Excessive anxiety, which is caused by something more specific (in this case, an anxiety disorder)
In both cases and at different rates, anxiety can be managed and treated. When it comes to dealing with normal anxiety in everyday situations, people will react differently. A shy person, for example, experiences more anxiety when speaking in public than an extrovert. In this case, some of the techniques above can help with that. However, because this anxiety is a part of a person's personality, it’s better to talk about alleviating the anxiety rather than curing it. The length of this process will vary depending on the strategy you develop.
When it comes to atypical or excessive anxiety due to a specific situation, seek therapeutic and/or pharmacological treatment, depending on your healthcare provider’s recommendation. With the proper course of care, anxiety disorders can be cured, though the precise time frame depends on several factors. For example, keep in mind the severity of the condition, the type of disorder, and the person's compliance during the course of treatment.
How to Prevent Anxiety
Anxiety is a natural reaction to a stressful situation. Some people approach it with a greater degree of calm, while others sometimes react with even greater levels of anxiety. This level is primarily determined by two factors: how someone interprets the stressful or unexpected situation, and what personal resources are available to handle it.
It’s critical to address two issues to prevent anxiety:
- Change your interpretation of stressful and/or everyday situations. Your thoughts directly impact the onset of anxiety symptoms. If you can change them, you can reduce the intensity of your anxiety. Learning to view a difficult situation in a less tragic or catastrophic light is an example of this. This is something you work on consciously; it doesn’t happen overnight.
- Create strategies to manage anxiety symptoms as they arise and reduce their impact in the future.
What Should I Do in the Event of an Anxiety Attack?
An anxiety attack is a brief, unexpected episode that causes intense fear or discomfort. This discomfort includes physical anxiety symptoms that vary in intensity.
Anxiety attacks can be triggered by something in particular or for no apparent reason whatsoever. Episodes typically last no longer than 30 minutes, and although brief, they can be extremely distressing.
When faced with an anxiety attack, try these techniques to bring it under control:
- Keep in mind that this is a brief, temporary occurrence.
- Remember that nothing bad will happen to you.
- Try thinking about something else. Focusing on your symptoms will make the episode worse or prolong its duration.
- Try counting backwards (e.g., from 100 down to 0) or visualizing in detail a place that you feel safe. For example, if it’s the beach, imagine what the texture of the sand would be like, the color of the water, the sound of the waves, etc.
- Control your breathing. Remember the deep breathing techniques we discussed earlier.
- If after 30 minutes the anxiety attack persists or has worsened, go to the emergency room.
Take Control Of Your Anxiety
Although anxiety is a natural reaction to stressful situations, it can cause more harm than good when exaggerated or disproportionate. Therefore, it’s essential to develop a set of techniques that can help you alleviate anxiety. We hope these guidelines give you a better understanding of what anxiety is and how to manage it. If your symptoms worsen or persist over time, it’s always best to see a specialist.With PODERsalud, you can access virtual medical consults and other quality healthcare services for just $16.95/month! Become a member today and put both you and your family’s health first.