Basic Anxiety Survival Guide

Anxiety is considered a normal human emotion when it is occasional and happens in response to certain problems, stressors, or situations (for example an unexpected bill or a job interview).  Sometimes it can even beneficial in helping us appropriately respond to a danger – it is a part of our internal security system. It can help us assess risk and respond appropriately to that risk with focus and attention. You can see this at play when you swerve out of someone’s way of the freeway – you react without seeming to think about that reaction.

But this normal response can become a chronic one and create more problems than it solves. In its most basic definition, anxiety is shortness of breath occurring with negative thoughts about the future.  You can develop skills in one, or preferably both, of these areas to help yourself lessen your anxiety. Working with a therapist can improve your awareness of why you get anxious to begin with and further develop skills for managing this. Many people with anxiety find they can manage it well with some practice.

What works…

Diet This can have a profound effect on mood, so cut back on processed and sugary food. Unstable blood-sugar levels can worsen the symptoms of anxiety, so try to eat a regular balanced diet with a focus on protein, healthy fats (avocado, nuts and seeds), vegetables and fruit

Exercise Running, walking, yoga, whatever. If exercise is combined with nature or being outdoors it can be especially soothing. Exercise has been shown to alter brain chemistry in a positive way 

Pressing pause Anxiety levels are automatically reduced by stopping and breathing slowly and calmly.  You can use box breathing for this – inhale to the count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 4, exhale to the court of 4, and hold the lungs empty for a count of 4. Repeat this a handful of times or until you feel a bit calmer. Or try finding a “breathing ball” app or YouTube video and follow along with the instructions

Relaxation The body gets used to being tense; relaxing the muscles helps to calm the central nervous system and switch off the production of adrenaline.  Massage, a guided progressive muscle relaxation (try YouTube), listening to calming music and deep breathing can help with this

Mindfulness Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh is your man (read his books The Miracle of Mindfulness or Peace is every step). Or try YouTube or a mindfulness app

Supplements There is growing evidence that omega 3 oil can help with mental health issues along with others like vitamin d3 and magnesium. Always check with your doctor before you start a supplment

See a PCP Sometimes anxiety has an underlying medical cause

… And what doesn’t

Alcohol May alleviate symptoms in the short term, but too much can ramp up anxiety long term, so it’s only a very temporary reprieve. Ditto for cigarettes. 

Caffeine Gives the jitters short term, and affects sleep. High caffeine intake is now linked to panic attacks.

Recreational drugs should be avoided. MDMA, for instance, depletes serotonin (a feel-good chemical) in the brain. Cannabis is often used to alleviate anxiety, but some studies suggest that it increases it in the long run.