Strategies for Coping with Anxiety

by Wellness Editor – MH

It can be safely said that part of being human is dealing with anxiety. Even those known for keeping grace under pressure fret about things at least once in a while. The following statistics, compiled by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), show just how common anxiety-related problems are among adult Americans:

  • 28.8% of American adults will develop at least one anxiety disorder in their lifetime
  • Roughly one in eight adults (12.1%) will develop social phobia, a condition that can cripple a person’s ability to interact with others in public environments
  • According to one NIMH report, about 40 million Americans had suffered one type of anxiety disorder in the preceding year. During the same timeframe, 6.8 million people suffered from General Anxiety Disorder, 15 million adults had social phobia and estimated cases of Panic Disorder totaled 6 million.
  • Anxiety tends to strike women especially hard; women are 60% more likely to develop anxiety disorders than their male counterparts.
  • As you might have guessed, large numbers of children and teenagers experience problems with anxiety. The NIMH estimates that anxiety disorders affect 8 percent of teenagers aged 13 to 18. Anxiety sufferers in this category usually start exhibiting symptoms around the age of six.
  • Only one-third of people with anxiety disorders actively seek treatment for their conditions.

As made clear by these statistics, there is little doubt that anxiety impacts large numbers of both adults and children. The good news is that anxiety isn’t an invincible foe; through much patience and effort, it is possible for those with anxiety to effectively control and manage their symptoms.

Exercise on a Regular Basis – When people begin working out a regular basis, they usually do so in order to improve their physique. Indeed, exercise is a tried and true method of adding bulk to previously scrawny muscles. What often goes unnoticed, however, are the mental benefits of physical exercise. All of those hours at the gym (or in your living room, if that’s more your style) wind up releasing neurotransmitters and endorphins inside the brain. These chemicals, in turn, help to ward off anxiety flare ups.

Get Enough Sleep – Like exercise, adequate amounts of sleep have long been recognized as a cornerstone of healthy living. And as with regular exercise, many people ignore the guidelines for nightly sleep (7 to 9 hours, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). These night-owl tendencies not only cause feelings of grogginess the next day, but can lead to the onset of completely avoidable health problems. Increased feelings of anxiety are just one such consequence. According to one recent study, a lack of sleep increases our tendency to anticipate negative outcomes to certain events. In other words, we feel more anxious about the future when running on low sleep.

Use Relaxation Techniques – Some people might scoff at relaxation techniques, believing them to be little more than hokey treatments with no real impact on the body. Others give such treatments a chance, only to give up on them if they initially do not see results. Both of these attitudes fail to give relaxation exercises a fair shake, since such techniques can have a positive influence on the body if given time to work. Common relaxation exercises include meditation, progressive muscle relaxation and visualization.

The most well-known of the trio, meditation involves blocking out all distractions while inhaling and exhaling a series of deep breaths. Progressive muscle relaxation calls for the practitioner to tense and then relax the muscles in each part of the body; the patient usually focuses on one muscle group at time. Visualization simply involves imagining a tranquil and soothing environment.

Keep A Journal – Anxiety can be especially frustrating when you don’t know what is causing it. To rectify this problem, consider keeping a daily journal noting significant events in your life. You may notice that certain people, places or actions cause you to feel anxious.

Avoid Edible Anxiety Triggers – When it comes to recurring feelings of anxiety, our diets can easily add unintended fuel to the fire. Drinks that are loaded with caffeine, such as coffee, soda and tea, often exacerbate preexisting anxiety problems. In addition, sugary foods have been linked to increased stress and angst. Popular treats like cookies, cakes and pastries can wreck havoc with your emotional wellbeing. It’s harder to avoid refined sugar than you may think; this unhealthy additive is also used in the production of crackers, chips, white rice and white pasta.

Focus On Uplifting Activities – Occasionally, the mental weight of certain environments becomes too much for the mind to bear. The best remedy might be to temporarily disengage from the anxiety-inducing situation, and seek out relaxing and satisfying activities. Depending on your personal preferences, this might mean playing sports, watching lighthearted TV shows or spending time with friends.

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