What Are Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorders are incredibly common – the most common mental illness in the world. There’s a lot of literature out there in the world that can tell you ABOUT anxiety disorders, how anxiety is treated, and other neatly boxed up statistics. Divorce, layoffs, threat of terrorism — there’s plenty of anxiety around for everyone these days. And very often, the source is something we can’t change. How do you know when it’s time to get help dealing with your anxieties?
Read more about anxiety disorders.
Those are great bits of information, of course, but how do you cope with anxiety when you struggle with it? How do you support someone else who has an anxiety disorder? How do you manage your anxiety once you’re between therapy appointments, have your medications properly dosed, and yet you’re still struggling with anxiety?
Here are some practical pieces of advice for those of us who struggle with anxiety and anxiety-related disorders.
Remember, you are not alone; we are none of us alone.
Normal vs. Harmful Anxiety
The cold sweat of anxiety is that “fight or flight” response that kept our early relatives safe from grizzly bears and other scary characters. That adrenaline rush still serves us well under certain circumstances. Anxiety is a natural reaction to those very real stresses.”
In today’s world, that reaction helps motivate us, prepares us for things we have to face, and sometimes give us energy to take action when we need to .But as we know too well, sometimes it doesn’t take a specific threat — only the possibility of crisis — to send us into anxiety mode. The difficulty comes in learning to tone down that automatic response — and think: How serious is the danger? How likely is the threat?
How To Cope With Anxiety Disorders:
To cope with plain-vanilla anxiety, “get real,” as they say. “Separate out the real risks and dangers that a situation presents and separate out the real risks and dangers that a situation presents and those your imagination is making worse. It’s a twist on the old adage: “Take control of the things you can, and accept those you can’t change.”
Ask yourself: Where can you take control of a situation? Where can you make changes? Then do what needs to be done What things do you simply have to accept? That’s very important.
Very often, it’s possible to get past an anxiety cycle with the help of friends or family — someone who can help you sort out your problems. But when anxiety becomes overwhelming, it’s time for a therapist, or perhaps medication.
Anxiety disorders are the world’s most common mental illness. That doesn’t help a hell of a lot to know when you’re in the middle of a panic spiral, does it? Here are some tips and tricks to manage your anxiety from the best source on Earth: those of us who have been there.
When you feel your anxiety creeping up on you, take a time-out – meditate, listen to music, get a massage, or try other relaxation techniques.
Remember that stepping away from a problem often helps to clear your head and help refocus your energy.
Use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, stretching, or self-hypnosis to help you through an anxiety attack.
Avoid excess alcohol, caffeine, and other depressants or stimulants not prescribed to you. Alcohol in particular can seem to help anxiety at first, but it can rebound, leaving you more anxious than ever.
Sleep tight – while you’re stressed, your body needs extra sleep and rest.
Eat well – don’t skip meals and make sure to keep healthy, energy-boosting snacks around.
Exercise daily – not only is it good for you physically, but exercise tends to release the “feel good” chemicals from the brain. Exercise also helps you channel the nervous energy from anxiety disorders. Additionally, exercise is the only thing that reduces Cortisol, a stress hormone, from the body.
Count to ten. Or twenty. Or 100. Just do it slowly and allow your body to relax as you feel the tension leave.
Do the best you can – screw perfection. Be proud of your accomplishments, big and small. Even if it’s just getting out of bed, that’s okay.
Celebrate all accomplishments – sometimes making it out of the house is something worthy of a celebration.
Break bigger tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks and do them piece by piece rather than focus on the big picture.
Remember – you can’t control everything.
Put your stress into perspective – is it as bad as it seems or is your mind playing tricks on you?
Laugh – humor may be one of the few ways to bring about that feeling of lightness. Use it.
Get out of the house regularly, even if you can only get as far as your back yard. Get some sun and fresh air.
Keep a regular bedtime and get enough sleep. If you have insomnia, talk to your doctor or therapist about medication to help.
Take all of your medication exactly as you are prescribed it. Don’t skip doses or take extra. If your anxiety does not improve, or you feel worse, or anything else out of the ordinary happens, tell your doctor immediately, but do not stop your medication unless your healthcare provider specifically tells you to.
It may be helpful to journal your anxiety, noting times when you feel good, and what happened that day, as well as bad days or panic attacks. Note your triggers. Note what techniques you used to help yourself and how well these worked or didn’t.
Whenever possible, avoid situations you know are going to send you straight into an anxiety attack. If your anxiety is tripped by crowds and noise, and your Aunt’s birthday will be attended by 200 people and she’s having a live polka band, you may need to send your regrets and take her to lunch later on. Don’t feel the need to suffer in silence or to over explain your reasons for not going. You have a medical condition. It isn’t rude to take care of yourself.
Make a real effort to replace all negative self-talk with positive self-talk.
Have something in your purse, bag, or jacket pocket that can be an outlet for your hands during anxious times. It can be helpful and distracting to have your hands playing productively with a toy. Consider options such as TangleToys (http://www.tangletoys.com/)
When you’re not in an anxious state, come up with an easy, memorable mantra for yourself to remember when you are anxious. Some examples could include “I won’t always feel this way”, “This feeling will pass”, “However I’m feeling is okay in this moment”
Volunteer your time – be active in your community. Not only can that help develop a great support network for you, but it can also make you feel good about your accomplishments.
Talk to someone – let them know that anxiety is something you’re battling. It can help you to feel less alone.
Don’t be afraid to say “no” to things if you can’t do them.
Limit the amount of obligations you have until you can manage them without feeling anxious. The pressure can be tremendous – if you can’t do it all, DON’T.
Join a support group – not only can you meet people who can support you, but you can also learn more and better coping strategies to manage your anxiety.
Find a therapist – sometimes, an outside perspective may be just what’s needed to provide a sounding-board and advice about controlling and managing anxiety.
Remember that emotions and feelings will crest and subside. You can make it through the anxiety.
How to Help Someone Who Suffers From Anxiety Disorders:
Anxiety is a weird thing to have to cope with. It may be very hard to understand how to be there for someone who has anxiety disorders – anxiety is very irrational, after all. Here are some tips and tricks for helping a loved one who has an anxiety disorder:
Listen. Be there to listen if they are open to talking about it.
Educate yourself. Learn about signs and symptoms and try to be knowledgeable about the disorder. That will relieve a lot of your own fear about bringing it up.
If a friend asks for help finding treatment, don’t be afraid to help them. They’ve reached out so do all you can to find them someone to talk to.
Talk to someone yourself. If you are really close to the one suffering from an Anxiety Disorder, make sure you have an outlet, somewhere or someone to talk to so your mind stays clear.
Be fun! Don’t think that just because someone has this diagnosis it doesn’t mean they don’t want to have fun. They don’t always want to talk about their diagnosis. Lighten up!
Understand that anxiety disorders aren’t always rational. Your friend could become anxious over a seemingly “normal” situation, so try not to judge whatever has created the anxiety for him or her.
It’s okay to not fully understand why your friend is anxious – but don’t let that stopping from trying to understand by saying things like “I don’t know exactly how you’re feeling right now, but I’m here to support you however I can”
Notice, acknowledge, and compliment his or her successes! “I know that was really hard for you, but you totally just conquered that! I’m so proud of you!”
Be respectful of your friend’s anxiety levels – if he or she says that he or she cannot do something, it’s probably for real.
Ask your friend what he or she needs from you to make him or her more comfortable in certain settings. Offer to help your friend to and from class or to the store – anything to get your friend out.
Remember that your friend or loved one may not have the words to describe what he or she is going through.
How NOT To Help Someone With Anxiety:
Sometimes, even when we have the best intentions, we inadvertently hurt those whom we love most by saying and doing the wrong things. Here are some tips and tricks to avoid doing the wrong thing for someone with anxiety:
Don’t remind them that it’s “all in their head.” Certainly that’s true, but anxiety has many physical components that aren’t always controllable.
Don’t tell them to “just do it.” When someone with anxiety is facing their fear, a little “tough love” may not have the effect you’re hoping for. Depending on the type of phobia or disorder, panic can strike at anytime — whether it’s having to board an airplane, speaking with a group of people, or even just occurring out of nowhere. Obviously if they could overcome this they would because it would be more pleasant. No one chooses to have anxiety. Using these phrases makes them feel defensive and unsupported. Instead of telling someone to “suck it up,” practicing empathy is key, use phrases like “that’s a terrible way to feel” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.” An empathetic phrase]helps them calm down because they don’t feel like they have to fight for their anxiety
Don’t tell them “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” The truth is, what you consider small may not be so minute in someone else’s world. While you may be trying to cast a positive, upbeat light on a tense situation, you may be diminishing something that’s a much bigger deal to another person.
Don’t say, “Let’s grab a drink.” A drink may take the edge off, but with anxiety disorders there is a greater problem to worry about. Doctors and prescribed treatments are more of the answer when it comes to dealing with the troubles that cause the panic. Most people assume that after a few drinks, their anxiety will abate. In the short term, yes it could help, but over time it can be a gateway for addiction. It’s dangerous in the long term because those substances can be reinforcing the anxiety.
Don’t say “I’m stressed out too. Similar to “calm down” and “don’t sweat the small stuff,” you may be trivializing someone’s struggle by creating a comparison. However, if you are stressed or suffering from a mild anxiety or panic disorder, camaraderie after a certain point can get dangerous. It’s important not to obsess with each other. If you have two people who are anxious, they may feed off each other. If people have trouble controlling their own anxiety, try not to engage in that activity even if you think it might help.
Don’t push them or pressure them to do more than they feel they can do. It can set the progress your friend is trying to make with his or her anxiety back.
Don’t tell them to calm down. The debilitating problem with anxiety and panic disorders is that you simply can’t calm down. Finding the ability to relax — particularly on command — isn’t easy for most people, and it certainly can be more difficult for someone suffering from anxiety.
Don’t blame them for not being able to do something you find easy. Unless you’ve managed to control your own anxiety, you can’t tell them that something “should be easy,” when it’s clearly not for them.
It’s unfair to suggest that you know better than they do what their limits are.
Don’t say: Everything is going to be fine: While supportive, those with anxiety won’t really react to the comforting words in the way that you may hope. Unfortunately, telling someone who’s anxious that ‘everything is going to be all righ’ won’t do much, because nobody is going to believe it. Reassurance sometimes can be a bad method. It makes them feel better for 20 seconds and then doubt can creep in again.
Bea suggests remaining encouraging, without using blanket statements that may not offer value to the situation.
Don’t Ask “Did I do something wrong?” Did I do something wrong?” It can be difficult when a loved one is suffering and sometimes it can feel like your actions are setting them off. It’s important to remember that panic and anxiety disorders stem from something larger than just one particular or minor instance. Accept that you cannot control another person’s emotions. If you try to control their emotions, you will feel frustrated, your loved one suffering may feel rejected and you’ll resent each other. It’s important not to take their anxiety personally.”
Don’t make your friend feel guilty about being mentally ill. Chances are, your friend knows what he or she is missing out on or unable to do and already feels ashamed about it.
Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Many mental illnesses are very isolating for individuals. Make yourself a safe space to talk about it.
What Not To Say To Someone With An Anxiety Disorder:
“There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“Screw that anxiety – let’s go to the party.”
“I have anxiety and *I* can do that!”
“Because of YOU we can’t go (insert fun trip here)”
“Aren’t you getting treatment?”
“Shouldn’t you be better?”
“My friend with anxiety NEVER acts like that.”
“Why don’t you just try and get better?”
“I’m sure your anxiety isn’t as bad as you think.”
“Have a drink or two.”
Any other tips, tricks or suggestions for how to help someone (or yourself!) cope with an anxiety disorder? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Page last audited 8/2018