Anxiety is much more common today than it was 20 years ago. One study found a 327% jump in the rates of anxiety disorders in U.S. troops from 2000 to 2012. Another study said that in 1980, school age children reported more anxiety than child psychiatric patients in 1950. Currently, just over 18% of the adult population in the U.S. is dealing with an anxiety disorder. (contact Christine if you’d like to see her sources for these stats)
Anxiety can affect each person differently – from lowering one person’s immune system, to creating heart problems in another’s, to keeping someone else up all night long. It can affect relationships, our ability to think clearly and perform tasks, and even keep a job. If you or someone you care about is experiencing anxiety, you can try the following and see how it helps.
ADDRESS UNDERLYING ISSUES
It’s not uncommon for people to complain of “anxiety”, and forget about the traumatic experience they went through years ago that never really got addressed. It can be helpful to speak with a qualified professional who has experience helping people resolve trauma if this is the case for you. This is the path to resolving anxiety in cases like this… but it’s not always linear. Be patient with the process. Be careful in your choice of therapist, and make a change if needed. Healing is not comfortable, but it is possible.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY
There can be physical causes to your anxiety symptoms (although more often, it is the anxiety causing your physical symptoms!). Explain your symptoms to your doctor, and your desire to rule out physical causes.
Getting proper nutrition, exercise, and rest can also have an effect on how you feel. And some of these are easier said than done!
Good nutrition takes an investment of both time and money. Do what you can to eat as well as possible, switching to whole grains, upping your consumption of vegetables dramatically, cutting back on all processed foods and sugar, and drinking water regularly. Spend more time shopping in the “produce” section of the grocery store.
We all know that exercise is good for us, and often get stuck on creating good habits. There is the potential to significantly decrease your anxiety through a regular exercise program. Two types of exercise that are particularly beneficial are yoga, and aerobic exercise (which could include anything from Zumba to running, as long as you are working hard).
- Two keys to getting started and sticking with any exercise program are interest and social support. Pick something you like, and if possible find a friend to exercise with you. Start where your ability is and gradually increase your exercise time.
Sleep is almost always an issue when you are dealing with anxiety… and when you are sleep deprived, you’re also at risk for becoming more anxious!
If you have racing thoughts at bedtime, you can try taking a magnesium supplement before going to bed. Most of us are deficient in magnesium. One of the benefits of magnesium is decreasing anxiety. You will know if you are taking too much if you start to have diarrhea. If that happens, decrease your dose.
In addition, you can try focusing on the pull of gravity as you lay in bed. Your mind will wander, and that’s okay, just bring your attention back to the physical sensation of laying down and feeling the earth’s gravitational pull.
Sometimes “trying” to go to sleep can create problems – we get frustrated when we don’t fall asleep, and then our irritation contributes to our wakefulness. Whether you lie in bed all night long fully awake, or sleep off and on throughout the night – if you can accept that your experience “is what it is”, you can have a more restful experience than if you are irritated or angry about being awake.
AWARENESS OF THOUGHTS
Sometimes we are sabotaging our own peace of mind by what’s going on with our thoughts. Are you your own worst critic? Pay attention. You might not be able to turn things completely around, but question what goes through your mind. If the thought is “I’m going to fail,” then come back with “but I didn’t fail at ____.” Learning mindfulness will have a big impact on your ability to do this.
Mindfulness meditation has been around for thousands of years, and science and research are catching on to how beneficial a regular mindfulness practice can be. There are many resources available for someone learning mindfulness. Two great books are “The Mindful Way through Anxiety” by Dr. Susan M. Orsillo and Dr. Lizabeth Roemer, and “Mindfulness: An eight week plan for finding peace in a frantic world” by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.
It can be helpful to do guided meditations until you feel comfortable doing them on your own. One of my favorite teachers is Tara Brach, and she has many guided meditations on her website at https://www.tarabrach.com/guided-meditation-basic-meditations/
Sometimes we’ve done all we can, and are still struggling to function as we need to. If you’ve tried many of these suggestions and are ready to seek help, there are many qualified professionals in the area who can help you learn some practical tools to deal with anxiety.
Christine Erickson, MA, CMHC, has been working with clients in Saint George since 2006, helping them learn how to manage anger, cope with anxiety and depression, and overcome past issues.
Christine has a Certificate in Mindfulness in Psychotherapy from the Institute for Meditation in Psychotherapy. She uses cognitive behavioral strategies to provide clients with practical tools so they can be successful at work and at home. She and her husband Jeff are parents to seven children plus some extras.