Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia, affecting one in four people at some stage of their lives. Although it’s reasonably prevalent, it’s a serious mental illness that can dramatically impact the enjoyment of day-to-day life.
What is anxiety?
Although everyone feels worried or stressed at some point, anxiety is when these feelings don’t go away even when the difficult situation has passed. For some people, it develops after a particularly stressful situation like a death, losing a job or big life pressures like a relationship breakdown or a new baby. For many people, it develops over time and there isn’t one particular factor that leads to it.
Everyone experiences anxiety differently, however according to beyondblue, some symptoms include:
Physical: panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tightening of the chest, quick breathing, restlessness, or feeling tense, wound up and edgy
Psychological: excessive fear, worry, catastrophising, or obsessive thinking
Behavioural: avoidance of situations that make you feel anxious which can impact on study, work or social life
Psychological and medical treatments
There are many proven psychological and medical treatments for anxiety that can help you manage your condition.
Some people respond well to seeing a psychologist, others prefer to join a group therapy situation and there are also quite a few online courses that have been found to be very effective.
Medication can be helpful for removing the physical symptoms of anxiety such as heart palpitations, sweating or shaking however it will not cure the condition. According to Anxiety Australia, it can reduce the negative thoughts experienced by sufferers, particularly those who suffer from both anxiety and depression.
The good news is there are lots of lifestyle changes that can help you manage anxiety. Lifestyle changes can be made on their own or in addition to psychological and/or medical treatments. Here are some techniques to help tame those thoughts and help you live a happier life.
Deep breathing and meditation
Many people take shallow breaths when they’re suffering from a stressful situation which can lead to hyperventilation and a panic attack. When you’re starting to feel anxious, it can be helpful to count to ten and breathe long, deep breaths on each count. One thing that has been proven to help with anxiety is mindfulness meditation. It can seem daunting to start meditating, however apps like ‘Smiling Mind’ make it really approachable with its guided meditations like ‘Explore the breath’ and ‘Breath and thoughts’.
Exercising can have a huge impact on mental health. When you’re anxious, your body is sent into ‘flight or fight’ mode however exercise can be a great release for this negative tension. It releases natural endorphins and helps relax your muscles and regulate your breathing. Starting an exercise regime with a friend is a great way to get motivated. It doesn’t have to be much to begin with, just a gentle walk (with the reward of a coffee at the end!) and you can build it up to something more challenging later on.
Eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, whole grains and water for hydration is ideal for both body and mind however there’s also a growing body of research that suggests foods rich in antioxidants such as beans, fruits, nut and vegetables may help ease anxiety symptoms. It’s also a good idea to cut back on caffeine as it can interfere with sleep.
Spending time with loved ones
It’s important not to keep your feelings bottled up and supportive family and friends are vital for getting things off your chest. Not only can they listen when things get tough but if you let them know about potential anxiety triggers, they can help you to manage difficult situations.
Do something you enjoy
Sometimes the best thing to do when you’re feeling stressed is to distract yourself with something pleasant. Take a bubble bath or relax with your favourite magazine and a cup of tea. Some people find learning a new skill or creative pursuit like taking a photography course or learning a language to be a great way to take your mind off your worries.
Cutting back on alcohol/drugs
Many people use alcohol/drugs as a way of dealing with anxiety however its addictive nature makes it a poor coping strategy. It can be difficult to completely stop drinking/consuming drugs however your GP can help with ways of reducing your consumption to a manageable level or quitting completely if necessary.
Anxiety is a serious mental illness but if have the confidence to ask for help when you need it and make these important lifestyle changes, you can learn how to control it rather than it controlling you.