Anxiety Management Techniques that Actually Work

Anxiety management techniques that actually workEffective Methods for Controlling Anxiety Successfully

Introduction

Anxiety can actually be pretty helpful – it’s like our built-in alarm system telling us when to act in risky situations or when things don’t match our goals. But all too often  – especially in these unusual and stressful times –, anxiety can go into overdrive, sucking us into solutionless loops that go nowhere. 

Over 40 million adults from all over the US suffer from anxiety disorders. If you think you might be one of them, reading this article is a smart move as you tackle this challenge. There are tons of articles out there about managing anxiety, including some from us about beating depression. Here you can learn about evidence-based  techniques to help you overcome anxiety and live a more balanced and satisfying life.  

Understanding Anxiety

When grappling with anxiety, it’s akin to your brain’s alarm system kicking into high gear. Deep within your brain lies a structure called the amygdala, which acts like a watchdog, constantly scanning for potential threats. Upon detecting what it perceives as danger, it triggers alarms, prompting your body’s sympathetic nervous system to prepare for either confrontation or escape. 

Ordinarily, your prefrontal cortex, the brain’s cognitive hub, evaluates whether a genuine threat exists. However, trauma and other negative experiences can disrupt this process, allowing the amygdala to take control. 

Consequently, you may experience restlessness, apprehension, or even fear about situations that the reasoning part of your brain (frontal cortex) knows are not that dangerous. Think of it as your brain’s alarm system becoming hypersensitive. 

Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are several types of anxiety disorders, with the most common being Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Phobias, Social Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Panic Disorder. 

Many  anxiety disorders are rooted  in emotional or physical trauma,  with the most severe of these taking the form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Anxiety can also present as a cluster of symptoms within another disorder like Depression, or Borderline Personality.

 For a deep dive into the science behind anxiety management, there are many excellent public resources and  scientific journals about anxiety management that can give you a better understanding.

The Impact of Anxiety

Anxiety disorders can severely impact your daily life, making simple tasks like socializing or even leaving the house seem nearly impossible. Anxiety attacks and panic attacks can render us paralyzed in public situations, with heart palpitations so severe that it feels like we are having a heart attack. A hallmark of severe anxiety is that it  keeps us trapped in our heads for hours each day, fighting internal battles that leave us exhausted,  depressed, and no closer to solving the issue at hand.

The Role of Professional Help

Professional guidance can play a worthwhile role in the management of anxiety disorders. Therapists or psychologists  use various approaches to help patients understand their anxiety dynamics and develop  tools to address them. Talking through your concerns with a trained professional can help you organize your thoughts and learn techniques that help you separate from your internal thought storms, managing them so that you can live the life that matters to you.

Therapy Types and How They Work

Many different forms of therapy can effectively address anxiety: 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an umbrella term for a variety of evidence-based approaches  that can help you  identify and modify negative thought patterns, leading to healthier behaviors and improved emotional well-being. 
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)  combines cognitive techniques with mindfulness to enhance emotional regulation, which can especially help people who experience extreme emotional swings. 
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) focuses on helping you be open to  challenging thoughts and feelings while committing to values-driven actions.
  • Exposure therapy is a technique designed to help individuals confront and gradually desensitize themselves to the situations or objects that trigger their anxiety or fear. 
  • Exposure response prevention (ERP) therapy is used to treat conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) by gradually exposing individuals to their fears or obsessions and preventing the usual compulsive responses while allowing the anxiety to slowly fade.

Finding the type of therapy that best meets your needs will depend on your type of anxiety challenge, as well as your natural comfort level with different techniques. Consulting with a therapist can help you decide which approach will fit best for you.

Medication Options

Your family doctor, a psychiatrist, or a psychiatric nurse practitioner can prescribe a number of different type of medications that may provide immediate relief: 

  • Antidepressants like SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) can help by regulating serotonin levels in the brain, reducing anxiety symptoms over time. 
  • Sedative hypnotics like ativan and lorazepam  provide rapid relief, but can lead to dependency and depression if used long term. 
  • Beta-blockers are used to manage physical symptoms of anxiety like rapid heartbeat and hyperventilation.  

Medications can be a great complement to therapy, allowing you to calm down and think more  clearly so that you can effectively learn and practice anxiety management tools. T

Self-Help Strategies for Anxiety Management

Self-help strategies can be a great first step in managing problematic anxiety. They can also serve as  a valuable complement  to therapy and medications in an overall  anxiety management strategy.  Websites, apps, and online communities provide a vast array of self-help resources that can equip you with great anxiety management tools and valuable social support. Many communities offer local support groups and workshops that address different forms of anxiety. . 

Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Various studies have shown that mindfulness can effectively reduce symptoms of anxiety by helping us separate ourselves from anxious thoughts, seeing them in a different, less overwhelming light . Meditation, a practice often incorporated into mindfulness, serves to quiet the mind through deep focus on breath, movement, or specific thoughts.

Physical Exercise

Exercise can be a powerful tool in managing anxiety because it triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural mood lifters, which can help alleviate feelings of anxiety and stress. Engaging in regular physical activity also promotes better sleep, which is essential for emotional well-being and anxiety management. Additionally, exercise enhances blood flow and neural activity in the brain,  helping us understand and solve problems more efficiently.

Diet 

What you eat can powerfully influence your mental health. Consuming a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats provides essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support brain function and reduce inflammation.  Eating regular, balanced meals and snacks also helps maintain stable blood sugar levels, heading off fluctuations that can lead to mood swings and  irritability.  

An area of emerging research suggests a strong connection between gut health and mental well-being. A diet that promotes a healthy gut microbiome, with probiotic-rich foods like yogurt and fermented foods, can promote a sense of contentment and calm centeredness.

Next Steps

Take control of your anxiety rather than letting it control you. The journey may be challenging, but the rewards are immeasurable. Are you ready to take the first step towards a life with less anxiety? Book your discovery call with us today to get started.