Going through life with an anxiety disorder is challenging. When you’re overwhelmed by negative thoughts, feelings, and other symptoms of anxiety, it’s difficult to fully experience all that life has to offer.
While most of us have felt anxious at certain moments in our lives, those who suffer from an anxiety disorder (roughly forty million Americans) don’t find relief as quickly. Of that, only a third of adults and one fifth of teenagers receive treatment for their anxiety disorders. (Survey)
Anxiety is linked to the stress response and is therefore linked to our innate fight or flight response. In small doses, it can be helpful for survival, but when it’s constant and debilitating, anxiety is a disease we would all want to cure.
Unfortunately it’s not that easy. There are no easy, immediate cures for anxiety. You can’t eliminate anxiety completely and forever. But you can work to eliminate the anxiety that interferes with a normal lifestyle.
To relieve problematic anxiety, we need to dive into what it is and what triggers it.
What is Anxiety?
The simple definition of anxiety is a feeling of unease, worry, or nervousness because of a potential future threat. An anxiety disorder is a heightened and chronic form of anxiety characterized by excessive uneasiness and apprehension to the point of panic attacks or compulsive behavior.
To break it down even further, those who suffer from anxiety face symptoms such as:
- Excessive, irrational and/or uncontrollable feelings of worry and dread
- Sensations of panic and uneasiness for no apparent or immediate reason
- Obsessive thoughts
- Ritualistic behaviors
- Sleeplessness due to dread
- Inability to remain calm
- Nausea, headaches, fatigue, stomach aches and even chronic indigestion
But what is it’s role in our lives?
In small doses, anxiety, like stress, is there to help. We create anxiety when feel impending doom, but oftentimes the “doom” is not as bad as we think it will be.
How Anxiety Works
Anxiety works the same way as stress but it stems from a different source. With stress, we can often pinpoint the direct threat. With anxiety, you’re not sure of the exact threat and it comes more from a place of fear of what could be. Anxiety is also specifically the feeling of fear, dread or apprehension. It can manifest without any “real” trigger.
The commonality between stress and anxiety is that they both trigger the fight or flight reaction in your body. Your sympathetic nervous system releases norepinephrine and cortisol so your mind and body are ready for action.
In anxiety disorders, scientists have discovered that the amygdala and hippocampus play important roles.
The amygdala is the part of the brain that processes incoming sensory signals and controls the part of the brain that interprets those signals. It uses memory to help interpret those signals yielding emotions; it is most frequently associated with conditioned fear.
What Causes Anxiety?
As we mentioned, anxiety isn’t necessarily set off by a present threat. Since it can be caused by worrying about a “potential” threat, it’s hard to fully understand what causes anxiety disorders. A lot of what causes anxiety has to do with the individual person.
Specifically, researchers believe that a mix of genetic and environmental factors can cause a person to develop an anxiety disorder.
An exact gene hasn’t been pinpointed, but studies using twins have shown a connection between genetics and the increased risk of getting an anxiety disorder. Further studies have shown that family history is also predictive of anxiety disorders.
Environmental factors are even more varied by person but there are a few strong connections between anxiety disorders and the following:
- Alcoholism or other substance abuse
- Excessive or unresolved stress
- Economic instability
- Trauma (Being a victim of trauma, being close to a victim of trauma or witnessing a traumatic event)
With these genetics and environmental factors at play, it’s easy to feel like there’s no escaping an anxiety disorder, but hang in there. It is possible to beat an anxiety disorder.
So…Can Anxiety Be Cured?
Sadly, there isn’t a magical cure gets rid of anxiety overnight. “Curing” or fully eliminating anxiety in your life will take commitment and time. Even then, you can never truly get rid of anxiety since it’s part of your survival instincts. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America explicitly warns people about potential scams offering anxiety cures.
So yes, you will still feel anxious from time to time depending on the situation. However, it is possible to eliminate the type of chronic anxiety that wreaks havoc on your life.
Recognize and Address Anxiety Triggers
One of the most important steps to getting rid of overwhelming anxiety is to recognize what things in your life cause you to feel anxious. This will be hard to do because anxiety comes from a place of uncertainty which means you might feel like everything is alright and can’t see what the underlying issue is.
Triggers come in many forms and may not even be the exact reason for your anxiety. For example, you might have anxiety over potential money but you don’t start feeling anxious until you go to the mall. The mall isn’t making you feel anxious, it’s your association with money and spending that is…the mall is just the place where you can manifest that potential threat.
People can also act as a triggers for anxiety; this is especially true for those who have suffered some sort of personal trauma. Events and objects can also be triggers.
Once you recognize what triggers your anxiety, you’ll have to be willing to remove or address those triggers from your life. This could lead to a dramatic lifestyle change which is difficult but just know it’s for the better.
Sometimes, it might take an outside perspective to help you recognize those triggers. Seeking out a mental health professional or a therapist is a good step towards an anxiety-free life. The National Alliance of Mental Illness outlines the best way to go about finding a mental health professional in this guide.
Engage in Positive Coping Behaviors
Anxiety manifests due to an inability to cope with a problem. Instead of dealing with a problem, people with anxiety may turn to destructive coping behaviors that let you momentarily escape the problem. Destructive coping behaviors can things like alcoholism, substance dependency, or isolation. These methods may help push the anxiety away for a while but since it doesn’t address the problem head on, it will eventually come back and maybe even worsen the situation.
Dealing with problems you may not be able to solve is hard. How we cope with that fact has a huge role in how we feel about ourselves. Engaging in positive coping behaviors can help. But it takes practice to end bad coping habits and develop new ones.
These are a few of the most constructive ways to cope with anxiety. Remember that it takes practice and time to end bad habits so be patient with yourself.
Incorporating mindfulness into your everyday routine is a simple, effective way to constructively deal with anxiety. Mindfulness has been shown to help children decrease their anxiety. Studies also show that mindfulness provides long-term beneficial effects to those dealing with anxiety.
Mindfulness is the act of bringing your mind to the present moment or activity. When you’re feeling anxious, you’re thinking of things that could happen. Next time you sense anxiety come along, take a breath and bring your mind to the present moment instead. Mindfulness can be achieved just by paying attention to your breath.
The easiest way to start your mindful practice is by using guided meditations. Try the mindfulness exercise below; it’s specifically to decrease fear (which is what anxiety is).
Practicing yoga has also shown signs of decreasing anxiety. Yoga involves physical and mental exercise, as well a great amount of self-control and patience. While your body is physically challenged, your mind is strengthening its ability for attention.
Start out easy when practicing yoga. You can attend a class or find some great flows on the internet. Here’s a quick yoga flow that targets and relieves anxiety:
It’s already known that exercise has numerous health benefits. Of those health benefits are decreases in anxiety, depression and stress. Exercise releases healthy neurotransmitters that support mood while conditioning your internal system to deal with stress.
Exercise can also act as meditation in motion. Just like yoga, you’re pushing your body and letting your mind concentrate on that activity instead of thinking up all the things that can go wrong.
Try jogging or swimming as research has shown that rhythmic, cardio exercises had the best impact on mood.
Art, or any sort of creative artistic expression, has been known to have strong connection with positive health benefits. Art is a way for you to express yourself, which is a good way to take back control from anxiety that can have you feeling locked up. Art also takes focus and control, which means concentrating on the moment at hand and not a future thought. Lastly, finishing a painting or song or even coloring a page gives you a sense of accomplishment. If you’re frozen with fear, just achieving a small goal can feel like a victory.
Change Your Thinking Process
To truly be free from anxiety requires a change in your thinking process and to get rid of the negative thoughts that bog you down. Challenge that negativity and choose to find the positive outline.
Here are a few ways to retrain your thinking process:
- Write It Out – Write the specific thought associated to your anxiety. Then write out all the things that could go wrong and go well. Then follow up that list with a reason why it won’t matter if it goes wrong.
- Fake Positivity – If you find it hard to think positively, try faking it until you make it. Think of what a positive person would think, feel, or say. Even if it feels awkward and forced, you’ll be practicing the motions. Eventually, that positivity will rub off.
- Stay Busy – Engage in fun, distracting activities that keep your mind active. Anxiety can leave you feeling fragile and paralyzed. Fight against the feeling by participating in engaging activities.
- Be Present – Mindfulness can help with this one. It’s good to think about the future but when we are consumed with what could happen, we miss what is currently happening. Train your mind to reset your mind by bringing it back to the present moment.
There isn’t a magical, easy cure for anxiety but you can overcome it. Anxiety differs from person to person so each individual’s journey will be different. Talk to your doctor about which methods are good for you. The common thread between them is realizing that you have anxiety and working towards eliminating it. Curing yourself of anxiety depends all on you.