This article is a collection of comments and advice therapists have contributed to us on how to deal with anxiety, as well as stories from people who were able to overcome their anxiety and can talk about how they did it. Here’s the query we put out:
For people who suffer from anxiety, how can they combat this and what advice do you have? Personal stories welcome from people who suffered from anxiety and have made significant progress, as well as of course psychologists who can comment with authority.
There were some fantastic responses to that, especially from therapists who have many years of experience treating people with anxiety. Here’s a summary of what’s been suggested so far, along with a link to the full comment:
- Deep breathing exercises, acupressure, exercising and visualizing throwing your worries away (link)
- Helping others through their anxiety can help you deal with your own issues (link)
- Therapeutic yoga and EMDR (link)
- Magnesium and meditation (link)
- Decide on your desired state and rehearse it (link)
- ‘Take your thoughts to court’, consider actionable steps you can take to remedy the worry, and be mindful in everything you do so you’re not obsessing over your worries all the time (link) (EDITORS NOTE: I really enjoyed reading this one)
- Diet may potentially be a factor (link, link)
- Realize you’re not alone, and seek help (link)
- Consider an activity that will get you out of the house and have some interaction with people, such as (in this example) group fitness classes (link)
- Mindful touch practices (link)
- Track your anxiety (link)
- Consider hypnotherapy, and as a last resort, medication (link)
- Work on your limiting beliefs and positive thinking (link)
- Exposure therapy where the exposure is the symptoms of panic attacks themselves (link)
- Know your triggers so you can prepare in advance (link)
- Focus on something real, such as your breathing, to stop your mind wandering off with anxious thoughts of what might potentially go wrong (link)
- Consider that there may be deeper underlying issues that need to be addressed, and the anxiety is merely a warning sign that something else is wrong (link)
- Practicing acceptance (link)
If you’re qualified to speak on dealing with anxiety or you have a story you’re comfortable sharing, you’re very welcome to make a submission here and I’ll add it to this article. Input from therapists who have experience treating people with anxiety is especially welcome.
And finally, as this is a serious topic that relates to your health, please do not take this as a substitute for actual therapy. This post is intended to give you some ideas for combating anxiety, but if you are suffering from severe anxiety, it’s recommended that you seek professional help in your area.
I was diagnosed with Leukemia at age 19. I had my first serious panic attack in the hospital while receiving treatment.
For the next few years, I was trapped in anxiety, always ruminating over the possibility of relapse.
Then 3 years ago I was diagnosed with a rare and progressive lung condition. It was a complication of the bone marrow transplant I received in 2009. Again, the anxiety over the diagnosis and my future was overwhelming.
Because of these experiences, I know how excruciating and paralyzing anxiety can be and wanted to share a few strategies I use to cope with feelings of anxiety.
- Deep breathing exercises such as pursed lip breathing and the box breathing technique. When I'm feeling anxious, my breathing goes out of whack and I start to get light-headed and numb all over. I find that if I take control of my breathing right away I can get ahead of those symptoms.
- Qigong meditation. This is a form of moving meditation that combines movement and deep breathing. It's super relaxing and easy to do when you're feeling overwhelmed.
- I also do acupressure on myself. Acupressure has helped me tremendously with the physical symptoms of anxiety, especially with the chest tightness that I get when I feel stressed.
- Exercising. A good cardio workout helps get more oxygen and blood circulating in the body, which can help with the numbness and tingling you'd get sometimes when you're feeling anxious.
- I also like to visualize throwing my worries away. I'll picture myself writing down my worries onto a piece of paper, and scrunching it up before I toss it into an imaginary black hole. I'll repeat this scene in my mind until my feelings of anxiety dissipate.
--Sabrina Wang, The Budding Optimist Blog
My anxiety had gotten so out of control that I straight up thought that my friends were pretending to like me and that I was actually more of a burden to people than a help. I remember sitting in my college dorm years ago crying my eyes out eyeing the bottle of pills on my nightstand. It just took one bad test score and an argument with my partner, and my anxiety was cascading on me leading to full panic attacks down to the depths of depression. I was assigned mandatory counseling and then stopped when it was over. Years later, while working in my career, I felt the same cascades coming down again. I was working in a high stress sales job and I had created a vision that my life and self-worth was tied into each sale. I sought counseling and I have been going ever since.
In addition to going to counseling, I have developed my own coping mechanisms such as tracking my individual stressors and assessing what I can control about each one. I love to come with as many self-care items on a list as possible to use in moments I need it most. One of the most impactful ways that I have conquered my own anxiety is by helping others through theirs. It reminds me that no one has life figured and we are all on this journey together. Then I took it a step further and launched a business doing just that, helping women in so many areas of their mental wellbeing.
--Sabriya Dobbins, Project Passport LLC
I'm a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) & Registered Play Therapist, I specialize in working with grief and trauma. Anxiety is a big symptom of grief and trauma and often presents itself in unique ways.
I'm trained to provide therapeutic Yoga and I incorporate it in my therapy services when both client and I agree that it would be beneficial.
When I educate my clients, I explain that anxiety starts in the body, not the mind. Our body holds on to experiences and when we feel triggered our body responds. When treating anxiety, I incorporate the mind, body and movement, so the body can recalibrate this experience and feel safe again. I also teach my clients to be mindful of their breath. Our breath is a powerful tool, when we learn to use it right, we can regulate our body and emotional state.
Another evidenced based approach to successfully treating anxiety is EMDR, it works by recalibrating and reprocessing the memories or incidents that trigger the anxiety.
I have seen my clients successfully overcome their anxiety through therapeutic yoga, breath work and EMDR.
--Heena Khan, Uplift Counseling Services, PLLC
For short term relief, magnesium has been a life saver. It can also help you calm thoughts down at night, and help you go to bed.
Meditation has been a complete game changer for me.
I have meditated multiple times per day before when my anxiety has been bad.
5-10 minutes of it and it disappears.
Also, I have learned to monitor my body positioning when I am having anxiety. I notice that I am usually hunched a bit. Not getting enough air through bad posture.
I straighten up and pull my shoulders back and feel a lot better. I stand/sit in a position that is more conducive to calmness.
Also, I have used alternate nostril breathing, which you place one finger over one side of your nostril, and breath in for a few seconds and out for a few seconds. Then switch sides.
It has helped me regulate more of a natural pace in my breathing.
Also, not multitasking. Like many people, I felt like I didn't have enough time in the day for everything. So I would multi-task. Both personally and professionally.
Now after reading about doing so, I just do one thing at a time. I feel a lot better. And I also seem to do much better work by just focusing on one thing at a time.
Lastly, less caffeine. I only drink one cup instead of two or three nowadays. There was a bit of a withdrawal at first, but well worth it. Because I also sleep better as I finish my first cup before noon. Then that is it for the rest of the day.
--Chris Cucchiara, personaldevelopfit.com
Many of us experience anxiety and don’t even know what is causing it and why we feel the way we feel. As someone who suffered from anxiety for years, I had tried everything I could think of, from talk therapy to energy work and herbal supplements. At times, I experienced anxiety days before an important event like a work presentation, and other times I woke up in the morning feeling anxious without any apparent reason. I learned that when we feel anxious, we are mainly worried about a situation or an outcome in the future, and of course, we are predicting the worst possible scenario.
As a life coach and someone who suffered from anxiety for years, the best remedies in my opinion are mindful meditation and breath work. I used these techniques for myself and still use them with my clients and are proven very effective. I have been practicing meditation for years and find that it helps me tremendously connect to the present moment and stay focused. Once I am focused on my breath, I am connected to the present moment and so the future and the worries have no place in my mind. Taking deep breaths supply the brain with more oxygen and help calm the mind and ease the chatter.
This is not an overnight fix, these techniques must be practiced continuously to see results, but they are very effective.
--Naima Spencer, KhiraHorizons
My tip is decide. In order to deal with anxiety we must begin with the end goal in mind, take ownership and learn to control your T.E.B (thoughts, emotions and behavior). Start small. First decide your desired emotional state, then decide what you will no longer tolerate to facilitate that state and then rehearse being in that state when a trigger happens. Just like athletes rehearse before a game, you must decide and rehearse your desired state before the anxiety state is triggered. For example if your mom typically makes you upset and you know you may interact with her, take a moment to decide what your reaction will be and rehearse it before meeting her then perform it. Yes, it may feel unnatural at first but as you keep performing it, it will begin to feel more natural and you will feel more and more in control. It is also helpful to ask yourself what must I believe to be true when I behave in this way? The answer to this question may bring more clarity and understanding of your anxiety triggers.
--Dr. Omerine MD, youfirsttelemedicine.com
Anxiety requires a whole-person approach when it comes to addressing. One must target mind and body for best effect. There is a cognitive piece to anxiety where our very thoughts actually produce an anxious state. There are numerous distorted thought patterns people often get caught up in that encourage anxiety and usually we're not even aware we're doing it. For example, catastrophic thinking is a common one. This is where I have a pattern of blowing things up in my mind into worst case scenario, and when I do that, I become anxious. This might look like, I made a mistake at work and once everyone realizes they're all going to know I'm an idiot. I'll probably get fired. We want to bring attention to our thoughts to see if we can challenge them. I tell my clients, 'take your thoughts to court.' Let's see if we can prove otherwise. With the above example provided, can I recall another time where I made a mistake? What happened then? What has happened when others have made mistakes? What proof do I have that I'm not an idiot?
When anxiety arises, you may also wish to consider what anxious thoughts you have and whether there are any actionable steps you can take to help remedy the worry. Again, with the above example, can I do something to offset the damage of the mistake I made at work? Would it be helpful to preemptively take responsibility and let my boss know now? Take action if you can. Put that nervous energy into resolutions versus pacing and panicking.
Now let's look at the other half of the equation - the physical body. When anxiety is happening in the body, we often feel it. That might present as an upset stomach, sweaty palms, pounding heart, etc. The body is in flight, flight, or freeze mode, and it needs a reset to promote the return to a sense of safety. Anxiety is the body's natural way of saying there's danger, but sometimes our body misconstrues mundane things as danger, and we don't need to be on alert. Routine physical exercise is a great mechanism for helping to reset the body and keep anxiety at bay. Additionally, other calming strategies such as massage or Reiki help to activate the body's relaxation response. Using a weighted blanket at home is another effective coping tool for anxiety, as it also activates the body's relaxation response and provides a sense of safety.
Learning ways to intentionally release tension are also immensely helpful. Yoga is a great modality for helping us to recognize where we are holding tension in our bodies. Learning to tune in and pay attention to what our bodies are telling us can guide us. Right now, for example, shift your attention to your jaw. Is it held tightly or allowed to be slack and loose? What about your shoulders? Do they hang with no resistance, or are they being pulled upward and inward toward your neck?
Keep in mind, even when engaged in movement, that the mind is still going and may need to be reeled in. If I'm running a mile a day, but I stay in my head and worry about things the whole time I'm running, I'm only getting a portion of the benefit. Be mindful in all that you do. Mindfulness requires us to be fully present and without judgment. I prompt my clients to engage all their senses to activate a state of being mindful - What can I hear right now? What do I smell around me? What textures can I feel if I reach out and touch some of the things around me right now? Move through the senses in your present environment from a place of curiosity, and as you do this, you are being mindful. Use mindfulness as you do dishes, color, knit, hike, sit on your patio in the evening, etc. and see how the activity can take on a whole new meaning and feeling.
--Dr. Dana C. Avey, Fulfillment Counseling & Life Coaching PLLC
I have dealt with anxiety since I was in high school. The biggest change for me was finding out that I actually had a wheat allergy. When I cut out wheat from my diet, I felt like a new person. My anxiety subsided so much as well as physical symptoms such as heart palpitations and body inflammation. Other than my diagnosis something that has also made a big difference in my quality of life was finding a therapist that specialized in childhood trauma. There were many experiences that I had as a child that I had normalized and when I started talking to a professional about it, I learned that those experiences left me feeling anxious well into adulthood. Before therapy, I wouldn't have categorized them as traumatic events or realized that maybe there were emotional needs that weren't met for me as a child. My therapist is working with me on reparenting therapy so that I can fulfill some of those needs that were not met at a younger age. I've seen many different therapists in the past but this has made the biggest change in my life. My partner and family have all noticed that my anxiety has lessened and that I'm happier over all.
--Brandie Carlos, Therapy for Latinx
If you suffer from anxiety, remember that you are not alone. Regardless of whether this is a chronic issue or the result of a certain life situation, there are plenty of ways to get yourself help. Start by talking to loved ones and sharing your stresses and worries. If this does not suffice and you still feel anxious, it’s likely time to seek professional help. Start by seeing a therapist to go more into depth with your anxiety and to find appropriate coping mechanisms. In certain situations they might also recommend a psychiatrist in order to help you take back control of your emotions. Don’t be embarrassed to seek help. Be proud that you are doing what you need to protect and help yourself.
--Claire Barber, Treeological
I used to suffer from anxiety. Every now and again I would have a panic attack. It made me afraid to leave the house. I worked from home and had little interaction with people outside of my family The thing that helped me the most was group fitness classes. It caused me to get out of the house and the activity kept my mind off of the anxiety and the possibility of having a panic attack. The more I left the house to these classes, the more confident I got about being out in public. I haven’t had a panic attack in years.
--Damon Dietz, damondietz.com
Deep relaxation has been shown to help with anxiety by calming the nervous system. Over time, this can make us more resilient to stress. The effects of touch are far-reaching, including emotional, physical, and cognitive wellbeing and improvement. Studies indicate that touch boosts dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, the hormones associated with making people feel good, and lowers cortisol levels which are associated with stress. It can take 20 – 30 minutes for the body to recover from a major stress response. A 90-minute Restorative Contact session incorporates not only the healing benefits of human touch, but also the evidence-based effectiveness of mindfulness, slow movement, and deep relaxation for managing and treating anxiety. Restorative Contact grounds us with gentle, nonsexual touch and can be practiced with any partner (roommate, lover, parent, etc) or as a solo practice --both offered online now. It's a great time for people to engage in care from the comforts of their own home. I always let people know they can participate with their video on or off. Video off may provide a greater sense of safety but video on may boost their sense of community and interconnectedness. It depends on the person.
--Gabrielle Revlock, Restorative Contact
Anxiety sucks. There really is no better way to put it. It impacts your mood, your appetite, your sleep, your relationships, etc. While anxiety is your body telling you that something is up, which is a healthy response, it can often feel very overwhelming for those who suffer from constant anxiety. There are things that you can do to help you manage your anxiety and hopefully decrease its effects on your everyday life.
The best way to help cope with anxiety is to track it. Sounds weird but having some answers on why you feel the way to day helps gain some clarity in your mental health. So take a journal around with you. Track when you are starting to feel anxious. What are you doing? Who is around you? What thoughts are coming to your head? What are you feeling physically? How long does it last? Write down the answers to those questions to learn more about how anxiety effects you.
Next find resources that help decrease your anxiety moments. I find that a lot of times tracking and having answers lowers the amount of episodes. Also going back to the things you enjoy the most helps. Think about something you enjoyed doing but stopped because life got hard. Often times we stop doing the one thing that makes us the happiest and then we fall deeper into anxiety. So whether your activity was going to the beach, drawing, fishing, etc. pick it back up. Give yourself time to do something just for you. Also take up more physical activity. Exercise is a great way to release endorphins. You don’t have to join a cross fit gym (unless you want to), but simple things like walking, swimming or bike riding help with mental health.
--Jessica Jefferson, Cloud Nine Therapeutic Services, LLC
As an experienced primary care clinician and hypnotherapist, I see people with general anxiety disorder (GAD) on a daily basis. Anxiety and stress are interchangeable words, most people will think of stress as something from the outside world and anxiety as an internal feeling, but both have the same outcome in our minds and bodies. It takes our focus away from the best part of our lives, causes this uneasy feeling and sometimes real physiological maladies.
There are many self-help techniques that work for anxiety, such as exercise, diet changes, more sleep, laughter, decreased alcohol use, and yoga to name a few. These are all excellent techniques but often the anxiety itself keeps the person from being able to initiate these in the first place. The anxiety blocks the ability for you to rescue yourself. So outside help is needed. I introduce my patients to three categories to find relief for their anxiety.
1. talk to someone – this is the absolute best technique, the easiest to do, the cheapest and it works for almost everyone. It’s simple, just talk to a friendly listener who will not be judgmental, or give exact advice or tell you to just forget it. We know this sort of talk therapy works – in the worst of situations a complete stranger (aka a crisis counselor) can talk a stranger off a building ledge over a cell phone, or an AA sponsor can help someone from taking a drink. With anxiety it’s a relief valve for the sufferer to verbalize their problems to a kind ear. Just talking about their problems eases the anxiety levels and can help the person move on and maybe use other techniques if needed.
2. hypnotherapy – hypnotherapy is a form of talking to someone as above but the therapist helps you use your subconscious to find relief from anxiety. It is more subtle than outright talk therapy but the relief can be more dramatic. After a thorough interview the hypnotherapist can give your subconscious suggestions to relieve your own precise sources of anxiety and stress. This will help you realize your triggers and build coping mechanisms for real mitigation of the anxiety.
3. medication – this is the choice of last resort but the one most people look for first. Our society wants quick fixes with no consequences and thinks this is the answer every time. Medications can absolutely be the first, the best and the right choice for some people in some situations – the key being for a limited time. For example, anti-anxiety medications for a short duration during a divorce, or a difficult medical process or the loss of a loved one. The problem is the addiction factor, hopefully your provider will not let a physical addiction occur, but a mental addiction. The drugs do not let you build resilience and coping skills. The sources of anxiety are masked, not resolved, and you continue to want the meds long after the original problem is over.
--Jeffrey Butch, Mindhealth Clinical Hypnotherapy LLC
Up until a few years ago, I struggled with anxiety and depression. I struggled with it from my early twenties almost up to my mid-thirties. Thankfully, I completely recovered from it, although regrettably, I have lost so much precious time on feeling miserable, which was so unnecessary in retrospect. If only I had known back then what I know today. Now, I believe everyone can overcome anxiety. For the most part, the solution lies in changing your mindset. You have to change your outlook on life. Most of our fears will never become reality, yet, they prevent us from living our lives to the fullest. That is why working on your limiting beliefs, and positive thinking, are key to our mental health. Start by using daily affirmations so your mind can get used to a positive counter-sound. Become aware of your negative thoughts and assess to what extent they are realistic and true. Don't feed your anxiety with fears that probably never come true. Preserve those feelings of anxiousness for the moments something is really going on. And even then, try not to lose your cool. All of our experiences are just experiences. It's up to us how big or small we make them. Try to relax more often and shift your focus to the beautiful things of life!
--Angie Makljenovic, inhalethegoodshit.com
Firstly, what not to do: relaxation! If anyone tells you otherwise, they are NOT an anxiety expert.
The key is that those suffering from panic attacks have a fear of fear. Exposure therapy is the most effective treatment for anyone suffering from a fear/phobic condition, including panic attacks.
Any exposure will be to the feared stimulus--a spider phobic will be exposed to spiders--so for panic attacks, the exposure should be to the symptoms of panic attacks themselves.
For this, we do what's called interoceptive exposure--this includes exercises like spinning around, hyperventilating, breathing through a straw, running in place, etc.--all to mimic the physiological symptoms of panic. In doing this repeatedly, clients learn that while panic is uncomfortable, it is not dangerous, it is temporary, and the person can cope with it.
The treatment for panic attacks is paradoxical b/c as long as you're unwilling to have it, you're anxious about anxiety so you're anxious. This is why relaxation is a no-no (it sends the message that panic as bad or dangerous and must be eliminated). You must learn to be willing to have the symptoms and let go of fighting/resisting them in order to conquer your fear.
--Dr. Jill Stoddard, The Center for Stress and Anxiety Management
I am a 29 year old male who is married with two children (aged one and three). I never used to be anxious, but then shortly after getting married, my wife and I were involved in a traumatic boating accident. We were being pulled along on a biscuit/tube behind the boat on a lake and the driver misjudged and swung us into a stationary boat on the shore. My wife was concussed and had a torn leg muscle and blown eardrum, and I had a compression fracture in my back and internal bruising/bleeding. Needless to say, it was awful.
But anyway a month or two after this while I was still in a state of recovering, I began to get time of intense nausea. To start with we presumed it was a side effect of the crash, and it would happen sometimes for short periods other times for longer periods. However, when it persisted we began to think that I had some sort of mysterious illness, I would at different times struggle to sleep, have intensive nausea, and lose all appetite. So we went through the medical system and tested for almost under the sun from food allergies to celiac. But the tests all came through negative and finally the doctor surmised that most likely what I was going through was anxiety.
And so the journey with anxiety began. I found out soon after this that I actually had a very strong family history of anxiety and depression on both sides of the family which makes sense. However, learning to recognise it as anxiety was a significant first step in the journey of learning how to live with it and progress in it.
Here are some of my strategies that have been helpful for me to cope with it.
First, get to know your triggers. Depending on the type of anxiety, there are usually somewhat predictable things and times in which it will resurface. So for myself, I have found that some of my triggers that I need to be aware of are multiple deadlines at once, when things in life are happening that I have no control over, and when I go back into a situation which has caused me anxiety in the past. This is a really helpful step in the fight against anxiety as if you know you are entering into a stressful time you can begin to prepare for the reality that anxiety will probably resurface and take appropriate steps.
Talking with someone about it. This is hugely important. Especially high levels of anxiety or panic attacks can cause huge emotional turbulence in your life and can easily lead to feelings of hopelessness and low self-esteem. So for myself I know that if I have 1-2 people who I trust completely, that I can always call and talk about my struggle with anxiety. For me, sharing my fears and struggles is often one of the most significant steps towards recovery. So find someone you trust, they don’t have to have struggled with anxiety themselves as long as they are willing to listen and empathise and you feel safe with them. Depending on the intensity of the anxiety I have also found that even a small amount of sessions with either a psychologist or counsellor can be really helpful.
Rigorous exercise. One of the first pieces of advice that both my doctor and counsellor gave to me is to make rigorous exercise a regular part of your weekly routine. This leads to more holistic health which is important regarding anxiety and also produces a heavy breathing which is similar to some of the symptoms of anxiety/panic attacks, but of which you are in control. The great thing about this strategy is that although it is hard to do if you are not used to it, it is something practical that you can do and implement. And so for me now exercise has been a part of my life for the last 2-3 years and it has helped my anxiety hugely. If I find myself starting to feel anxious or get some of the symptoms, then going for a run or doing a workout is one of my first responses.
Helpful medication. Depending on the specific symptoms of anxiety, medication can be a significant step towards taking control of your life and getting back into a healthy routine. I have been on medication for my anxiety for about 2 years now, and I still evaluate it with my doctor every few months but it has been unbelievably helpful for dealing with anxiety.
Another important lesson I have learned and that is well attested in the literature is not to let your anxiety control you. I have found that especially when the symptoms are most strong, It can be tempting to deal with things through avoidance, avoiding anything that could cause anxiety. But this only accentuates the problem and creates a greater anxiety about the specific things. So while wisdom and discernment is needed, I try not to avoid the things that can stress me out but think through it, do my best to go through it, and then journal about it as a way to keep track of progress.
Laughter. This one is a bit hard to do in a sense but I have found that regular laughter is an immense help in the fight against anxiety. The best way that this happens is if you have someone funny in your life, that makes you laugh. But even if you don’t then a good dose of The Office (US) or Calvin and Hobbes usually does the trick for me. There is something about laughter that keeps you going when you feel like giving up in your fight against anxiety.
Finally breathing techniques. There is plenty of evidence that controlled deep breathing is immensely helpful in coping with the symptoms of anxiety. There are plenty of different examples on the web, but doing this for even just a few minutes each day or even when you begin to feel anxious is a great practical way to respond to anxiety which tends to calm you down rather than spiralling into panic.
--James Hyslop, The Coffee Folk
As a counsellor-therapist for over 30 years I have been working with clients of all different ages and backgrounds and in settings from the NHS in the UK through private consultations to our present setting as a residential retreat centre in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains.
The first thing to say about anxiety is that the more we can be living in the present, the less we will feel anxiety. Different from fear, where we know the size and shape and proximity of whatever it is that we believe will get the better of us, anxiety is in the realm of MIGHT BE. And human beings - some more than others, of course - are not good at coping with the uncertainty that goes with ‘might be’ and ‘could be’ and the like. We like to know and quite often knowing even bad news brings its own kind of relief… I might be on edge waiting for my biopsy test results and when they come through it is bad news, but now I can engage with the plan of what is to be done, my energy can be channelled instead of hanging in space. And anything is better than hanging.
In that period when things MIGHT BE (or might not be) we can probably devise all sorts of stratagems for distraction and all sorts of reasoning to prove that the outcome need not be bad, but they all suffer from the shortcoming that they have to put the anxiety in mind in order to combat it. Better by far to focus on something real, which is either present or can be made present, and let that use the energy which otherwise the mind, and perhaps the body, would use up in futile panic.
So the catch-words are: FOCUS - REAL - ACTUAL
The most real and actual thing that is closest to us is our breathing. Breathing is the starting point for most training in mindfulness and meditation. It is always there as our connection with the world. How we breathe affects the beating of our heart. How we breathe affects how we live.
Lengthen our breaths, slow down their rate, and we slow everything down.
Racing pulse and panic goes with anxiety. So does rapid breathing. The opposite of fear, where we stop breathing.
--Simon Cole, life-counselling.co.uk
I've successfully overcome generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). I went from having frequent panic attacks and popping Xanax like candy to becoming a coach helping people stress less and achieve more. I'd be happy to share my story with you.
I was diagnosed with GAD in 2014 after ending up in the emergency room several times for panic attacks. My anxiety was so severe that I couldn't make it through the day without Xanax. I wasted countless hours a day ruminating and often lost sleep worrying about work, finances, and relationship issues. It took a toll on my health, my marriage, and my career, resulting in thousands of dollars in medical bills, near-divorce, and several job changes.
What changed was realizing my anxiety itself wasn't the problem. The anxiety was merely a warning sign that something else was wrong. As I examined my feelings of anxiety, I discovered deeper underlying issues, including negative childhood experiences, perfectionism, and a desire for control. Addressing these problems directly, instead of masking them with medication, allowed me to break free from anxiety. Stress still occurs (it's just a part of life), but I'm no longer dependent on medication, and I don't allow circumstances to control me.
This shift occurred because I became tired of being dependent on medication to make it through the day. I couldn't imagine living the rest of my life that way. I knew that if I wanted my life to change, then I needed to make some changes. I started working on myself more, reading personal growth and development books, attending health and wellness workshops, and receiving coaching and mentorship to show me how to navigate life and manage stress more effectively.
For people who suffer from anxiety, they can combat this by seeking healthy activities that calm their mind, body, and soul, such as journaling, meditation, and exercise. My advice to people who suffer from anxiety would be to stop trying to find a quick fix, turn within, and do the inner work to solve the root cause of their anxiety rather than trying to mask the symptoms. Medication can help with finding stability in the short-term, but it's not a long-term solution in eliminating anxiety. The real healing begins by being willing to solve the deeper, underlying issues.
In the meantime, I would advise people working through their anxiety to be patient with themselves. Healing from anxiety takes time - weeks, months, or even years depending on the severity of the case and their dedication pushing through it. Aim for progress, not perfection, and remember that progress is progress no matter how slow you go. You're doing the best you can, and that's what counts.
--Nicole Starbuck, nicolestarbuck.com
Something that many people do not think of when trying to combat anxiety is taking a look at their diet. It is quite possible that the food you are eating is causing a psycho-somatic reaction. Examples of foods known to cause anxiety include coffee (caffeine), chocolate, gluten, and sugar. If the cause of your anxiety is still unknown, I recommend keeping a food journal. After each meal or snack, write down everything you ate and how you feel for the next 3 hours or so. Symptoms may be present immediately or you may notice that your anxiety starts hours after consumption of your trigger food. Another way to address this would be to do an elimination diet. For 21-30 days eliminate food groups that may be causing reactions such as gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, preservatives, etc. Then one by one add them back into your diet and look for symptoms. This may not only address any psycho-somatic symptoms you have, but could also express any food intolerance or allergies you didn’t know you had.
--Audrey Del Prete, Always FIT Coaching
Having read through the many excellent contributions, I find I still have something to add, which is acceptance. Anxiety is living in the future. Mark Twain said, “I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” If I can simply accept what is, then I can deal with it. I follow the Dalai Lama’s advice: “If a problem has a solution, find the solution instead of worrying. If it hasn’t got a solution, then what’s the point of worrying?”
Sometimes, I can succeed in accepting what is, and then anxiety, worry, sadness all ease. Sometimes, the attempt fails. Then it is time for second level acceptance: "OK, for now, I feel terrible (physically, emotionally, or both). So, I simply accept that, for now I feel terrible. All things are change — this, too, shall pass. And it’s probably not fatal, and even if it were, you’ve got to die of something.” This of course gets me to laugh, and laughter definitely is the best medicine.
And even this can fail. Then I may be in the dumps, “What’s the point of living like this anyway,” and I can’t cope. Then it’s time for level three acceptance: “OK, so I am unable to cope. I simply accept that, and be calm about being out of mind with anxiety (or sadness, or anger, or that 9/10 pain in my back, or grief for the death of my best friend).”
Acceptance only works if it is genuine. Pretending to accept won’t. All the same, when you can accept the situation at one level, you often rise to the previous level, or even to complete calmness. But if you do it in the hope it will ease the pain, it will fail.
For a second powerful tool, I again return to the Dalai Lama, who has said, “The aim of enlightenment is to be of service,” and “My religion is kindness.” One major reason for anxiety is inward focus. The what-if monster is “What if this happens to ME?” So, if I focus the searchlight of attention on being of service to others, including people, animals and plants, then my own issues recede in importance. There has to be a balance: I need to look after my own physical and mental welfare, but if my main aim is to be of benefit, I will feel better about myself and the world I live in.
--Bob Rich, Ph.D., From Depression to Contentment: A self-therapy guide
It is also important to manage school related anxiety, which is common for high school students pushing themselves to achieve high goals. In order to manage school anxiety, first gain an understanding of what your anxiety is and how to recognise it. This is best done by going to a psychologist, as it is important to never try and self-diagnose. From there learn some coping mechanisms to try and handle your anxiety when you feel it being triggered. The simplest, and often most effective of which, being breathing. From there, it is important to reach out to a teacher or staff member at your school who you feel comfortable opening up to about this, or talk to your academic personal trainer who will sit with you and listen to you and whatever you feel you need to vent about so that you can continue achieving at the highest standard that you can.
--Kiah Heron, A Team Tuition
Ever since my childhood I have been suffering with anxiety, triggered by a lot of insecurity, shame and fear of exposing myself. Over the years, some symptoms became more evident and consequently disturbed my routine. One of the worst symptoms is shortness of breath, which starts in a weak and imperceptible way but gradually increases and eventually paralyzes me. The main measure I adopted to improve this is to seek professional help. I have been in therapy for the past 5 years, which has helped me identify the triggers of the roller coaster of emotions in which I live (Who doesn’t, right?). Therapy awakened a special passion that ended up becoming my life mission. In 2018, a friend and I founded the Instituto Bem do Estar *, a non-profit organization, located in Brazil, focused on the promotion and prevention of mental health, mainly anxiety and depression. Working with this has made me discover several mind-care tools. After testing a few, I found the ones that are really effective for me in controlling anxiety.
--Milena Fanucchi, Bem do Estar
EDITORS NOTE: See also this article on how to deal with anxiety and depression.