At some point in our lives, we have all experienced feelings of anxiety, fear and stress. Anxiety is completely normal whether you’re preparing for a job interview or taking an important exam! However, suppose you feel as though persistent fear, dread, uneasiness and worry are interfering with the functioning of your daily life. In that case, you may have an anxiety disorder. In the UK, anxiety affects around 6.6% of the population. It is twice as likely diagnosed in women than in men . In the United States, anxiety disorders affect over 30% of adults. They exist in many forms under the broad category of anxiety . Living with anxiety can be extremely challenging and sometimes feel isolating or overwhelming. However, with the right coping strategies, treatment, and support, it is possible to live a normal life! In this blog post, we’ll be looking at the difference between anxiety and anxiety disorders, what anxiety feels like, what causes it, whether it’s possible to live a normal life with anxiety, and some useful tips on managing it.
Healthy Anxiety vs Anxiety Disorders?
Although anxiety is often seen as an abnormal experience, it’s not all bad. In fact, anxiety is an evolutionary trait intended to protect us by acting as a kind of alarm system and motivator . For example, anxiety can work to protect us from dangerous animals or push us to meet deadlines at our job. What sets healthy anxiety apart from anxiety disorders is a loss of control and impairment of functioning in certain aspects of your life – work, school performance, social interactions, relationships, and leisure time.
What does anxiety feel like?
Learning how to live with anxiety is also about recognising what it feels like. Anxiety can cause psychological and physiological symptoms and differ from person to person. At its worst, anxiety can trigger panic attacks, which are usually accompanied by the most debilitating symptoms of anxiety. There are however a range of different anxiety disorders, each with its own symptoms and manifestations .
Examples of physiological (physical) anxiety symptoms include :
- Teeth clenching/grinding
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
Examples of psychological anxiety symptoms include:
- Feelings of helplessness
- Sense of panic or danger
- Inability to relax
- Persistent worrying
- Trouble concentrating
- Repetition of troubling thoughts
- High levels of distress
What causes anxiety?
As we mentioned, anxiety differs from person to person and can stem from several factors. Most often, anxiety usually arises from a combination of factors or triggers. Triggers can be understood as specific circumstances or situations, bodily signals or even actions that lead to feelings of anxiety . In severe cases, triggers can sometimes initiate panic attacks. To correctly manage and live with your anxiety, it is essential to identify potential causes and triggers that are specific to you.
Some examples of causes/triggers include :
- Genetics (some people have a genetic predisposition to anxiety)
- Difficult childhood experiences
- A stressful job or work environment
- Conflict in your personal life
- A change in routine
- Withdrawal from drugs/medications
- Specific phobias (e.g. agoraphobia/claustrophobia)
- Past trauma
- Chronic pain
- Existing mental illnesses (e.g. depression)
Can you live a normal life with anxiety?
You may wonder whether it’s possible to live a normal life with anxiety – the racing thoughts, the feeling of your heart beating fast in your chest… Although it may sometimes feel impossible, you should know that not only anxiety is highly treatable but that learning to think about it positively can actually enhance your life !
We’ve put together 5 positive facts that can serve as reminders and work to change the way you think about living with anxiety:
- Anxiety is an expression of how much you care. Thinking about your anxiety as a reflection of your main priorities/goals can help you view it as a helpful resource.
- The discomfort of anxiety forces you to focus. Recent research has shown that anxiety is, in fact, associated with focus and attention rather than fear.
- Resisting anxiety acts like quicksand. Although it’s natural to worry about your anxiety, it has been shown to exasperate its effects. So try your best to accept and tolerate rather than suppress anxiety.
- Naming your anxiety can tame it. By positively labelling your anxiety, you’ll create a positive image in your mind. For example, if you’re feeling anxious about talking to your boss, try labelling your feelings as a sign that you care about your job. On the contrary, naming your anxiety with words like ‘terrible’ is likely to manifest as a more negative experience.
- Anxiety can be good for your brain. Research has shown that stress increases the production of hormones that facilitate better learning and optimise our performance.
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Short-term tips for living with anxiety
The extent to which anxiety affects us differs from person to person. For some, anxiety is an emotion felt explicitly during high-stress situations and doesn’t necessarily hurt your daily functioning. However, because these feelings can still be uncomfortable, here are some short-term tips for living with anxiety :
Question your thought patterns
Consistent negative thoughts can create habits of negative thinking and distort the severity of the situation. With this in mind, it’s essential to question and challenge your thoughts.
Relinquish control with meditation & mindfulness
Once you have recognised or identified your anxiety-inducing thought patterns, try your best to let your feelings be and let go of that need to be in control. To do this, you can use mindfulness and meditation.
Consider using aromatherapy
Candles, incense, diffusers and essential oils are all examples of aromatherapy that can work to soothe your feelings of anxiety. Lavender, eucalyptus or chamomile are all great examples of scents that can activate brain receptors and ease feelings of anxiety.
Practise deep, mindful breathing
Deep breathing is a great way to slow down your heart rate and draw focus away from any feelings of worry. Consider practising the 4-7-8 technique – breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold it for 7 seconds and forcefully breathe out your mouth for 8.
Keep physically active
Whether it’s yoga or taking a 15-minute walk outside, focusing your attention on your body is a great way to lower anxiety. Exercise also produces endorphins which have been shown to increase your mood and energy.
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Long-term tips for living with anxiety
If your anxiety has been a long-standing problem where more rigorous actions need to be taken, here are some long-term tips for living with anxiety :
Identify and learn to manage your triggers
Some triggers might be obvious, such as current interpersonal conflict or medication. Others, however, might be less obvious. Regardless of the situation, you can identify these triggers on your own or with a therapist. Once you have identified your triggers, think about what is possible (and helpful) to avoid among them. You should be cautious about avoiding certain situations altogether. If, for example, your anxiety is triggered by using the underground, avoiding it entirely might lead to worse long-term consequences, such as the loss of a job, social withdrawal etc. In these cases, avoidance will be working against you, and instead you should work gradually on exposing yourself to what’s anxiety provoking in a way that makes you comfortable. This is best done with the help of a trained therapist.
Seek out CBT
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a method of therapy that helps individuals develop different ways of thinking in anxiety-provoking situations. You can manage your negative thought patterns and behaviours with a CBT therapist.
Keep a journal
Keeping track of your thoughts and feelings by writing them down is a great way to lower your anxiety. Writing something down has been shown to have calming effects . This is also a great way to monitor when you feel anxious, how it makes you feel, what the trigger might have been and what you did to deal with it.
Seek social support
Living with anxiety on your own can be particularly difficult. Spending time with family and friends regularly is a great way to manage your anxiety. Socialisation helps relieve stress, encourage feelings of togetherness and decrease loneliness – making you more resilient to stress in the future .
Change your eating habits
Following a healthy eating pattern is a great long-term strategy that can significantly improve feelings of anxiety. Research has shown that taking particular supplements and getting enough nutrients brings positive mental health outcomes. Some helpful nutrients include omega-3 fatty acids, green tea, kava kava and potassium.
These tips are especially useful for those who experience anxiety intermittently. They may also help those who suffer from anxiety disorders. However, if you suspect your anxiety is more serious, these tips should not be the only treatment you seek. In this case, you’ll need to find long-term strategies that target, lower and prevent your symptoms when living with anxiety.
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Seeking out professional help
It is crucial to recognise that, for some, anxiety can be extremely debilitating and may significantly impact your ability to function each day. In this case, professional help might be the best solution.
At Therapy Central, we use evidence-based interventions such as Anxiety Therapy to help you deal with your anxieties and get your life back on track. In this way, you’ll be able to discuss your experience with a trained anxiety therapist professional and create a plan to best manage living with anxiety. Consider contacting one of our qualified anxiety therapists today.
You can contact us and request a free 15 min consultation to see whether our help fits your needs.