Anxiety 101: What is it and How to Cope

by | Jan 11, 2020 | 25 comments

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is the body’s physical and mental response to stress and fear. You might experience a physical and/or mental response when stressed or fearful. Below are some symptoms you might experience:

Physical

Racing heartbeat

Numbness or tingling

Shortness of breath

Palpitations

Lethargy

Trembling

Butterflies in the stomach

Muscle tension

Sweating

Feeling faint

Psychological

Issues with concentration

Avoidance behavior

Feeling overwhelmed

Nervousness

Panic

Irritability and edginess

Fear

Dread

Worry

Uneasiness

Is Anxiety Common?

If you’re reading this post I’m guessing you’re experiencing anxiety, have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, or know someone struggling with anxiety.

Right out of the gates I want to normalize anxiety for you – according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety is the most common mental illness, affecting 40 million adults in the U.S. You read that right – 40 million!

So, you are definitely NOT alone and there is NOT something wrong with you. You’re NOT crazy!

Does Everyone Experience Anxiety?

The short answer is YES!

We’ve all experienced anxiety at one time or another and it’s a totally normal part of life. Everyone worries about situations, problems, or events from time to time.

Can Anxiety Be Helpful?

Yes, it can be very helpful at times.

A touch of anxiety can motivate us to do things, prepare for upcoming events (such as studying for an exam), and keeps us safe by protecting us from dangerous situations (our flight or fight response is activated).

In fact, there is a name for this good type of stress (anxiety) – “eustress”. Check out this helpful and informative article on eustress.

When is Anxiety an Issue?

It’s a problem when its incessant and interferes with daily life. Those with an anxiety disorder may unnecessarily worry about too many things at once and it can negatively impact many areas of their life (home, work, social, and health). It can be totally debilitating when symptoms are severe.

My Struggle with Anxiety

If you’ve visited my blog, you might already know that I have professional and educational experience in the field of mental health. I recently graduated with my Masters in Social Work and trained as a child and family therapist. Prior to that I was a social worker for years. 

I could write this post coming at you from a totally professional standpoint BUT I’d rather be transparent with you and let you know that anxiety is something I have struggled with my ENTIRE life.

So, I have professional AND personal experience with it.

The anxiety I experienced was somewhat debilitating and downright unbearable. In the past all areas of my life were impacted, primarily relationships.

There were days the anxiety was so bad I would be in tears. I constantly thought something wrong with me and wondered why I couldn’t just be “normal”.

I was totally overwhelmed with daily life and found completing tasks hard.

I would look at others getting stuff done and wondered how they juggled their responsibilities with such ease and beat myself up because I couldn’t.

Worry was my constant companion and I would obsess about future situations. I would imagine the worst possible outcomes (which 99.9% of the time never happened).

Getting online for HOURS and searching for information on the imagined catastrophic outcomes was my way of trying to control the situation.

Of course, the information I found would send me down an even deeper rabbit hole.

I’ve been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and given my education and professional training I know it’s an accurate diagnosis. I check off most boxes on the GAD assessment.

I am sharing my experience because I am committed to always being transparent with you and because it might make you feel less alone. Struggling with mental health can feel pretty lonely at times.

However, I will never say I know EXACTLY how you feel because everyone’s experience with mental health is different. Although we might share similar symptoms and check off some of the same boxes, we are not the same person.

It drives me crazy when professionals use a blanket approach to treatment!

I can happily say that these days I cope with anxiety quite well and the good news is YOU can too!

How do I cope? It’s a combination of medication AND coping skills. I am NOT suggesting everyone should take medication and I know it can be a controversial thing for some. It’s just what works for me.

While medication might not be the route you want to take, EVERYONE and ANYONE can benefit from techniques to cope with anxiety. You don’t need a diagnosis or consistent issue with anxiety to find coping skills helpful. Remember, everyone feels anxiety from time to time!

Below you will find a list of simple coping skills and ways to prevent anxiety.

But before we get to the list, I want to say that coping skills and other techniques to cope with anxiety aren’t a one size fits all type of thing. It’s about what works for YOU! I encourage you to experiment to see what is most helpful for you.

15 Strategies & Techniques to Cope With and Prevent Anxiety:

 

Limit Caffeine and Alcohol

A lot of people don’t realize that these substances can impact anxiety levels, so mentioning them is important.

Alcohol causes changes in serotonin levels in the brain, which can increase feelings of anxiety. The anxiety you feel might even be worse after the alcohol wears off.

I notice a BIG difference in my anxiety levels the day after having a couple cocktails!

Additionally, psychotropic medications don’t work as well when mixed with alcohol so that anti-anxiety med you take might not be working at it’s best after a cocktail.

Caffeine is a stimulant, which can have a significant impact on anxiety levels. It triggers the body’s flight or fight response and can worsen and/or cause anxiety symptoms.

I had to stop drinking coffee at work because after a cup a java I felt as if I wanted to crawl out of my skin! The nervousness and agitation I felt was unbearable.

Get Enough Sleep

This one seems like common sense, but a lot of people still neglect this area of their lives. Getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep a night is crucial to your mental well-being.

If you’re interested in hearing more this, the ADAA discusses the connection between anxiety and sleep in length.

A Well-Balanced Diet

Eating poorly and skipping meals can negatively impact your mental health. Harvard Medical School has a really interesting article specifically discussing anti-anxiety foods. You can check it out here 

Talk to Someone

This can be a friend, family member, professional or anyone else you feel comfortable sharing your experiences and feelings with.

Don’t be afraid to ask people for support! Sharing feelings or asking for support can be a hard thing to do but it can make such a positive difference in your mental health.

By sharing you are allowing yourself to be vulnerable, which is one of the bravest things you can do!

Be Aware of What Your Anxiety Triggers Are

Knowing what situations, places, or people trigger anxiety for you can help you prepare for those experiences beforehand.

Journal

Journaling is an effective way to help you shift anxious thoughts and reduce stress. It doesn’t need to be an everyday practice to reap the benefits. You can journal on an as needed basis.

Meditation

Research has repeatedly shown that mediation can help reduce and prevent anxiety symptoms. Even a few minutes a day can have a HUGE positive impact on your anxiety levels.

Meditation is one of my favorite ways to keep anxiety at bay and deal with anxiety in the moment (when the situation allows for it).

Check out this post on meditation for beginners if you’d like to get started on a meditation practice.

Ask Yourself “What’s the Worst Thing That Can Happen”?

I LOVE this one and use it often.

Those with anxiety disorders are prone to cognitive distortions, such as catastrophizing. When people catastrophize, they think of the worst-case scenario or that something is far worse than it is. I previously mentioned that I struggled with this.

Essentially, it’s blowing things out of proportion and a type of irrational thinking.

When I ask myself “what’s the worst thing that could happen” it helps me recognize that I’m catastrophizing. I realize that the worst-case scenario might be more manageable than I anticipate or not happen at all!

Breathe

This is another one that I love and use often when feeling anxious. There are lots of breathing activities you can use (such as box breathing) but even simply focusing on your breath going in and out of your body works.

Exercise

I can’t stress this one enough. In my opinion, there is NO substitute for physical activity. It is by far one of the most effective ways to cope and prevent anxiety.

Even a brief 5-10 minute walk makes a big difference in mental well-being. Get those endorphins flowing!

I know that sometimes it can be hard to get motivated to do anything when feeling anxious but forcing yourself to do some form of physical activity is likely to help. The situation you were anxious about will likely feel less magnified and worrisome afterward.

Know that the Anxious Feelings Won’t Last Forever

When your anxious it can feel as if it will never end. It will pass!

Remind Yourself of What You Have Accomplished

Anxiety can be triggered when thinking about the tasks you need to get done. It can feel totally overwhelming and as if nothing is being accomplished. Reminding yourself of what tasks you have completed can be helpful in reducing anxiety.

Do One Thing on Your Task List

A common trigger for anxiety is feeling overwhelmed by having things that need to get done. It can become debilitating, which causes nothing to get done.

Take a breath and focus on ONE thing on your list you can do right now. Complete it and cross it off your list. You will feel more in control of the situation.

Practice Self-Compassion

As I previously shared, I used to be SO hard on myself when feeling anxious. I would wonder what was wrong with me and why I couldn’t just get things done without feeling so overwhelmed like a “normal” person.

Beating yourself up won’t help! In fact, it will make things worse and can lead to depression.

When you feel anxious recognize that you are having a hard moment and talk to yourself like you would a friend. Be kind and gentle toward yourself.

There is NOTHING wrong with you!

Do Something to Take Your Mind Off of it

Ruminating (thinking the same anxious thought over and over) is not helpful and can also make you depressed. Pick an activity to distract yourself (read a book, take a walk, call a friend). Force yourself to do this. I know it can be hard to motivate yourself to do anything when severely anxious but you can do it!

Therapy

You might find it helpful to talk to a professional. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidenced based practice that can be extremely effective in the treatment of anxiety.

Talk to Your Doctor About Medication Options

As I stated previously, medication is not for everyone. People have different beliefs about taking medication for mental health purposes and that’s ok. You have to make choices for yourself that you’re comfortable with.

In my case, I feel that my life is unmanageable without medication. A combination of medication and coping skills is what works best for me.

Before we part, I want to share a couple TED talks on the topic of anxiety that might be helpful:

How to Cope with Anxiety

How I Live with High Functioning Anxiety 

Let’s end with an affirmation:

“ I am enough just the way I am” <3

 

25 Comments

  1. Anxiety is definitely a very common problem. For myself, I suffer from ‘performance anxiety’ and I’ve been public speaking off and on for years, but it still stays with me. I have learned to cope and ‘push through it’ and come out on the other side okay. Thanks so much for sharing this vital and important information.

    Reply
    • You’re so very welcome! One of the goals of my blog is to bring mental health awareness. Thanks for sharing your experience xo

      Reply
  2. You’ve provided such valuable and practical coping mechanisms for those who struggle with anxiety. Thank you for organizing these helpful tools into a digestable piece!

    Reply
  3. Great article!

    It’s very important that people realise how common anxiety is. I think a lot of people still suffer silently, while there are many ways to help them cope with it.

    My personal favorite is breath meditation to find my calm!

    I also share information about meditation on my blog, feel free to have a look on upgradelife.org

    Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  4. Thank you for such an amazing post! I’ve never been diagnosed, but I have horrible anxiety when I practice jiu-jitsu. There’s a specific trigger, so I know that, but working through it has been an ongoing challenge. I really like your suggestion for self-compassion. I tend to be really hard on myself when the anxiety comes in and I’m sure that doesn’t help things.

    Reply
  5. I’ve suffered from anxiety since I was a child thanks to an awful, 6 year divorce and my mother dying in a car accident. Anxiety is something that most people just don’t get unless they deal with it themselves. Luckily mine has always motivated me instead of debilitating me. I do need to start to practice my breathing again. Thank you for the reminder!

    Reply
    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Autumn. What an incredibly hard thing to experience. I”m sorry. You’re absolutely right that most people don’t understand unless they’ve experienced anxiety. My best hope is normalize mental health by bringing awareness to it.

      Reply
  6. Great post! Anxiety is a sneaky thing…just when you think you have it conquered or under control, something triggers it and off you go again. Thanks for the tips on coping!

    Reply
  7. I have severe social anxiety since I was a child. Journaling and asking myself what’s the worst thing that could happen are the techniques that help me the most

    Reply
  8. I love this post! Postpartum anxiety warrior here, and I was blindsided by it. I didn’t know what it was the first time it came roaring in. Thank your for sharing ideas to help others.

    Reply
  9. Great post! I don’t normally write about mental health but tragedy struck a cord on me this week. I’m so glad you’re writing about this common issue.

    Reply
  10. Wow! Great post. I struggle with anxiety too and its good to have ways that I can deal with it. Thank you for a very helpful post.

    Reply
    • I’m so glad you found it helpful. Anxiety is such a hard thing to deal with. I’d like to bring more awareness to it and normalize it.Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  11. This was a great read. As someone who has suffered with anxiety for years, I understand everything you said. Thanks for the share!

    Reply
  12. Limiting the caffeine intake definitely a point I will take on board. I have started a lot more herbal teas during the working day and it definitely works in terms of productivity and de-stressing.

    Reply
    • I’m a huge caffeine lover! I’ll consider some caffeine free herbal teas as well. Thanks for the tip!

      Reply
      • Oh my gosh! ME TOO!!!! I LOVE my caffeine. I try to limit it to one cup (a large one lol) in the AM and I find I’m ok with that. Any more than that and the anxiety kicks in! I’m glad that tip was helpful to you!

        Reply
  13. Ive been dealing with anxiety all my life and this was very insightful! Journaling has been a huge outlet for me but I do need some more tricks in my bag so thank you!

    Reply
  14. Overwhelm can be a challenge for me at times. Too much to do and being bombarded from to many different angles takes its toll. Great tips and a very helpful post.

    Reply
  15. Thanks for this post. I had an anxiety attack with a blinding aura migraine at work once, and they thought I was having a stroke and sent me to the ER. I knew I was having a migraine, but no one could tell me why my hands had gone numb and my heart rate was so high.

    Reply
    • Anxiety can be such a scary thing. It totally takes control of our minds and bodies! Thank you for sharing your experience. What you went through is really scary.

      Reply
  16. I was diagnosed with a severe generalized anxiety disorder and honestly, all the tips you mentioned work better when it comes to managing it than any of the medications doctors had given me over the years. All excellent tips!

    Reply
    • I AM SO happy to hear that this post was so helpful for you! Thank you for the kind comment xo

      Reply
  17. The best way to beat my anxiety is to write everything down or to talk to someone. Talking it out, I found, is the best way to approach anxiety. Great post (:

    Erika Marie | https://imerikamarie.com

    Reply
  18. So agree with your strategies. It’s so not helpful when someone says, “just calm down”. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

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