Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Every human experiences anxiety. It is 100% normal, natural, and essential to life.
Anxiety is a natural force that protects human life. We are hard-wired to sense threats to our wellbeing and to protect ourselves when threatened. Anxiety rises highest when we cannot control something that is a real and present danger to our body, mind, or social standing. Anxiety serves a very good purpose often. It helps us to focus intently on something very important. Some stress is good for us. It motivates us to do what needs to be done to survive or to thrive.
Unfortunately, an unhealthy level of anxiety is on the rise in many ways. The news is making us more anxious than ever about the world in general. Fear captivates our attention and changes our perceptions. Smartphones and social media have increased the amount and intensity of anxiety. Public embarrassment can be swift and practically permanent online. And the stories that we consume on TV often make us all the more anxious, as we perceive that the whole world has gone mad. An anxious culture, anxious families, and even anxious individuals can foster more anxiety among otherwise healthy people.
Anxiety turns into a ‘disorder’ (a disruption to normal functioning) when anxiety and its sensations and symptoms interfere with a normal lifestyle. There are many anxiety disorders, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), Panic Disorder, and phobias.
Approximately 40 million American adults — roughly 18% of the population — have an anxiety disorder (Anxiety and Depression Association of America). Some estimates put this number higher – approximately 30 percent – as many people don’t seek help, are misdiagnosed, or don’t know they have it.
Over the last 10 years, 54 percent of women and 46 percent of men experienced anxiety disorder (ADAA). 43% of North Americans take mood altering prescriptions regularly. Recreational drugs are often used to cope with anxiety. 42% of young adults in America regularly use recreational drugs (National Institute on Drug Abuse).
The purpose of this article is not to help anyone diagnose themselves. That should be left to professional counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. I highly recommend seeking professional help if anxiety persists (more days than not) for more than a month. The purpose of this article is to offer some tools to anyone who struggles with anxiety, whether they have a clinical diagnosis or not.
Few of us are taught how to handle anxious moments. The best coaches are very good at teaching athletes how to manage anxiety and focus on what needs to be done now. The key is to learn to ride the wave of stress and manage the anxiety
While eliminating anxiety is neither possible nor desirable, there are many ways to successfully reduce anxiety to tolerable levels. The following is a list of some of the proven techniques to reduce anxiety. Not every tool works for everybody, of course, however, I highly recommend trying all of these things in the next few months. They are powerful agents of relaxation and emotional resiliency.
Sleeping – Improve your sleep hygiene to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Sleep helps everything.
Breathing – Breath deeply with your whole lungs and your belly, especially when stressed. Anxious people breath shallow which makes things even worse.
Eating – Eat a balanced diet that is low in sugar and carbs, high in protein, fruits, veggies. Enjoy your meals. Savor the flavors.
Drinking – Consume lots of water. Avoid caffeine and sugar-loaded drinks, which stimulate anxiety.
Walking – Long walks has so many mental health benefits. It is the most underrated activity.
Moving – Stand, stretch, lift, walk throughout the day. Planks, squats, yoga poses. Anything but sitting.
Socializing – Connect with people. Laugh, smile, talk, help. Avoid negative people. Social connections can be very calming.
Focusing – Focus on one thing at a time. Prioritize. Do less things better. Slow down.
Nature – Get outdoors in God’s garden. Walk, hike, bike, kayak. Anything outside. Even being with a pet is a bit of nature you can enjoy.
Meditating – Learn to quiet your mind and be in a moment. This does not have to be long. Brief moments of meditation through the day are relaxing.
Praying – Give thanks to God. Pray for others’ needs. Listen to Him. Touching the eternal puts things in a better perspective.
Playing – Do some fun things that are life-giving. Learn new skills within your hobbies. A simple frisbee toss can loosen your mood.
Learning – Learn new skills and words. Be curious. Have a growth mindset.
Viewing – Watch videos, shows, and movies that are uplifting, enlightening, fun.
Listening – Play happy music, interesting podcasts, great sermons, comedians.
Resting – Put your feet up. Take a 20 minute nap. Read for fun. Don’t multitask.
Reading – Read biographies of successful people’s struggles and victories. Read a sacred text or some poetry. Read for fun.
Working – Work within boundaries. Focus on the enjoyable aspects of work.
Creating – Create. Decorate. Do anything creative that you enjoy.
Organizing – Without getting obsessive, clean out a closet or drawer in 20 minutes. Create a little order.
Massaging – Rub your temples and cheek. Stretch your neck. Rub your feet. Anything to loosen up those tight spots a little.
Smelling – Burn candles or incense. Open windows. Bake some cookies. Aromatherapy is real.
Posing – Posture matters. Stand up straight with your shoulders back. Smile a little. Your position can help your attitude.
Petting – Pet your dog, cat, or fish. Play with the animals in your life. It is good therapy.
Counseling – Seek the counsel of wise mentors in your life, and don’t be afraid to try a professional counselor. They can be tremendously helpful.
Medication – Most people do not need medication, but certainly some do. A good professional counselor can help you decide if you need to see a psychiatrist for medication. Medication is often the most valuable tool of all, as long as you follow the doctor’s orders carefully and are patient with the time it will take to find the right treatment. It often takes several weeks, if not months, but it can be a real game changer.
Take control of your anxiety as much as possible by practicing these anti-anxiety tools. Try one today. Try another one tomorrow. And another each day. Until you figure out what works for you. Surely, some of these tools will help you manage your anxiety better.
Peace be with you.