I never really understood anxiety growing up. However, after hearing so many of my friends and colleagues talk about their own anxiety, and a recent panic attack of my own, I decided to explore the topic. The following is based on the results of my own questionnaire for which over sixty-five volunteers have helped me by sharing their own experiences with anxiety so that I might be able to make some sense of it and write on the topic. Through it, I hope to bring some semblance of relief to those who suffer from it.
Just as the triggers and symptoms of anxiety are widely varied, so are the forms of treatment. One person’s solution may have no impact or may even do the opposite for another. To find the best treatment for you is to experiment— it isn’t an exact science. Research, make hypotheses, have trials, document your results and find your own conclusions.
Through the survey data I collected, I was confronted with a gamut of methods that people use to treat their anxiety. Through the answers, I have compiled them into four major categories: Relaxation, Distraction, Therapy, and Medication.
As mentioned in Volume II, anxiety can speed up your brain and your heart, causing a slew of other symptoms. As a means of battling this, there are a few methods you can use to help slow things down. The first step is breathing. Inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth are the best ways to breathe as a means of slowing down your heart rate and regulating the flow of oxygen to your blood and brain.
If you want to add to your breathing exercise, I would also recommend square breathing. In square breathing, you inhale for a count of four (or whatever number you choose, I like four), hold for a count of four, exhale for four, and wait for four. Then you inhale again, repeating the pattern. The repeated counting gives your brain something else to focus on while you gain better control of your breathing, both of which can be good for battling anxiety.
Some people find solace through nature therapy, being outdoors and breathing fresh air while you expose yourself to the sights, sounds and smells of nature. Throughout my own life, walks in the woods have always brought me to a more relaxed state, whether I was stressed or not. Many people who do this prefer to be alone in nature. Solitude in any environment is a method that can help to eliminate any outside stimuli and help the mind to focus.
Other techniques that work for some people are coping and refocusing techniques, where one tries to reassess their situation with a wider lens. In Volume III, I wrote about tunnel vision mentality. By looking at the situation from a different perspective, it helps us readjust how we are looking at problems and can take some of the anxiety away. Some people prefer Reiki, a technique that utilizes the analysis and cleansing of a person’s chakras, while others use a hot cup of tea as a means of helping them relax.
When the mind is reeling and a million thoughts are coming to you all at once, it can seem like the world is falling apart and you don’t have any control. Due to this, many people treat their anxiety with distractions. Like you would a crying infant, you may be able to pacify anxiety with something different to distract yourself from it.
Some people do this by simply getting out of the house and going for a walk or a drive, or going to the store or a favorite location. The change of scenery may be enough to take our minds off of our struggle. Some prefer to focus on side projects, especially ones that involve their hands. Knitting, crocheting, sewing, wood crafting, puzzle assembly and simple tinkering are methods that can help your brain focus on one simple task. Or, perhaps simply picking up an instrument and playing or making music is enough of a distraction.
These tasks are usually simple and repetitive and can not only help “slow down” the mind but give a person a sense of control and accomplishment. Others may enjoy self-care. From doing one’s own laundry or meal prepping to pampering oneself at a spa, sometimes we need to stop worrying about all of the problems in the world (especially other people’s problems) and focus on taking care of ourselves.
I have noticed that one of the most popular distractions is exercise. Exercise forces the body to work under higher heart rates, but seems to focus the mind at the same time. Some claim that exercise is great for keeping "bad" thoughts away. Exercise has also been proven to release endorphins, which battle depression, which could be a key element to fighting anxiety as well. Some suggested methods of exercise are: Running, Walking, Yoga, Pilates, and Dancing.
Some people also found distractions in counting (particularly in 6/8 time, if you are musically inclined), reflecting on their lives through journaling, and planning and organizing. Those that enjoy planning and organizing claim that it helps them prepare and prevent unexpected circumstances that would normally trigger their anxiety.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (seeing a therapist and talking about your life) is a popular treatment for anxiety. Being able to discuss your anxiety with someone who will give you unbiased feedback is incredibly helpful when gaining perspective on one’s life, and can provide you with strategies that help you with your day-to-day life and triggers. Therapy can help you understand yourself, your history and your body, which can then help you see why you have anxiety— or at least give you feedback on how to properly battle it.
Some people find it simpler to talk out their problems with specific friends who are willing to listen and provide honest feedback and care. Some people talk about their anxiety very openly, often in a form of self-humor. It may seem uncomfortable for some, but there are those who find great relief from it.
Meditation can also act as an effective form of therapy. It can help one be mindful of our own thoughts, feelings, and understanding of our own situations. Many people struggle with meditation because they feel they are not "good" at it, but be amazed by how much clearer their minds may become if they practice it regularly. Even once a week for ten or fifteen minutes can make a difference.
Understanding/reducing (or eliminating) your triggers is a practical way to approach treating anxiety. Once you gain the knowledge of what your triggers are, you can start planning your day accordingly to try to avoid as many of them as possible. Sometimes, this understanding lets you know that you have to make changes to your lifestyle.
Some people reported cutting caffeine out of their lives or making other substantial changes to their eating habits, which has ultimately helped many of them become happier and less anxious. Another thing one can do, once they know their own triggers, is to face their problems head-on. This may be an extreme means of treatment, but it can be quite effective for some. Exposure and survival through the things that frighten or stress you out the most seem less threatening once you’ve endured them.
Medication and Other Substances
We finally reach medication. I saved this one for last because it is a grey area. Drugs like Lorazepam, Lexapro or any other SSRI have both positive and negative connotations. Another medicinal method mentioned in the survey was the use of cannabis or CBD oil. These substances have been known to allow the mind to wander leisurely rather than to focus on frantic and frightening situations. Be careful with this one, though— on top of legality issues, a potential side effect is paranoia, which could actually worsen your anxiety.
Medications have been effective for many people, but there isn’t a "magic pill” that gets rid of your anxiety for good. Sometimes, a medication doesn’t work and people try other forms of it. Some people claim that these only help them avoid panic attacks, but they still have daily anxiety. Others claim that it only evens them out but doesn’t cure them entirely, while others claim it has proven to be helpful, but the side-effects can be brutal.
I personally detest the way that Big Pharma has advertised depression and anxiety as an “unnatural” thing, leading many people to be convinced that they are sick and need pills to help them be “normal.” Depression and anxiety are perfectly natural and don’t necessarily require meds. Of course, the pros of medications are still important to note.
Meds can provide the brain more time to process, preventing the chaotic smattering of thoughts that can arise all at once. Some people report that medication allows them to get themselves to the point where they can pursue more long-term actions on their anxiety. For some, medication is truly the most effective solution, helping them transition from being unable to function or leave their own homes, to being able to take life one day at a time.
No matter which method works for you, or if perhaps you find another one not mentioned here that works for you, the important thing to remember is to keep trying. In my research and through this series of articles, I hope that I have highlighted some helpful points: first, that anxiety can come in many different forms and affect people in a variety of ways; second, that is it completely normal to experience anxiety, although it may make you feel that it isn’t so; and lastly, just as the symptoms are individualized, so are the means of treating it.
With that said, take a breath, congratulate yourself for being human, and do what it takes for you to live as relieved and happy as you can. Life isn’t perfect, and it never will be. There will always be struggles, whether they are external or internal, but we all can find ways of coping and making the most out of our lives.
Which methods of treatment help you to cope with anxiety?
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