Anxiety is rampant in our society. Why? Every day stresses have intensified. It’s more difficult to earn a living, manage relationships, and meet our responsibilities. Many of us struggle to keep pace with daily life yet seem to demand more of ourselves. Familiar statements begin with, “I should, I must or I have to.” Our sense of obligation seems to have skyrocketed with many feeling they are responsible for people and circumstances well beyond their control. In the swirl of constant activity, the rise in anxiety is predictable. So, let’s get started.
First, what is anxiety? One of the first things to know about anxiety is there are many types and it occurs for a variety of reasons. Anxiety is most simply defined as a heightened response to normal stressors and/or situations. It is important to distinguish between everyday anxiety and anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders may require mental health treatment if it interferes with participation in activities including social events, relationships, work or school responsibilities. If you suspect an anxiety disorder, a licensed therapist can help you explore your needs and work with you to develop an effective treatment plan. Now, we are going to focus on common symptoms and ways to reduce everyday anxiety.
Common emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety may include:
- muscle tension
- appetite loss
- constant worry contrary to evidence
- sense of impending doom
- inability to unwind and/or calm down
Many people experience anxieties when learning a new activity. For example, when I give a work presentation for the first time and I feel apprehensive, jittery or nauseous, my response is expected and may actually result in a better performance. Why? I may prepare more thoroughly if I’m feeling nervous. Or if I attend a social event where the people are unfamiliar to me, I might develop a headache and feel unsettled. Both of these are examples of situations in which an anxious response might be considered “normal.” Still, these expected reactions can become problematic if they disrupt our sense of well-being.
What can you do to lower your anxiety?
- relaxation techniques (meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization)
- creative activities (painting, writing, sculpting, photography, music, and more)
- regular exercise routine
- good nutrition (Please see my article on Fear and Anxiety)
- regular sleep routine
- increasing supportive and fun relationships
Many of these suggestions are self-explanatory. However, I would like to expand on relaxation techniques, creative activities, and increasing supportive and fun relationships. I have included three specific relaxation techniques. Each of these work to calm the nervous system and return focus to the present moment. Often, anxiety centers around an event that might happen in the future. Building one’s connection with the here-and-now may interrupt the anxious response. One option to consider is enrolling in a group relaxation class. This may also provide an opportunity to increase supportive and fun relationships.
Creative activities may serve to engage the right side of your brain and reduce overthinking. What would it be like to take a painting class? You would have to pay attention to what is happening in the moment- your brush, the canvas, the paint, your technique, your visual perspective of the object, and the painting. This experience engages all of you, except the part of you constantly thinking about what may or may not happen tomorrow. Creative activities can become a type of meditative experience, so taking an individual or group class might be enjoyable and relaxing.
Anyone struggling with anxiety needs the support of loved ones. Asking a supportive individual for help can be a relief from daily anxiety. Sometimes, knowing that others share similar concerns or situations lessens our own anxiety and sense of isolation. Don’t be afraid to reach out and build more supportive friendships. You may even find someone with whom you can take a painting class.