In my private therapy practice, anxiety has surpassed addiction as the most commonly stated presenting problem for new clients.
The culture of fear that permeates our all-news-all-the-time society is taking its toll. An unending diet of traumatic news, mean-spirited reality programming, live war coverage, and divisive politics is enough to give anyone a panic attack.
Psychotherapists are seeing more and more clients with debilitating anxiety, seeking solutions. The number of Americans being diagnosed with some form of an anxiety or panic disorder is at an all-time high.
It is not all bad news. The increased interest in anxiety has also led to an increased demand for holistic and behavior-based solutions. Modalities that would not have even made it into public conversation a decade or two ago, like meditation, EFT, and EMDR, are now readily accepted as conventional wisdom for anxiety treatment.
In order to begin the process of creating clarity, we must first establish what constitutes anxiety. There are many different types of anxiety, but according to the DSM4, the diagnostic manual doctors use, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is the most commonly diagnosed.
Over forty million Americans suffer from some form of anxiety according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The simple definition of GAD is experiencing excessive anxiety and worry, oftentimes for what seems like no reason at all, on more days than not for a period of at least six months. Symptoms of anxiety include, but are not limited to, rapid heart beat, cold and clammy hands, dizziness, shortness of breath, muscle tension, jumpiness, gastrointestinal discomfort, feeling on edge, fatigue, and feelings of fear or dread.
Identifying what triggers your anxiety is paramount to controlling it. The first step is ruling out behavioral factors that may be impacting your level of anxiety. Behavioral factors include such things as exposing yourself to too much news, excessive caffeine consumption, poor nutrition, drugs, and alcohol. In my practice, new clients complete a questionnaire to provide insight as to how they are living outside of my office. As the behavioral factors are removed or modified, the level of anxiety is monitored to determine if the origin is environmental or biological. Based on the origin, we can devise an appropriate treatment plan.
There are elements within your control that may adversely affect your anxiety level. If you struggle with anxiety, becoming mindful of the following potential contributors may be the best place to start.
Four Common Anxiety Triggers You CAN Control:
Switch to decaf or better yet herbal tea. Caffeine is a stimulant that can trigger an anxiety attack. It is also extremely acidic, which leads to inflammation (bad for overall health) and a diuretic (contributes to dehydration).
As with caffeine, alcohol is acidic and dehydrating. Drinking can also overwork your liver and may interfere with your body’s ability to properly use oxygen, which can make you more sensitive to stress. Also, alcohol masks the symptoms of anxiety and is a form of self-medication that ultimately exacerbates the problem.
As mentioned above, alcohol and caffeine lead to dehydration, as do processed, sugary foods and a general lack of sufficient hydration. Dehydration interferes with proper brain and body functioning, which can be a trigger for anxiety and depression. Aim to consume half of your body weight in ounces of water per day.
Lack of sleep can make you more vulnerable to anxiety by making you edgy, unfocused, and hormonally imbalanced. Seven to eight hours of sleep a night is recommended for your body to renew, restore, and replenish. Try some of my tips for a better night’s rest.
Along with resolving any of the above lifestyle factors, here are some ideas for effective natural methods to ease and prevent anxiety. Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise or natural supplement regimen.
5 Natural Ways To Ease Anxiety:
Exercise, Meditation, Yoga
Thirty cumulative minutes a day of any type of physical activity relieves anxiety by flooding your bloodstream with feel-good hormones. Exercise also fosters deeper sleep.
Studies show meditation actually changes the brain. Brain scans of regular meditators show increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex (area of brain associated with joy and equanimity). Meditating also creates silence and stillness, increasing mental focus and the ability to stay in the present moment.
Yoga is a perfect hybrid, giving you physical activity AND meditation.
Inhaling essential oils can alter brain activity. Seek out scents that induce calm, such as lavender, jasmine, rose, and sandalwood. Use scent as a part of a calming ritual like a warm bath with lavender oil before bed with a cup of chamomile tea. Also, carry a small bottle with you to use while taking breathing breaks throughout your day.
Breathe. Release. Repeat.
Deep breathing slows the body’s rhythms and restores calm. This is a super effective and completely free way of ritualizing relaxation and being present.
- Schedule your cell phone to vibrate every three or four hours.
- Take five deep, relaxing breathes. Breathing in deeply through your nose and exhaling out of your mouth with a sigh. On each exhalation, visualize any tension or fatigue leaving your body.
Set aside ten minutes a day as your designated time to worry about anything that is on your mind. If anxiety starts to creep in at other times, remind yourself to deal with it during your “Stress Session” ONLY!
Herbal Remedies and Therapy (Again ONLY with doctor approval)
I have found that about half of the time a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and natural remedies work just as well as prescription medications and with fewer side effects. However, if natural remedies do not alleviate symptoms, ask your general practitioner for a referral to a psychiatrist for further evaluation. Most herbal remedies listed below can be found at your local health food store.
Passionflower (Passion incarnate)—A powerful herbal relaxation aid with zero side effects. Researchers at Tehran University in Iran discovered Passionflower to be as effective as the anxiety-relieving drug Oxazepam. It comes in capsule or tincture form.
Valerian Extract—A sleep aid that typically works within thirty minutes of consumption and is not habit forming.
Green Tea Extract—Contains the amino acid L-theanine, which produces anti-anxiety effects.
Part of effectively stopping the anxiety cycle is lessening anticipatory fear. Instead of expecting to be ambushed by anxiety, visualize and expect to be calm all day, no matter what happens. What transpires has everything to do with what you THINK will happen.
Anxiety and fear feed off each other. They exist because of each other—they are each other’s host and parasite. The more anxiety you feel, the more fear is dominating your life. Sometimes anxiety presents itself because we are afraid of repeating old patterns (ruminating about the past) or of what could happen (projecting fearfully into the future). When we live in the past or the future, we lose the ability to be fully present in the here and now.
Take time to be aware of this moment. Being so allows you to catch and release the anxiety and step from Fear into Freedom.
How do you manage anxiety/fear/stress? What obstacles are preventing you from letting go of the notion that anxiety/fear/stress are just a part of normal life? How can we support each other in letting go of our constricted fearful anxieties and accepting the expansion of possibility? Drop a comment here and start a dialogue.
Terri Cole, founder and CEO of Live Fearless and Free, is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. Recently, Terri released her first CD “Meditation Transformation.” She is writing her first solo book “Flip Over and Float—Transform Fear into Freedom in 6 Simple Steps for Sustainable Change” and co-hosting Live Your Truth Love Your Life with yoga psychologist Ashley Turner. Terri can be found on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.
*Photo by kattebelletje