It’s so normalized in society to refer to feelings as “good” and “bad” that when we experience any negative emotion, like anxiety, we assume it’s something to avoid. However, anxiety is a normal response to stressful situations — it’s the body’s warning system. Anxiety is an emotional response to an immediate threat, and it’s often referred to as the “fight or flight” response.
What is anxiety disorder?
Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, involve feelings of excessive fear or worry. They can lead to avoiding certain situations and can affect relationships, job performance, and school. To be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the fear or anxiety must be out of proportion to the situation and affect a person’s ability to function normally.
Experiencing anxiety is more common than you might think. According to the American Psychiatric Association, nearly 30 percent of adults at some point in their lives, and women are more likely to suffer with anxiety disorders than men.
The main categories of anxiety disorders affecting US adults include:
- Social anxiety disorder — involving worry and discomfort in social situations — affecting seven percent of Americans
- Panic disorder — recurrent panic attacks and significant distress — affecting two to three percent
- Specific phobia — an excessive worry or persistent fear of a specific object, situation, or activity — affecting seven to nine percent
- Agoraphobia — fear of being outside, open spaces, public transport, or crowds — affecting two percent
- Separation anxiety disorder — fear about separation from a person they are attached to — affecting one to two percent
- Generalized anxiety disorder — involving persistent and excessive worry about everyday things — affecting two percent
It is not entirely known why people suffer with anxiety disorders, but there are thought to be a number of contributory factors, like genetics, psychological reasons, developmental issues, and environment.
How to cope with anxiety
Whether you have an anxiety disorder or are just experiencing symptoms of anxiety, it’s best to first check with your medical provider that you have no underlying physical problem(s). Your provider may recommend therapy and/or medications.
This blog focuses on self-managed ways to cope that can be used in addition to your medical provider’s advice, but should not be used in place of a medical opinion.
Our top six tips to self-manage your anxiety include:
- Meditation or deep breathing. Taking a deep breath helps get the body out of the fight or flight response and triggers relaxation. Try inhaling for four counts into your belly, holding for four, and then exhale slowly for four.
- Yoga (especially yin and restorative yoga). Like meditation and deep breathing, yoga can also trigger the relaxation response, and the movement may help your body process the stress you have been feeling.
- Aromatherapy. Some essential oils, such as lavender, are known to permeate the blood-brain barrier and immediately impact how we feel. Lavender is known to elicit feelings of calm and relaxation. Try smelling the oil for three breaths, or use an aromatherapy diffuser.
- Sleep. A lack of sleep can trigger anxiety. To ensure you get at least 8 hours per night, do something relaxing before bed. Take a warm bath, turn off your phone, practice 20 minutes of yoga, or read.
- Avoid caffeine. Unfortunately, caffeine can make feelings of anxiety worse. It’s best to avoid it and switch to decaffeinated or herbal teas.
- Regular exercise. Moving for 30 minutes helps the body release endorphins that can reduce symptoms of anxiety. You can take a fifteen-minute walk twice a day, go for a bike ride, walk to work instead of driving, go for a swim, or take up a new sport. It’s even easier to keep it up if you include a friend. Regular exercise also promotes sleep. Bonus!
We encourage you to find the help that you need and reach out to us or a medical provider for assistance. You do not need to suffer through a common and treatable condition.
*Please note that this article is not intended to act as medical advice or substitute your need to see a doctor. If you are concerned about your health, please consult your physician or medical provider, or contact Connections in Recovery for assistance. However, if you are experiencing thoughts of harming yourself, please seek immediate medical attention by calling 911.
Located in Portland, OR, Olivia Pennelle (Liv) is an experienced writer, journalist, and content strategist. She is the founder of the popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, a site dedicated to providing the ingredients to live a fulfilling life in recovery. Liv also co-founded the podcast Breaking Free: Your Recovery. Your Way. Liv is passionate about challenging limiting mentalities and empowering others to direct their own lives, health, and recovery. You can find her articles across the web on podcasts and publications, including The Fix, Ravishly, Workit Health, Grok Nation, and STAT News.