Everybody suffers from anxiety for different reasons and in different ways. Whether it is a phobia or a generalized anxiety-related issue, the anxiety felt will cause stress, and related symptoms like fatigue, irritability, and mood swings. It can be difficult to cope with anxiety, but there are protective measures you can take to understand and manage your own anxiety and how it affects you. It is important to remember that each case of anxiety is unique. In keeping this in mind you will be able to develop an understanding of your anxiety. This will help you take control and ownership of your anxiety, so it does not control you.
Understanding Your Anxiety
To begin, it is important to understand the core issues and triggers behind your anxiety. Each person’s experience with anxiety is different, stems from different roots, and is handled in different ways. To develop methods to coping with anxiety, begin by asking yourself the following questions:
What Type Of Anxiety Do I Suffer From?
Some may suffer from generalized anxiety, while others may suffer from anxiety that is triggered by specific situations. Specific cases of anxiety, like obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, and posttraumatic stress disorder, tend to have sets of symptoms that differ between one another. To understand how to cope with your own anxiety you must first understand what it means to suffer from your specific case of anxiety and how it affects your day-to-day life.
It is possible to suffer from several different types of anxiety. For example, someone with generalized anxiety may also suffer from social phobia, or a person who suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder may also suffer from agoraphobia. Most cases of anxiety stem from a difficulty to cope with stress from upsetting situations, so knowing which specific type of anxiety you have will help you understand the steps that need to be taken to lessen the intensity of the stress reaction.
What Triggers My Anxiety?
Once you are aware of what type of anxiety you are suffering from you will be able to identify the triggers. Triggers for anxiety are the events, situations, and feeling that cause you to feel anxious. Triggers are different for everyone, and are created through different life situations. For example, a person with social phobia may have been bullied as a child, or someone who is claustrophobic (afraid of small or enclosed spaces) may have witnessed a traumatic event in which he or she was trapped in a confined space for an extended amount of time. It is important to know how to identify the triggers for your anxiety because without knowing the triggers you will not know where to focus your efforts in developing coping strategies.
Triggers can arise from a number of sources, like:
- A traumatic event
- A history of abuse
- Witnessing something scary
- A learned reaction from upbringing
- Being confronted with thing that conflict with religious or moral beliefs
- The imagination
- The influence of other’s opinions and beliefs
Where Did My Anxiety Come From?
It is important to understand how you developed anxiety. When you are able to understand the source of your anxiety you are less likely to overgeneralize, or consider innocuous elements as dangerous. For example, say you saw on the news a car crash in which the person in the front passenger seat was severely injured. This may result in a phobia of riding in the front seat of a car. Once you have identified the source of the trigger, you will be able to remind yourself that “that woman got hurt because she was in the front seat, but that does not mean that it is dangerous to be in the front seat. Being in the front seat does not mean I am likely to get hurt, it was the result of the accident, not the front seat”. This concept can be generalized to most sources, like:
- A history of trauma or abuse
- A change in your environment
- Difficulty adjusting to new circumstances
- Stress management
- Preoccupation with perfectionism
Understanding the source of your anxiety will help you understand what needs to be changed in your thinking and anxious beliefs. This will be instrumental in developing coping strategies to relieve anxiety.
How Do I Behave When I am Anxious?
Being anxious causes people to behave in different ways. Anxiety is the result of stress. When people are put under stress they will feel the need to react. Understanding your own reaction to stress will help you identify when you are being anxious, and what other emotions fuel the anxiety. Emotions that commonly fuel anxiety include:
These emotions that fuel anxiety may cause you to act differently than how you behave when you are not stressed or under pressure. Common behaviors for anxious people include:
- Mood swings
- Crying spells
- Fleeing or escaping stressful situation
- Compensatory behaviors
- Working hard to mask the anxiety and make it seem like things are fine
These behaviors can be detrimental to managing stress because they cause you to lose a sense of control over yourself and your anxiety. These behaviors increase anxiety and worsen symptoms. By understanding your behavior when feeling anxious you will be able to pinpoint the thoughts and behaviors that need to be modified to make the stress reaction less intense. This will help you work toward resolution, instead of fixating on the anxiety.
Tools For Developing Coping Strategies To Reduce Anxiety
After you have learned to better understand your anxiety, it is time to learn coping strategies to help you feel better when you are anxious. Learning coping strategies are skills you learn to be able to handle the anxiety and prevent it from holding you back from doing the things you want or need to do. There are many techniques you can incorporate into your daily schedule to help you manage stress so it does not control you.
Research has put a great deal of time and effort into understanding the way anxiety works and how to prevent it from overtaking a person’s life. Mental health professionals have found a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy exercises and mindfulness training to be particularly helpful in the development of coping strategies for anxiety:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a therapeutic technique that is helpful for people who suffer from any form of anxiety, especially:
- Generalized anxiety
- Anxiety caused by low self-esteem
- Panic disorder
CBT teaches that it is important to slow down your thoughts and not react from the initial thoughts and impulse you feel. Anxiety causes people to react quickly, and that quick reaction prevents a person from being able to properly process information. CBT slows down your reaction by teaching you how to take time and process information and reflect on how your thoughts are triggering your negative feelings and anxiety. Consider using this process the next time you feel anxious:
- What is making me anxious?
- Why is it making me anxious?
- In what way and for how long will this situation affect me?
- What do I know about the situation that will challenge the negative thoughts and expectations I have about the situation?
- What do I know about myself that will help me handle this situation?
- What is the most likely outcome, given what I know about the situation and my ability to handle the situation?
- Considering these questions, does it make sense to feel as anxious as I feel right now?
Learning how your thoughts affect your level of anxiety is the first step in learning how to reduce that anxiety to make it more manageable. The steps listed above are instrumental in weighing the reality of a situation versus how your thoughts and emotions are fueling the reaction.
The next step is to learn coping strategies to lessen the intensity of the anxiety. Consider using the following coping strategies to relieve symptoms felt in the moment of high stress:
- Deep Breathing. Deep breathing exercises are important to use when suffering from anxiety. Taking deep breaths when you begin to feel anxious will reduce the symptoms by bringing plenty of oxygen to the brain, creating a relaxed sensation. When you begin to feel anxious, take in 5 deep breaths, then return to re-assess the situation from a calmer state of mind.
- Muscle Relaxation. If you experience symptoms like shaking, tremors, muscle pain, or teeth grinding when feeling anxious, it is helpful to use muscle relaxation techniques. To perform muscle relaxation techniques, find the tense part of your body. Tense the muscles around the tension as hard as you can without hurting yourself and hold for 10 seconds. Then release the tension in the muscles while taking a deep exhale. Repeat in affected areas 3-5 times, until you feel a reduction in the tension and anxiety you feel.
- Boundary Setting. If you tend to feel overwhelmed with work, school, or interpersonal issues, it is important to know how to set and stick to boundaries. Boundary setting is important because it prevents you from taking on too much, which reduces anxiety. To set boundaries:
- Set clear and realistic expectations for yourself and others.
- Create routine to prevent yourself from taking on too much.
- Know your limits and how much you can handle.
- Remember that it is okay to set boundaries with others. If you feel you need to set boundaries with someone, make them clear, be assertive, and remember that you have a right to protect your own mental health.