Most people experience stress at different points in their lives. However, stress is a physiological response to a physical injury or a perceived threat, and it tends to be relatively short-term.
Anxiety is the anticipation of a perceived threat through worry and stress. If anxiety is chronic and severe enough to interfere with a person’s ability to live their life, they may have an anxiety disorder. A person suffering from anxiety generally remains excessively worried and nervous. The person reflects the physical symptoms through a continuously shaking body, dizziness, racing heartbeat, or a specific fear (speaking in public/attending a gathering/job interview). Anxiety is the natural reaction to stress, and chronic or severe anxiety interferes with a person’s ability to live everyday life.
Different types of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, specific phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Anxiety disorders can affect a person’s ability to work, study and participate in other activities and can be distressing and debilitating. They may contribute to losing educational and employment opportunities and difficulties in family and social relationships.
Some management options for anxiety disorder can be mindfulness and relaxation techniques, dietary adjustments and exercise, counseling and psychotherapy, support groups, medication, or naturopathy.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Symptoms of different types of anxiety disorders can broadly include:
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
- Restlessness, numbness, tingling hands/feet
- Poor concentration, dizziness
- Uneasiness with sleep problems
- Dry mouth, nausea, tense muscles
Treatment for Anxiety
There are three broad categories of treatment for anxiety. These include- psychological treatments (talking therapies), physical treatments (medications), and self-help and alternative therapies.
Therapy-based Treatment for Anxiety
1. Behaviour therapy: Behaviour therapy is used in CBT. It focuses on encouraging activities that are rewarding, pleasant, or give a sense of satisfaction. This helps reverse the avoidance and worry patterns that worsen anxiety. For instance, Exposure therapy for anxiety. Behavior therapy for anxiety relies mainly on 'graded exposure' treatment. If you avoid situations that make you anxious, you don’t get a chance to face your fear and prove to yourself you can manage it. Your therapist will use evidence-based techniques to help you gradually face your fears in a safe environment.
2. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT): CBT is a structured psychological treatment that recognizes that the way we think (cognition) and act (behavior) affects the way we feel. A therapist will work with you to identify unhelpful thoughts and behavior patterns. Unhelpful thoughts and behaviors can make you more anxious and stop you from getting better when you’re experiencing anxiety. Your therapist will help you replace unhelpful thoughts and behaviors with new ones that reduce stress. Mental health professionals may use a range of CBT techniques. These may encourage you to recognize the difference between productive and unproductive worries, teach you how to let go of worries and solve problems, and teach you relaxation and breathing techniques, particularly muscle relaxation, to control anxiety and the physical symptoms of tension. CBT can be delivered one-on-one with a professional, in groups, or online. CBT is often combined with behavior therapy.
3. Online therapies: If you have mild or moderate anxiety, online therapies can be as effective as face-to-face services. They’re sometimes known as e-therapies or computer-aided psychological therapy. These online treatments are often referred to as e-mental health programs. Most online therapies follow the same principles as CBT or behavior therapy. You work through the program by yourself, usually with some support from a therapist. The therapist will help you apply what you’ve learned to your own life. You might talk to them on the phone, by email, text, or instant messaging. E-therapies are available globally with a good internet connection, are anonymous, can primarily be accessed without a referral, can be used in conjunction with your work with your GP, psychologist, or counselor, are self-paced, are free, or have a minimal cost.
Medication-based Treatment for Anxiety
Doctors prescribe specific medicines depending on the type of anxiety disorder and your condition. A combination of medication and counseling often works perfectly for many people with anxiety disorders. You can easily learn to tackle symptoms and thrive with proper mental care and healing techniques. Some medications which can be helpful for anxiety are:
1. Antidepressants for Anxiety: Some antidepressant medications can help manage anxiety, even if you don’t have depression. When you have an anxiety condition, your brain's chemicals, including serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine, can become unbalanced, and Antidepressant medication can fix these chemical imbalances.
2. Benzodiazepines: These medications are used for severe anxiety in anxiety types such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and social phobia. These anti-anxiety medications can be addictive, become ineffective over time, and have other side effects like headaches, dizziness, and memory loss. Anti-anxiety drugs are not recommended for long-term use. They can reduce alertness, affect coordination, and can be addictive. Kindly remember these medicines are for short-term relief only.
3. Beta-blockers: Beta-blockers are more commonly used for heart and blood pressure issues. They are sometimes used to treat social phobia and anxiety around performance, such as speaking in public. Beta-blockers may work by slowing a person’s heart rate when experiencing the ‘fight or flight’ feelings associated with performance. Evidence suggests they are not an effective long-term solution for anxiety issues.
Lifestyle-based Treatment for Anxiety
1. Changing sedentary lifestyle: Sedentary lifestyle is often the immediate consequence of anxiety disorders. Alcohol use, smoking, or even substance dependence can have a strong link to anxiety. Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, eating healthfully, exercising regularly, and maintaining stable social connections positively influence mental health by reducing stress levels effectively.
2. Exercise and physical activity: The physical symptoms of anxiety are caused by the ‘flight-or-fight’ response, which floods the body with adrenaline and other stress chemicals. Exercise burns up stress chemicals and promotes relaxation. Physical activity is another helpful way to manage anxiety. Aim to do some physical activity at least three to four times every week, and vary your activities to avoid boredom. Regular physical exercise can improve self-image and trigger the release of chemicals in the brain that stimulate positive emotions.
3. Adequate sleep: Lack of sleep affects mood and emotional health, which may exacerbate the challenges posed by anxiety disorders. The bidirectional relationship means that anxiety and sleep deprivation can be self-reinforcing; worrying causes poor sleep, contributing to greater anxiety and further sleep difficulties. Getting at least 6 hours of sleep a night may make a person 2.5 percent less likely to experience mental distress.
4. Nutrition and diet: The mineral magnesium helps muscle tissue to relax, and a magnesium deficiency can contribute to anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Inadequate intake of vitamin B and calcium can also exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Ensure your daily diet includes wholegrain cereals, leafy green vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. Nicotine, caffeine, and stimulant drugs (such as those that contain caffeine) trigger your adrenal glands to release adrenaline, one of the main stress chemicals. These are best avoided. Other foods to avoid include salt and artificial additives, such as preservatives. Choose fresh, unprocessed foods whenever possible. Eating a balanced and nutritious diet containing nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B can be helpful.
5. Stress management: Managing triggers can lead to stress management, such as keeping an eye on work pressures and deadlines, organizing daunting tasks in to-do lists, and taking regular time off from professional or educational obligations.
6. Learning to be assertive: Being assertive means communicating your needs, wants, feelings, beliefs, and opinions to others directly and honestly without intentionally hurting anyone’s feelings. A person with an anxiety disorder may have trouble being assertive because they are afraid of conflict or believe they have no right to speak up. However, relating passively to others lowers self-confidence and reinforces anxiety. Learning to behave assertively is central to developing stronger self-esteem.
7. Building self-esteem: People with anxiety disorder often have low self-esteem. Feeling worthless can make the anxiety worse in many ways, and it can trigger a passive style of interacting with others and foster a fear of being judged harshly. Low self-esteem may also be related to the impact of the anxiety disorder on your life. These problems may include isolation, shame and guilt, depressed mood, and difficulties in functioning at school, work, or in social situations.
Alternative Treatment for Anxiety
Using alternative methods such as deep-breathing exercises, long baths, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and rest can also be beneficial:
1. Mindfulness: When anxious, a person can spend much time catching up on anxiety-provoking thoughts. Mindfulness guides us to bring our attention back to the present moment and unhook from ideas that may be unhelpful. Mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular as people realize how beneficial it is for some issues.
2. Relaxation techniques: A person who feels anxious most of the time has trouble relaxing, but knowing how to release muscle tension can be helpful. Progressive muscle relaxation can be one beneficial relaxation technique.
3. Correct breathing techniques: The physical symptoms of anxiety may be triggered by which raises oxygen levels and reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood. Carbon dioxide assists in the regulation of the body’s reaction to anxiety and panic. It can be helpful for a person who suffers from anxiety to learn how to breathe from their diaphragm rather than their chest to safeguard against hyperventilation. The key is allowing your belly to expand as you breathe in. You can ensure you are breathing correctly by placing one hand on your lower abdomen and the other on your chest. Correct breathing means your abdomen moves rather than your chest. It also helps to slow your breathing while feeling anxious.
4. Yoga: Yoga is an ancient Indian exercise philosophy that provides a gentle form of exercise and stress management. It consists of postures or ‘asanas’ that are held for a period of time and are often synchronized with breathing. Yoga Therapy is beneficial for reducing stress and anxiety. It can help by- calming the anxious ‘flight or fight’ response, distracting from the cycle of worrying thought patterns, producing endorphins, and building self-esteem and new mastery techniques. A number of studies have shown that yoga breathing exercises are beneficial for anxiety and depression.
5. Mediation: Meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace, and balance that can benefit your emotional well-being and overall health. You can also use it to relax and cope with stress by refocusing your attention on something calming. Meditation can help you learn to stay centered and keep inner peace. And these benefits don't end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day. And meditation may help you manage symptoms of certain medical conditions.
6. Herbal supplements: Several herbal remedies have been studied to treat anxiety, but more research is needed to understand the risks and benefits. Well-known supplements include- kava, passion flower, valerian, chamomile, lavender, and lemon balm. Some herbal supplements taken for anxiety can cause you to feel sleepy, so they may not be safe to take when driving or doing dangerous tasks. Your doctor can help you understand the possible risks and benefits if you choose to try an herbal supplement.
7. Acupuncture: Acupuncture stimulates the body's natural feel-good hormones and reduces stress hormones like cortisol. Acupuncture relies on stimulating specific points in the body, most often with needles, to improve health and well-being. Acupuncture is recommended one to two times a week for anxiety issues. The treatment duration depends on how chronic the anxiety is, lifestyle factors, and whether you can reduce exposure to stressors contributing to your stress and anxiety. The main side effect that people experience with acupuncture is soreness following a session, which goes away after a few hours. Acupuncture may be an effective, low-risk treatment option for anxiety. More research is being done, but there is a promise, and it shouldn’t make your symptoms worse. Ensure you find a properly trained licensed acupuncturist in your state — they’ll be registered with the state health board.
Support groups and Awareness
Support groups allow people with anxiety to meet comfortably and safely and give and receive support. They also provide the opportunity to learn more about anxiety and to develop social networks.
You can maintain a support network by talking with family members, friends, or a support group. This will help you avoid storing up anxious feelings, which can potentially worsen your anxiety.
Major benefits of having support groups include- feeling less lonely, isolated, or judged. A good support network helps reduce distress, anxiety, or fatigue. Talking openly and honestly about your feelings improves skills to cope with challenges. You can also join support groups around the most common challenges people face present on Solh Wellness App. It is a community based model to learn from others experiences and share your story.
What will be the best treatment for Anxiety?
Treating an anxiety disorder focuses on psychological therapy, medication, and lifestyle adjustments. Treatment will differ for each person depending on the type of anxiety disorder they have and any underlying conditions. Self-management is the first step toward addressing anxious feelings and often involves relaxation techniques, an active lifestyle, and effective time management. If these measures do not bring anxious reactions under control, a person should consider speaking with a doctor and seeking other avenues of treatment.
For mild anxiety, your health professional might suggest lifestyle changes, such as regular physical exercise and reducing your stress levels. You might also like to try online e-therapies, many of which are free, anonymous, and easily accessible. For moderate to severe anxiety, psychological or medical treatments (or both) are likely to be recommended.
One must never forget the old adage ‘knowledge is power’ applies here – learning all about anxiety is central to recovery. Join Solh to get enlightened and achieve your mental health goals!