According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, over 3 million Americans suffer from clinical anxiety. This number is even higher among our teenagers, and about 1 in 5 teenage girls suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point.
Anxiety is a mental disorder that can range from minor to severe, characterized by uncontrolled worry and preoccupation, often accompanied by panic attacks and compulsive behavior. Severe anxiety can contribute to many other frustrating behaviors. Severe anxiety may take extensive work to overcome, but there are many small things that individuals can do to get a handle on it from day to day. Here are some techniques that have proven to be useful for many patients:
Take Care of the Basics: Diet, Sleep, Exercise
As we’ve mentioned before, diet can have a major effect on feelings of anxiety. Since anxiety is often manifested in physical symptoms, you can alleviate it by supporting healthy physical function. So, eat healthy well-balanced meals. Get plenty of sleep and stick to a regular schedule. Exercise every day, which will help you to sleep better, and can also be a great outlet for frustration and feelings of anxiety.
Try Asking “Then What?”
Anxiety often consists of envisioning worst-case scenarios and obsessing over them. Instead of dwelling on one disastrous outcome, ask yourself, “and if that happened, then what?” This serves several functions. For one thing, it allows you to define your worry. For another, it gives you a plan to deal with the fallout of whatever happens, which in and of itself can be comforting.
But most of all, it helps you to realize that the fear of a situation is much worse than the situation itself. If we follow something to its worst conclusion (even when that conclusion is preposterously unlikely) we usually find that we can handle whatever happens.
Another great way to turn obsessive worrying on its head is to turn all of your negative “what ifs” into positive ones. For example, before an oral report, you might start wondering “What if I forget everything? What if I fumble my words? What if everyone laughs at me?” Instead, try being a conscious optimist: “What if something I say strikes a chord with someone in the class? What if I surprise my teacher with how good it is?”
Breathe Deeply and Count to 10
Studies have shown that many people suffering from anxiety have bad breathing habits that contribute to the disorder. Sometimes, feelings of anxiety and panic are a response to a lack of oxygen. Your body starts to signal your brain to find a cause for your shortness of breath and increased heart rate, and your mind accommodates by supplying worries.
If, instead, we take a moment to breathe deeply, our body realizes that it has what it needs and the panic reaction can be stopped in its tracks. Breathing deeply is a miniature form of meditation that you can do anywhere.