The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that 40 million adults are affected by anxious thoughts. That is 18.1% of our population, meaning that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States,
Stress and anxiety issues are usually quite treatable. However, fewer than half of those suffering will seek help. Keep reading to learn how to get a grip on your anxiety and stress, or better yet, how to let loose of your white-knuckled grip on it.
What Are Anxiety Disorders?
When most of us hear "anxiety," we think about Generalized Anxiety Order (GAD), but it's not that simple. There are five different classifications of anxiety disorders.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) includes extreme worrying, often without the ability to discern the source. Panic disorder is marked by acute bouts of intense panic, shortness of breath, etc. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) causes flashbacks of extremely traumatic experiences. Social phobia is anxiety brought on by interacting with others, and obsessive-compulsive disorder results in repetitive obsessions and ritualistic actions.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) suggests that a brisk 10-minute walk is just as useful for reducing stress, anxiety, and depression as a 45-minute workout. The effects are immediate and usually last a few hours.
For many people, exercise did the trick just as well as medication for the treatment of anxiety and depression. A regular schedule of vigorous exercise may reduce overall anxiety in most, but for a few unlucky individuals, exercise alone won't do squat for your anxiety or stress.
Cut Back On Caffeine
In this study, we learned that caffeine, contrary to popular belief, is not bad for us. (That's great news!) But it gets even better. Caffeine in moderation is actually good for us. Less than 600 mg per day has been associated with less depression, improved cognition, and lower self-harm rates.
But here's the bad news. If you're reading this you probably suffer from anxiety, and caffeine can have a potent anxiogenic (freak out) effect on those who suffer from some anxiety disorders, panic disorder and performance social anxiety disorder in particular.
Research shows that a good snuggle can relieve pain, lower your blood pressure, boost your immune system, and reduce the risk of heart disease. When you cuddle with someone, your brain produces a hormone called oxytocin that has a calming effect on us and helps us deal with stress.
Catherine A. Connors, a stress management coach, told Shape that oxytocin is "a 'bonding' hormone. This chemical reaction can help to reduce blood pressure, which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease, but it can also help to reduce stress and anxiety."
Write It Out
Journaling about the things that worry them reduces the types of brain waves associated with anxiety in people who are chronic worriers. What this implies is that free-form writing, in which you're not concerned about spelling or punctuation errors, allows your mind to work more effectively on tasks.
Research has shown us that expressive writing about your worries can sharpen focus and make your brain less reactive to the stimuli causing the anxiety. This is a method of distracting your focus from anxiety, enabling you to focus on your tasks better.
Yoga Might Help You Out
There is strong evidence suggesting that yoga is effective in reducing or eliminating depression and anxiety. There are many possibilities and theories as to how yoga affects our mental state. There are two types of mechanisms through which yoga exerts its beneficial effects: cognitive and biologic.
Yoga students are often directed to focus their attention to present-moment body sensations, feelings, and thoughts, and to do so in a non-judgmental way. These directions seem to help decrease self-criticism, boost self-esteem, and create positive emotions.
Procrastination Can Fuel Anxiety & Stress
Research has shown us that procrastination is linked to poor health behaviors and increased stress. Understanding procrastination's causes and effects may be necessary to understand how many acute and chronic health issues develop and how to better manage them.
There are five reasons we procrastinate: 1) because our working memory is overloaded, 2) we put extreme pressure on ourselves to perform, 3) we fear a negative outcome, 4) we bite off more than we can chew, 5) we fear the unknown or uncertain.
Get a Whiff of This -- Aromatherapy Works!
Aromatherapy is a holistic approach to mental health care that has been used for thousands of years for its healing properties. It uses essential oils and touts many benefits such as anxiety/stress relief, easing muscle aches, antioxidant properties, and improving circulation.
Research has shown aromatherapy to be extremely effective at reducing anxiety. One experiment showed that those who utilized aromatherapy reduced symptoms of stress by nearly 50% over those who did not use aromatherapy.
It's not just your mother telling you this anymore. In a study, the National Center for Biotechnology Information agrees with her: laughter is the best medicine. There are both short-term (immediate) benefits and long-term benefits.
Short-term benefits include a release of tension and relaxation of muscles. A good chuckle also lowers the heart rate and blood pressure. Laughing increases the release of endorphins as well. The long-term effects of laughing are also well-studied and documented. These benefits include a stronger immune system, improved mood, and pain relief.
Eat Well-Balanced Meals
Uma Naidoo, MD wrote on the Harvard Medical School blog about some simple rules to remember for people who suffer from anxiety.
"Low blood sugar, poor hydration, use of alcohol, caffeine, and smoking can also precipitate or mimic symptoms of anxiety," she wrote. Other suggestions offered are to eat frequently to avoid hypoglycemia, and drink at least 6-8 glasses of water a day. Consume plenty of fruits, veggies, healthy fats and meats. Avoid processed foods and sugar. A sugar rush can feel like a panic attack.
"Music Soothes the Savage Beast"
The medical journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences discussed the healing properties of music for anxiety. It evaluated more than 400 studies before coming to the overwhelming conclusion that listening to music reduces stress. The study showed that listening to music before surgery was more effective at reducing anxiety than prescription medications.
When we are awake and relaxed, our brains produce brain waves at frequencies of 8 – 14 hertz. Music with an approximate tempo of 60 beats per minute can cause our brains to reproduce those same wave frequencies and the desired relief.
Use The Power Of Positive Thinking
If you suffer from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), you probably do your worrying through self-talk. This internal speech is powerful! Those with GAD talk out the possible adverse outcomes in their minds, over and over and over again.
One excellent study demonstrated the power of positive thinking. The study used volunteers who suffered from GAD and had them replace their worries with better thoughts. Some subjects focused on positive outcomes instead of their fears, and other subjects were instructed to rehearse positive thoughts unrelated to their worries. The study found that both groups experienced significant relief from stress and anxiety.
Our nervous systems are composed of two systems: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our fight-or-flight mode and which causes quicker breathing, increased heart rate, and constricted blood vessels. Breathing exercises can launch our parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation.
Deep breathing exercises include diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, paced respiration, carbon dioxide rebreathing, and belly breathing. The general goal of most of these exercises is to get you to take deep breaths. Inhale through the nose, fully expanding your lungs, and then exhale through your mouth.
Mindfulness is the art of being very aware of your present moment's physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual experiences. It is the ability to look at our thoughts from the outside and from a nonjudgemental perspective. In this way, we can assess our thoughts objectively.
Studies show the effectiveness of mindfulness practices for reducing stress and anxiety. Meditation, body recognition, and yoga are a few of the methods used to bring about a state of mindfulness.
Spend Time With Friends And Family
Spending time with friends and family is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety, but choose your company wisely. Many family members may actually exacerbate stress and anxiety. Having a network of friends gives us a sense of self-worth, which helps us emotionally.
One study discovered that spending time with people we care about causes the release of oxytocin and brings about the "tend and befriend" effect. This is the opposite of the fight-or-flight response.
Supplements Can Help
Walk into any supplement store, and before you leave, you will believe that supplements can cure any ailment and the need for modern medicine is an antiquated idea. It's only after thousands of dollars and disappointing results that many of us realize "we've been duped."
On the other hand, there are a few that are backed by empirical findings and scientific research. Speak with a medical professional to determine what kind of supplements are right for you.
Work On Your Sense Of Humor
Research has shown that developing a great sense of humor can go a long way toward easing stress and anxiety, but what if you were just born dull? Well, all is not lost. Here are some things to try to develop your sense of humor
Polish up on your jokes. You can go to the library or find jokes online. They will make you laugh and give you a way to share a laugh with your friends. Put funny pictures, postcards, comic strips, or anything that you find funny up around your house. Laugh at yourself and your situations. Find a way to see the humor even in your misfortunes.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Studies show this new therapy option is rapidly showing some incredible benefits in many patients suffering from mental illnesses. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) uses pulsed magnetic fields to inhibit or stimulate specific areas of the brain.
The simple way to understand how TMS works is like this: think of the different parts of the brain as separate muscles. Some muscles are responsible for producing positive thought patterns and some for negative thought patterns. In many cases, the "worry muscles" are overdeveloped, and need to be inhibited. In other cases the "calming muscles" are underdeveloped, and we want to stimulate them, making them more efficient.
Google To The Rescue
As we become increasingly aware of the realities of mental illnesses, the stigma is slowly beginning to fade. As our society's views of mental illness begin to open, people who used to suffer in silence are opening up too. Many are coming forward now who wouldn't have in the past.
Sometimes life can be too much for anyone. There are people out there who understand and want to help. A quick google search for "anxiety helpline" will bring up several groups devoted to understanding and helping you. Reach out — the ball is in your court.
Therapy, The "Gold Standard"
Despite the numerous ways to combat anxiety and stress, the best medicine sometimes is to talk about what concerns you. Men have tended to have a harder time than women with this in the past, but as we emotionally evolve as a society, that is slowly changing.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy was shown by meta-analysis to be the "gold standard" in anxiety treatment. Finding a therapist that you feel comfortable with is incredibly important in this therapy option. The more comfortable you are, the faster you will open up, and the sooner you will heal.