Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the U.S. They affect about 40 million Americans every year. Nearly half of the people diagnosed with an anxiety disorder are also diagnosed with depression. Though they are very treatable and can be managed, only about 37% of those suffering receive treatment.
Anxiety is defined as intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Some symptoms include:
• Rapid heart rate
• Rapid breathing
• Feeling tired
Anxiety comes in many forms, but the most common are:
• Generalized Anxiety Disorder: this form of anxiety is characterized by severe,m ongoing anxiety that intensifies with daily activities
• Social Anxiety: this is a chronic mental health condition in which social interactions cause irrational anxiety
• Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): characterized by excessive thoughts (obsessions) that lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Having OCD is not the same as being a “neat-freak” or liking to be organized. They are compulsions to do things a certain way because you feel like you have to, not because you want or choose to.
As someone who has dealt with anxiety nearly my whole life (primarily Generalized Anxiety Disorder and panic attacks), I have found that a combination of therapy, medications, and lifestyle regulations have helped keep my anxiety at bay. When I’m having a bad anxiety day, I typically experience rapid heart rate, feelings of uneasiness and panic, feelings of being overwhelmed, shakiness, and poor concentration. When I experience a panic attack, I feel like the whole world is closing in around me, I have trouble breathing, I hyperventilate, I feel like I’m dying, and it can take a long time for me to come out of it.
What Are Panic Attacks And How Are They Different From Anxiety Attacks?
Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear or anxiety and physical symptoms, based on a perceived threat rather than imminent danger.
A panic attack is:
• Associated with overwhelming anxiety and fear
• Sudden; typically peaks within 10 minutes and ends within 20-30 minutes
• More severe and intense than an anxiety attack
An anxiety attack is:
• Associated with excessive worries or stressful situations
• Worries and stress are intensified over a period of time
• Less severe and intense than a panic attack
I personally experience a blend of the two. My attacks last a long time and are severe, but they are triggered by stressful situations such as large crowds or an overwhelming amount of tasks to get done.
How Can I Manage My Anxiety?
For me, my anxiety first presented at a very young age and is something that I’ve struggled with for a very long time. Throughout my journey of dealing with anxiety, I have found a few tricks to be very helpful in managing my anxiety and panic attacks.
Along with therapy and medication, I find that sticking to a daily routine helps manage my anxiety. I typically wake up at 8:30, get ready for the day, and eat before heading to my first job. When I get off at 2:30, I am usually able to go home, decompress, and eat before heading to my second job. I’m typically home around 9:30, so I have a late dinner, do a quick workout, and get ready for bed. I’m usually able to get to bed by 10 o’clock, and my day starts over in the morning.
Staying away from caffeine helps keep my anxiety at bay as well. If I really want a coffee, I stick to decaf. Caffeine is a stimulant and it stimulates your “fight-or-flight” response. Studies show that it can make your anxiety worse or even trigger an anxiety attack.
Keeping my room and workspace organized is also really important. If my desk is full of clutter, I start to feel overwhelmed and anxious just by sitting at my desk. Staying organized helps reduce my anxiety while I’m working, which is key to managing my anxiety.
Lavender essential oils are also great in helping with anxiety. Lavender is very soothing and also has a calming effect. I like to put a little bit of lavender essential oils on my wrist when I feel overwhelmed and also have it in a diffuser when I sleep or while I’m working.
When I’m having a panic attack, deep breathing helps get me out of my attacks sooner. I like to do “square breathing” because it’s simple and easy to do. When doing square breathing, you simply breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and hold for 4 seconds. I repeat this until I’m able to re regulate my breathing.
Using the 5-4-3-2-1 technique is also really helpful when I’m having a panic attack. To do this technique, you identify 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you feel, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste. This brings you back into the present moment and distracts you from what triggered the attack or is overwhelming you.
Everybody experiences anxiety differently and the tips I mentioned may not work for everyone but they are the ones I’ve found to be most helpful. Though these tricks I use help keep my anxiety at bay, I still struggle with daily feelings of being overwhelmed. Suspenseful movies, an overwhelming amount of tasks or assignments, large crowds, and talking in front of others are what I’ve identified to be the biggest triggers for my anxiety.
Finding your own triggers and identifying the things that help most with your anxiety can help you better manage your anxiety. Anxiety is very treatable and there is no shame in receiving treatment for it, or any other mental illness for that matter. So if you’re struggling to manage your anxiety, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional or start receiving treatment. Acknowledging that you’re struggling with anxiety and feeling like you can’t manage it on your own is the first step to getting help and there’s no shame in that.