Understanding Anxiety: What Is It and How To Cope

Odds are, you’ve heard someone talk about anxiety before. Or maybe you’ve been the one talking about it. According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) 31.1% of US adults experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Continue reading for a very brief overview of anxiety. The more we know about mental health disorders the more we can raise awareness for them and recognize them in ourselves and others around us.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of nervousness, worry, or fear brought on by a perceived threat or stressor. This response is natural and can range from severe fear to mild unease. While everyone will experience anxiety from time to time, chronic or severe anxiety can interfere with your daily life, indicating the possibility of an anxiety disorder. There are multiple different disorders related to anxiety including, but not limited to: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Specific Phobia, and Agoraphobia.

Common Symptoms:

Symptoms of anxiety can manifest differently for individuals, meaning you might experience anxiety differently than others in your life. Some common symptoms of anxiety can include physical symptoms, emotional symptoms and behavioral symptoms.

Physical Symptoms: Some physical symptoms might include an increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, tense muscles, and gastrointestinal issues.

Emotional Symptoms: Some emotional symptoms might include excessive worry, increased irritability, and restlessness.

Behavioral Symptoms: Some behavioral symptoms might include avoidance of stressful situations, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty sleeping.

This is not an extensive list for all symptoms and symptoms may vary for specific anxiety diagnoses.

Building Coping Skills

It is important to have some coping skills that you can quickly use when feeling anxious.  Relaxation is a key part of addressing anxiety and the symptoms that come along with it. If we recognize anxiety as a fear response, we can manually help our bodies and minds relax by using various coping skills. While there are a very wide range of strategies to use, we will focus on a few below.

Deep breathing: Utilizing a breathing exercise is one of the most effective ways to combat feelings of anxiety. Quick, shallow beathing is a part of your body’s stress response. By intentionally taking slow, deep breaths you can decrease your heart rate and quiet down your sympathetic nervous system (the system responsible for your natural stress response) ultimately leading to decreased feelings of worry and nervousness.

Grounding Techniques: When anxious, you are often thinking about something from the past or the future. Grounding techniques are designed to bring your mind back to the present moment and reconnect your brain and body. A very common grounding technique is “5-4-3-2-1.” This exercise encourages you to name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. When doing this exercise, you are intentionally shifting your mind to focus on the things around you instead of the anxious thoughts.

Movement: Moving your body is also a great strategy to help manage anxiety. This could look like yoga, walking, hiking, or stretching. Movement increases endorphins in your body and can also take your mind off of those anxious thoughts. This movement does not have to take a large amount of time but could be 5 minutes of stretching in your office or 10 minutes of yoga before heading to bed. The goal is to find the movement that works best for you.

Have a better understanding of anxiety? While this is only a brief description of anxiety, symptoms, and coping skills, we hope you learned something new. The more we know about anxiety the better we are at recognizing it and addressing it.

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