Tips on Coping With Anxiety Problems
According to the National Health Service in Britain, one in twenty adults in the UK suffers from Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). GAD affects slightly more women than men, and most sufferers are in their twenties. Anxiety is part of the body's natural response to threat. When faced with threatening situations, your body releases adrenalin as part of your fight-or-flight response. While short periods of anxiety are natural and give you a mental and physical boost to deal with stress, longer periods can be debilitating, leaving you exhausted and feeling like you can't cope.
Anxiety and the release of adrenalin make your heart beat faster, so that you feel apprehensive and more alert. Sometimes this works in your favour, allowing you extra energy and mental agility to deal with the anxiety-causing issue quickly and effectively. However, constant anxiety can leave you with a pounding heart and heart palpitations, sweating, an upset stomach, difficulty breathing, shaking hands, tension and aching muscles, headaches and sleeplessness.
Anxiety attacks, or panic attacks, are short episodes of intense anxiety. They can be brought on by an obvious trigger, like being stuck in a lift or giving a presentation at work, or can happen for no clear reason. Symptoms change from person to person, but include a surge of panic, feeling like you've lost control of your life or a situation, heart palpitations and chest pains, breathing trouble and shaking. Severe anxiety may make you avoid doing things you enjoyed or found easy before because you become scared of triggering a panic attack. There are a number of ways to help yourself cope with anxiety and reclaim your life.
Change your lifestyle
In some cases coping with anxiety means making some changes to the way you live. If you have a busy schedule, are under pressure at home or at work, have too many responsibilities, don't exercise or sleep enough, or simply drink too much coffee or use other stimulants, positive changes can ease anxiety and improve your long-term health.
- Make time to relax. Read a book, watch a movie, go out with a friend or go for a walk. Use relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises or progressive relaxation techniques to calm yourself.
- Take care of your body. Cut your caffeine, alcohol and nicotine consumption. Eat regular meals, starting with breakfast, to maintain your blood sugar levels. Get at least half an hour's aerobic exercise every day.
- Allow your body to recover by getting between seven and nine hours sleep every night.
- Ask for help. Sometimes you feel overwhelmed because you don't have the emotional support you need to cope with the stresses of everyday life. If you have too much to do, ask your partner, family or friends for help.
Change your diet
Some foods release chemicals that make us more anxious. Foods to avoid include fried foods, too much dairy, sugar, spices, and foods that form acids, like yoghurt, pickles, wine and eggs. Include more fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet and drink more water. Increase your intake of foods rich in:
- Tryptophan - this amino acid found in oats, poultry and soy, makes you more relaxed, speeds up your metabolism and helps you sleep;
- Magnesium, a powerful natural muscle relaxant found in tofu, whole grains and black beans; and
- Omega-3 fatty acids - a shortage in your diet can cause depression and anxiety, so add walnuts, salmon and shrimp to your diet.
Change your inner dialogue
Don't expect yourself to be perfect and don't run yourself down. Identify your negative thoughts, those panic inducing 'what ifs', and stop the thoughts as they develop. Replace them with positive thoughts and repeat them to yourself a few times. Something as simple as: "I'm going to be all right. This situation will pass. I've coped with it before and I can cope with it again", could be enough to teach yourself not to become anxious about life. Admit that your feelings are not always rational and teach yourself to be positive again.
Improve your problem-solving skills
Make a list of your worries, separate your rational fears from the irrational ones and start working out an action plan. If you're worried about money, work out a budget and stick to it, or start working on alternative income ideas. Once you've started working on resolving your problems, revise your action plan once a month, check your progress and change the plan for the future. Remember to set realistic goals and to give yourself credit for your achievements.
Using herbal remedies is only a short-term solution for coping with anxiety, and these herbs must always be used in moderation. If you are taking prescription or other medication, speak to your GP before taking any kind of supplement. Read the dosage and allergy information carefully and remember that herbal remedies work best when paired with a healthy lifestyle. Natural sedatives like catnip, chamomile, kava kava (which should never be taken by people with liver problems), hops, motherwort, passion-flower, skullcap, St John's Wort and valerian are available in most pharmacies or health food stores, in tea, tablet or capsule form.
Seek professional help if anxiety is disrupting your life to a degree where your work, personal and family relationships are being affected, or if you feel so overwhelmed that you are finding it difficult to complete daily tasks and activities. First, visit your GP to find out if the problem is physical, like a thyroid problem. If your doctor can find no possible cause, speak to a therapist or counsellor who will guide you in overcoming anxiety. Coping with anxiety seems daunting, but it can be done.