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Understand Anxiety & How to Overcome It

If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, take comfort in the knowledge that you aren't alone. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates that 40 million adults suffer from some form of anxiety. Understanding how anxiety works and what triggers it can help you cope with this condition.

Defining Anxiety

Most people experience some form of anxiety from time to time. If your employer announces upcoming layoffs or if you try to drive to the supermarket during a snow storm, you might feel temporarily worried or uneasy. People who suffer from anxiety disorders, however, experience chronic anxiety.

If you have an anxiety disorder, you might feel anxious even when nothing precipitates the feeling. Alternatively, you might respond with panic to the smallest trigger. Anxiety might come and go with the seasons or based on other factors, but some people battle anxiety all year long.

Generalized anxiety disorder represents the most common form, but some types of anxiety are tied to specific stimuli. A phobia, for example, characterizes an irrational fear of a specific thing, such as heights or spiders. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a form of anxiety that plagues individuals after they experience a traumatic event. This disorder is often associated with military veterans who engage in combat.

Risk factors for anxiety include genetics, lived experiences, brain chemistry, and other elements. Some people suffer from anxiety as children, while others do not develop anxiety disorders until they reach adulthood. Anxiety can affect people of all ages and backgrounds, but women are about twice as likely to suffer from anxiety than men.

Experts and laypeople alike often mention anxiety and depression in the same breath. While these two conditions often occur simultaneously, they can also happen independent of one another. Just because you don't suffer from depression doesn't mean you can't develop an anxiety disorder.

Identifying the Symptoms of Anxiety

When you're dealing with anxiety, you might have different symptoms depending on the circumstances. For instance, your symptoms might get worse if you're in public, then lessen when you return home. Some people experience the full range of anxiety symptoms, while others only have a few.

Health magazine identifies several common symptoms of anxiety, including:

  • Inability to stop worrying
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Muscle soreness and tension
  • Digestive problems
  • Tendency to panic
  • Chronic flashbacks

Each of these symptoms manifests differently in each patient. Most people suffer from these symptoms on occasion, but if you face them on a daily basis, you might have generalized anxiety disorder or another anxiety-related condition.

Anxiety symptoms include both physical and psychological phenomena. When you worry constantly, for instance, you tighten your muscles, which causes the soreness mentioned in the list above. Similarly, chronic worrying can lead to indigestion, constipation, and other digestive problems that affect your physical health.

Insomnia represents one of the most common sleep disturbances in people with anxiety, but you might also experience nightmares or night terrors, chronic fatigue, or even somnambulism, or sleep walking. If you suffer from chronic flashbacks, you might find yourself reliving an uncomfortable, stressful, or traumatic event over and over again.

Some people who suffer from anxiety also struggle with perfectionism. They won't tolerate mistakes or imperfect results while working on a project. Instead, they psychologically belittle themselves and compulsively correct work until they're satisfied.

Obsessive thinking and behaviors are sometimes associated with anxiety disorders. You might feel compelled to repeat actions over and over again, or you might find yourself repeating the same words and phrases in your mind. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) constitutes a form of anxiety.

Your symptoms will likely change during a panic attack. You might experience rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, dry mouth, and dizziness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It's possible for a person without an anxiety disorder to have a panic attack, but they are usually isolated events and not a recurring problem.

How you respond to anxiety can also constitute a symptom. For instance, if you suffer from social anxiety, you might also avoid getting together with friends or relatives, preferring instead to stay home where you feel safe. You might avoid promotions at work or any other situation where you must assume the spotlight.

Overcoming Anxiety

You can approach anxiety from several different angles. Treating anxiety might require professional intervention. A mental health professional can offer talk therapy as well as a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication. The Mayo Clinic lists several drugs that treat anxiety. Benzodiazepines, such as Valium (diazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam), are among the most popular choices.

During talk therapy, your mental health professional can provide you with tools and resources to help you manage your anxiety. For instance, you might learn about meditation and deep breathing. These treatment options help you exercise control over your physical symptoms by focusing your mind.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven especially beneficial in overcoming anxiety. The ADAA describes CBT as "a well-established, highly effective, and lasting treatment [that] focuses on identifying, understanding, and changing thinking and behavior patterns." This therapy can help you learn ways to control your anxiety so you don't experience uncomfortable symptoms.

Some types of anxiety require specific forms of treatment. For instance, according to the ADAA, exposure therapy can benefit patients with specific phobias. This treatment method gradually exposes patients to the object or situation they fear, and over time patients become less sensitive to the stimulus.

How you approach treatment options for anxiety will depend on your particular preferences. For instance, you might not feel comfortable taking medication for your anxiety. Some drugs cause side effects that can make their benefits less attractive. Finding the ideal combination of treatment options will help you manage your symptoms and live a fuller, richer life.

Treating Anxiety Naturally

You don't have to turn to medications for anxiety if you prefer to avoid them. Instead, choose a natural treatment for anxiety. Several options exist, each of which offers relief from your symptoms as well as improved overall health.

Some anxiety medications, such as Valium, can make you feel sleepy or incoherent. Finding a natural alternative might help you cope with anxiety. Many anxiety sufferers have found relief in L-Theanine, which comes from tea leaves and has proven effective in managing stress and anxiety. You can also drink green tea or other types of tea while you take an L-Theanine supplement. Many people also experience relief from anxiety when they drink chamomile tea.

Adding exercise to your routine might help you reduce symptoms from anxiety. When you jog around the block, perform yoga, or lift weights, your body experiences a surge of serotonin that can help you focus on happy thoughts rather than sources of anxiety. Additionally, if you exercise outdoors, you'll benefit even more because sunlight increases serotonin production.

You can also practice positive self-talk, which means changing how you react to stressors. For instance, if you start worrying about stressors the moment you wake up, force yourself to lie in bed for a few extra minutes each morning. Tell yourself that you have nothing to fear and that you can handle whatever obstacles come your way. If you practice this daily, it will become a habit, and the anxious thoughts will start to disappear.

Meditation can also help you reduce the physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety. Since anxiety thrives in a disordered and chaotic environment, reducing sensory input and focusing your mind on simple subjects or ideas might help. You can practice meditation alone in any quiet room. Make yourself comfortable and start with short stretches to see what works for you.

Combining Natural and Medicinal Strategies for Overcoming Anxiety

Some people need medicinal help to overcome anxiety. There is no shame in this, so don't feel as though you need to avoid medication if your body needs it. In fact, combining natural and medicinal anxiety treatments might offer better results than either strategy alone.

For instance, you might take a daily dose of medication for anxiety at the same time that you take the L-Theanine herbal supplement. You'll remember to take both, and you'll reap the benefits of each. Consider adding exercise, meditation, and other natural remedies to your routine as well.

Talk with your doctor about combinations of therapies that might help reduce your anxiety symptoms. For instance, you might want to keep a daily journal. Every time you experience anxiety or have a panic attack, write a short description about what you were doing at the time. This can help you identify sources of anxiety so you can avoid or prepare for them.

It also helps to talk to friends and family members about your condition. Many times, people who have never experienced anxiety gloss over the symptoms or offer unhelpful advice. If you explain to your loved ones how anxiety works, they might practice more compassion and make adjustments to their attitudes and behaviors that might help you avoid anxiety and panic attacks.

Anxiety is a very real condition that plagues millions of people. Knowing that you aren't alone and identifying ways to overcome anxiety will allow you to enjoy life more fully.