Anxiety can impact every aspect of a person’s life. It affects how people think and feel, and it has physical symptoms.
Anxiety resembles fear, but when a person experiences fear, they know why they are afraid. Anxiety is often less specific.
Some people are more prone to anxiety than others. Mild anxiety is vague and unsettling, while severe anxiety can be debilitating.
Even for people who experience frequent or severe episodes of anxiety, there are ways to manage it.
Stress is one cause of anxiety, but there are many others. Here, we explore some of the most common causes of anxiety and effective ways to handle it.
Anxiety is a normal human emotion, as are joy, surprise, and fear. Common reasons for anxiety include:
- social pressure
- work, study, or deadline-related stress
- financial difficulties
- relationship problems
- health concerns
- social and housing-related issues
- trauma due to racism or gender prejudice
- abuse and neglect
Some ways of managing anxiety include:
- identifying the triggers
- recognizing early symptoms
- using coping strategies to prevent or navigate it
Anxiety can cause a person to worry and overthink. It can also have physical symptoms.
These may include:
- tense muscles
- numbness or tingling in the arms, hands, or legs
- sweating or flushing
- a churning feeling in the stomach
- a backache
- arrhythmia and heart palpitations
Sometimes, the symptoms of anxiety can resemble those of an illness such as a heart attack. This can increase anxiety.
Some people with anxiety also have panic attacks. These start suddenly, peak within 10 minutes, and usually pass within 30 minutes.
They can happen without warning and in any location, and they can make a person hesitant or unable to participate in everyday life.
Anxiety becomes a problem when it interferes with life or when people feel persistently anxious without a specific reason.
A person may consider seeking professional help if:
- excessive anxiety persists in everyday situations
- the feeling of anxiety is out of proportion to the cause
- anxiety impacts daily life or leads to panic attacks
This strategy can ultimately make anxiety worse.
Avoiding situations that cause anxiety might seem like a good idea in the short term, but it will not resolve the issue and may limit a person’s ability to function.
For example, some people with related anxiety start avoiding:
- lectures and tutorials
- meetings and work situations
- social events
After avoiding the situation once, a person may worry about what could happen the next time. As they avoid the situation again and again, it can become harder to face it the next time, deepening the anxiety.
Agoraphobia is one example of an anxiety disorder that can cause people to avoid everyday situations. Learn more about it here.
There are many ways to cope with anxiety, and combining several approaches may help. It can take time and practice for them to be effective.
Learning to manage stress can include:
- scheduling time off from study or work
- prioritizing tasks effectively and keeping an eye on deadlines
- avoiding “numbing” techniques, such as self-harm and the use of drugs or alcohol
- learning relaxation techniques
- staying active
- eating healthfully
- getting enough rest
- sharing feelings with others
Cutting is a type of self-harm. Here, find ways to stop or to help someone else.
Examples of relaxation techniques include:
- breathing techniques
- physical relaxation
- listening to music
- spending time in a park or another natural environment
Mental and physical well-being often complement each other. Ways to stay physically well include:
- eating healthfully
- getting regular exercise
- establishing a healthy sleep routine
- avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs
- seeking medical advice when health problems arise
People often feel alone when they are anxious. It can help to talk with a family member, a trusted friend, a counselor, or a psychologist.
Other people can often help find ways to deal with stress. Professional counselors can teach new skills for managing anxiety.
For people with social anxiety, spending time with others can be challenging. Here, learn some ways to cope.
Find a distraction
When experiencing anxiety, it is easy to start ruminating. This involves the same worrying thoughts going around and around. It seems as if thinking will produce a solution, but it often does not. Instead, it can make anxiety worse.
Breaking the cycle can help a person move on, get some sleep, and focus on other important issues.
Tips for doing this include:
- listening to music or reading a book
- joining a sports club or taking walks with a friend or neighbor
- taking up a new hobby
- doing volunteering
- making a plan of action and taking practical steps to solve the problem
Deep abdominal breathing
Deep breathing may help reduce anxiety, according to experts.
Here are some steps:
- Breathe in deeply and slowly through the nose.
- Feel the air moving right down into the lungs, while saying the word “calm.”
- Breathe out slowly and gently through the mouth, thinking of the word “relax.”
While exhaling, allow the muscles to go floppy and imagine cares, worries, and negative thoughts leaving the body.
Take three of these deep breaths at a time, then rest, and repeat. Too many deep breaths, however, may cause dizziness.
Another strategy is to become aware of negative self-talk and replace it with coping self-talk. Research has shown that positive self-talk can significantly reduce the intrusion of negative thoughts.
It can help to think of this as “changing the record” that plays through the mind.
The following are some suggested steps, but a person can try out different scripts and imagine various calming scenes to help with relaxation.
Instead of thinking, “I can’t do this, it’s just too hard,” change it to something more positive, like, “This is hard, but I can get through it.”
Try making a list of negative thoughts that often occur and writing a list of believable positive thoughts to replace them.
Here are some more tips for managing anxiety:
- counting to 10 slowly
- getting involved in the wider community
- welcoming humor
- learning what triggers anxiety
- talking to friends, family, or a counselor
- avoiding perfectionism
- looking at the bigger picture
- asking for help when tasks become overwhelming
If self-care strategies do not help and anxiety is severe, medication may be a good idea in the short term. However, it should always be combined with psychotherapy or counseling.
If a doctor diagnoses panic attacks or a panic disorder, they may recommend medications such as:
- Antidepressants: A person takes these every day.
- Benzodiazepines: These can help calm a person during a time of high anxiety. They usually take around 30 minutes to work.
These drugs are for temporary use. They can help people feel better, but they are unlikely to solve the problem on their own.
Meanwhile, psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help a person see their thoughts and behaviors in a new way. One aim of CBT is to develop new approaches to problems, increasing confidence and reducing anxiety.
Another option is exposure therapy, which exposes the person to a trigger of their anxiety within a safe environment. When facing the situation, the person learns new ways to cope with their feelings of anxiety.
Anxiety can be exhausting and debilitating, affecting a person’s performance at work or school, as well as their interactions and relationships.
However, various self-care strategies and professional treatments can help reduce its impact.