Tips for Managing Anxiety
Almost every day brings me to a conversation with someone about managing anxiety. We live in a world that assaults our sensibilities on every level; the pressures at work and home can be immense. While the temptation to turn to medication can be strong, some may wish to seek drug-free alternatives to avoid side effects and the potential for addiction.
Different kinds of anxiety
It may be helpful to consider two different kinds of anxiety, as the approach to each may be different.
- State anxiety is related to your current situation, and can be volatile in some circumstances. You’re late for an important job interview, and your heart is pounding as you weave through traffic. Then, somebody cuts you off, compelling you to yell and give them the “You’re number one” sign. Just as you do, you realize it’s a police officer. As he pulls you over to issue a ticket, you go into full meltdown mode. These are progressive examples of state anxiety. They are triggered by something stressful going on in your life, and our activation levels can bounce very high in these cases. Some people even experience panic attacks as a result of these experiences. We’re all susceptible to state anxiety, because we all have stressors in our lives.
- Trait anxiety is the kind of anxiety that seems almost related to one’s personality or demeanor (i.e. a character trait). Have you known anyone who may not necessarily go into meltdown mode that often, but their anxiety level seems to percolate at a consistently steady level? Some people with high trait anxiety may simply appear nervous all the time, but some can be easily activated too.
Awareness of anxiety
Many people don’t actually know when they’re anxious, especially when it occurs a lot and begins to feel normal. Managing anxiety gets much easier when you can identify that it’s occurring in you! If you, or someone you trust, notices that you seem wound up, irritable, or easily activated, you may be experiencing anxiety. Physical signs can include:
- racing heart
- digestive troubles
- inexplicable headaches
- clenching of the jaw (sometimes when you sleep)
- tension in the neck, shoulders, and/or back
The good news in that there are some things we can do to manage anxiety. The connection between mind and body is a two-way street. So, while our anxious emotions often manifest themselves in our physical bodies, there are some ways we can treat our bodies that will help avoid or alleviate anxiety.
One of the most fundamental aspects of staying alive gives us one of the best ways to calm our emotions. Most of us breathe shallow breaths, and often too quickly—especially when we’re anxious. One of the easiest ways to reduce anxiety is to focus on your breathing, slowing it down, and breathing deeper.
Begin by focusing how you breathe. If your chest expands and shoulders elevate when you take a breath, try another way. Focus on keeping your shoulders relaxed, and breathing deeper into your torso. This will cause your belly to expand much more than your chest, and gives you a fuller, deeper breath.
Now, try to slow your breathing, as close to 6 breaths per minute as you can get. Think of breathing in for 5 seconds, then out for 5 seconds, and repeat. With practice, you’ll learn to pace your breathing so this becomes easy. I suggest practicing this sitting or lying down until you get the hang of it, because it may make you dizzy at first.
Proper breathing helps with your overall physical and emotional health. It calms your mind and reduces overall activation levels.
Most of us don’t get enough sleep, and scientists learn more every day about the importance of sleep for our physical and emotional wellbeing. Of course, getting to sleep can be really difficult if you’re working on managing anxiety. Dr. Leslie Sherlin has developed a really terrific app to help with this. Here’s a video that explains it.
You can get more info about this free app on his website.
It’s amazing how your food and beverage intake affects the ability to manage stress. The mind, body, and brain all interact to create your mood. Stress and anxiety live in the body. The good news is that this is a two-way street, and being kind to your body can have a direct effect on your anxiety level. Consider the following diet factors to help you in managing anxiety:
- What time do you eat? Do you eat something with protein in the morning? If you’re like me and really just prefer coffee, that infusion of caffeine and sugar can have a negative effect on your anxiety levels.
- Consumption of sugar, other carbs, and caffeine late in the day. This can have a profound impact on your sleep, especially anything you consume within 2-3 hours of bedtime.
- Food dyes – we’ve gotten so used to eating foods that are manipulated to look pretty, that we may not even notice. However, some people have sensitivities to food dyes, and this can definitely change your anxiety levels. It may be worth experimenting with this to see if you notice a difference.
Note: No part of this website, including this blog post, should be considered psychological treatment. It is information, only. If you feel you need counseling or other psychological services, I encourage you to seek qualified, professional help.