Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/25/2021
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million American adults have an anxiety disorder. It’s the most common mental health disorder, but unfortunately, it’s estimated that only about 36 percent of people experiencing it seek treatment.
Though an anxiety disorder is a diagnosable medical condition, you don’t necessarily need to have a mental health disorder to feel like getting through everyday activities is tough because of consistent, or even occasional, negative thoughts.
Whether you have a mental health disorder or occasionally feel overwhelmed, you could benefit from learning about coping mechanisms and strategies that could help mitigate your anxious thoughts. Instead of burying your emotions, be proactive about your mental health.
Anxiety comes in all shapes and sizes. We all feel anxious from time to time, and experiencing sporadic spurts of anxiety isn’t necessarily anything to be worried about.
Big days at work, important deadlines, family events… The Holidays. You probably felt your blood pressure rise just by reading that.
But when that anxiety becomes persistent, it may be an actual mental illness that needs addressing.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), if you find it difficult to control thoughts of worry or anxiety for more days than not over a span of at least six months, or experience three of these symptoms, you may have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and should see a healthcare professional.
Check out these tips on coping with anxiety.
When looking for a way to mitigate your anxious thoughts, it can be helpful to try a variety of approaches. A 2018 study conducted by the CDC found that alternative forms of treatment like yoga and meditation are gaining popularity.
From 2012 to 2017, the rate of meditation use went from 4.1 percent to 14.2 percent across the board in U.S. adults for all modalities studied. But is meditation a viable remedy to anxiety?
According to a 2014 study published in the medical journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation can decrease anxiety by decreasing overall brain activity.
Of course, that’s just one study. There are many more out there that support meditation as a way to deal with anxious thoughts. Researchers from John Hopkins University published their findings from over 18,753 meditation studies, concluding that meditation can, in fact, help people cope with everything from anxiety and stress, to physical pain.
There are numerous ways to start meditating.
With apps like Stop, Breathe, & Think and Calm, and Headspace you can meditate wherever you choose. But if you’re into more traditional forms of meditation, you can certainly find classes at community centers, yoga studios or schools.
Believe it or not, there are also breathing exercises — commonly incorporated in a consistent mindfulness meditation routine — that are proven to potentially help with anxiety.
Breathing essentially influences key parts of our bodies that help regulate emotional well being, like the amygdala.
We get it. Breathing? We do that all the time without having to think about it. But the key phrase there is: “without having to think about it.”
When you focus on your breathing and use it as a way to return to center, it really changes the way it affects your body. If you’re looking for a breathing exercise, the ADAA has a step-by-step guide.
Keeping active is good for many reasons. Exercising regularly helps maintain good body weight, as well as helps reduce risk for cardiovascular issues, helps our bodies manage blood sugar and insulin levels and also keeps us looking and feeling our best.
But there’s also science that shows a correlation between physical exercise and mental health.
In one 2013 review of various animal studies, researchers noticed how exercise led to reduced levels of stress and anxiety, and even overall mood improvements.
And of course, that’s not even mentioning how exercise is related to improved sleep — and we all know how valuable good sleep is.
Exercise and meditation can help you feel less nervous and worried, but they aren’t solutions for everyone. You might have a serious psychological issue that requires treatment from a professional.
If you constantly feel anxious, you might be suffering from a mental health disorder. Here are a few potential mental health conditions associated with anxiety, according to the American Psychological Association:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Someone can experience PTSD after experiencing a traumatic scenario. People experiencing PTSD sometimes experience flashbacks to the traumatic situation, or experience a variety of “triggers” that drum up old trauma. These flashbacks or nightmares serve as hurdles to having a happy, productive life.
Generalized anxiety disorder: People with GAD suffer from a constant feeling of nervousness and restlessness. They may feel like something is always going wrong and are overly concerned about things occurring in their lives. People with GAD find it difficult to control their anxiety and stay focused on daily tasks.
Social Anxiety Disorder: Individuals with this condition feel anxious in social settings and subsequently avoid interacting with other people. This condition could make it difficult for these individuals to make friends and function out in society.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD involves obsessive thoughts and rituals. These rituals and thoughts could prohibit an individual from having a happy, productive life.
Panic Disorder: People who have panic disorder experience frequent panic attacks. Panic attacks involve someone having difficulty breathing and an increased heart rate. These attacks are completely random and cause individuals suffering from this disorder to live with a constant state of nervousness.
These disorders are far from rare. However, you can’t determine whether you have one without consulting with a medical expert. In addition to giving you clarity about what exactly you’re experiencing, seeing a therapist can also help improve your mental health.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been proven to work. In a 2011 article for the medical journal Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, Dr. Christian Otte, through a meta-analysis of numerous studies, concluded that CBT is effective.
She also concluded that mindfulness-based therapies (i.e. meditation) have been proven to be effective.
Though finding an affordable therapist that fits your unique needs could take some time, there are resources out there that could make the process a bit easier.
Finally, it’s nice to think that all you need to do in order to “cure” your anxiety is get better sleep and breath properly, but the truth is, that’s commonly not the case — and that’s totally okay.
Where adjunct treatments like mindfulness meditation and lifestyle choices fall short, anxiety medication is here to make things more manageable.
Some medications commonly prescribed to treat anxiety are:
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
If you want to learn more about these anxiety medications, we’ve covered them more in-depth in our Anti-Anxiety Medications 101 Guide.
According to Mental Health America, American men tend to seek psychological treatment at lower rates than women because they usually downplay symptoms and have a “reluctance to talk.” It also doesn’t help that statistics also show that younger men have higher rates of mental illness.
Cultural hurdles can be difficult to overcome, but it can start on an individual basis with more men being open and honest about their mental health with friends and family members.
Any way you look at it, anxiety isn’t something you should put off treating, and certainly not something you should ignore all together.
There are plenty of ways to start dealing with your anxiety or anxious tendencies. Whether it’s talking to a professional, opening up to family and friends, getting some good exercise in, meditating or even using apps to help you sort through what’s going on, your situation won’t improve unless you’re the one taking steps to make it happen.
Anxiety comes in all different shapes and sizes, and so are the ways we use to treat and help cope with it.
The number one thing for you to remember as you go forward is that trying to address your anxiety is a big step — and a step in the right direction.
We’re proud of you, and you should be proud of you.
Whether you think you’d like to try therapy on for size, or maybe start incorporating meditation into your daily morning routine or even seeking out the help of prescription medications, the point is: every step forward is a step in the right direction.
And no matter what, please remember that the best thing you can do is reach out to a certified mental health practitioner. They’ll be able to help you figure out what’s going on in your brain, and help you come up with a treatment plan that makes sense for your needs.
If you are — or a loved one is — in distress or struggling with thoughts of suicide, depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, or you just need someone to talk to, there is help available. Call one of the numbers below:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1.800.273.TALK (8255)
The 24/7 free hotline has trained crisis counselors who provide confidential support to people in distress.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine: Call 1.800.950.NAMI (6264) or text NAMI to 741741
The NAMI HelpLine is a free service that provides referral, information, and support to those affected by mental illness.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Helpline: Call 1.800.662.HELP (4357)
The SAMHSA helpline provides 24/7 free and confidential referrals and information to individuals and their family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
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