What are the signs you have too much anxiety? Dennis Buttimer, M.Ed, CEAP, RYT, CHC, a life and wellness coach at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, shares the causes and symptoms of anxiety, how to reduce it, and when to seek support.
“Anxiety is an uncomfortable mental-emotional state about the future,” says Buttimer. “We want predictability and control over what’s going to happen in the future; anxiety focuses excessively on the ‘what-ifs.’”
Anxiety is a normal part of life, but you could have an anxiety disorder if you experience it frequently, it starts to affect your daily activities, it is hard to control or it seems out of proportion for a situation.
“Anxiety becomes over the top when you are debilitated by it and are so caught up in the future that you can’t pay attention to the present moment,” he says.
Symptoms of an anxiety disorder include:
Avoiding people or circumstances that cause anxiety
Change in eating habits (eating more or less than usual)
Feelings of fear, nervousness, panic, restlessness or tension
Inability to control worry
Increased heart rate
Poor quality of life
Anxiety can be caused by:
Certain health issues, such as asthma, chronic pain, diabetes, drug withdrawal, heart disease, hyperthyroidism or irritable bowel syndrome
Drug or alcohol abuse
Family history of anxiety disorders
Medication side effects
Other mental health issues, like depression
Trauma or abuse
You should see your primary care provider if you:
Are abusing alcohol or drugs
Have anxiety that is difficult to control
Have symptoms of depression
Have suicidal thoughts (if so, seek emergency medical care right away)
May have a physical health condition related to the anxiety
Your doctor may refer you to a psychologist (counselor) or psychiatrist (medical doctor) for evaluation and treatment.
“A mental health professional can teach you techniques to help you put things in perspective,” Buttimer explains. “They can offer you a more objective look at the events in your life and help you distinguish between normal anxiety and extreme stages of anxiety.”
Buttimer recommends the following tactics to minimize anxiety:
Allow yourself to feel anxiety. The next time you’re feeling anxious, allow yourself to feel it instead of brushing it aside. Buttimer recommends paying attention to which part of the body is affected by anxiety, such as the pit of your stomach or your chest. Breathe deeply and bring your hand to this part of the body. Allow yourself to feel the anxiety. “As you sit with it and honor the emotion for 90 seconds to two minutes, it will usually shift into something else and move on,” he says.
Deep breathing. “When you’re anxious, you tend to hold your breath or take shallow breaths,” he says. “Try long, slow breathing through your nose into your belly – this is called diaphragmatic breathing.” This type of breathing sends signals to the brain to relax.
Exercise, particularly yoga. Regular exercise and yoga have been shown to reduce anxiety.
Listen to relaxing meditation audio or music. “Meditation has been shown to stop the emotional hijacking that takes place in the brain when you are feeling anxious,” he explains. “The amygdala, which is the portion of the brain responsible for your emotions, becomes hyperactive when you are anxious. Think of it like a smoke alarm that keeps going off even after the threat is gone. That’s how it is with anxiety.”
Make healthy food choices. Excess sugar, caffeine and alcohol can worsen anxiety, so focus on unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, lean meat, fish and whole grains.
Pay attention to the media and entertainment you consume. Buttimer says negative content, like violent crime shows or the news, can worsen anxiety.
Practice good sleep hygiene. Try these tips to get a better night’s rest.
Take a technology break. Being constantly “on” and checking your smartphone frequently can increase anxiety. Put your phone in a drawer or on airplane mode, take a break from social media scrolling, and make time for an activity you enjoy, like walking outside, calling a friend, reading a good book or sipping a mug of tea.
“It takes a lot of courage for you to be willing to look at techniques to reduce anxiety and to face it, examine its roots, and practice interventions,” he says.
Learn more ways to reduce stress and anxiety from Living Better experts.
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