Odds are, you or someone you know probably does. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health diagnoses in the United States, affecting 40 million adults, or roughly 18% of the population (aada.org). So, what is anxiety? Anxiety is a healthy and normal emotion. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” Anxiety can remind us of our “to do” list, upcoming deadlines, or help us focus before that big presentation. These are not necessarily negative things. So, then what’s the concern with anxiety? A person goes from feeling normal healthy anxiety levels to having a psychological disorder when they feel disproportionate levels of distress, worry, or fear over an emotional trigger.
Anxiety is an overarching, general term that includes several psychological disorders. Some such disorders are: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Phobias, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. These disorders are treated with a variety of methods. Many are traditional, and some are newer concepts in the field of psychology. The first traditional method of treating anxiety is with medication. Several types of medications are used to treat anxiety, such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), Benzodiazepines, and Beta-Blockers. These medications can be prescribed by your primary care physician or a psychiatrist. Another traditional method to treat anxiety is through outpatient therapy. Therapy methods could include the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy or even Hypnosis.
The treatment methods listed above may not come as news to many of you, as they have been in use for several years in the mental health field. There are, however, some very new and interesting methods for people to learn to manage their own anxiety without the help of a doctor or therapist. The first of which is through proper diet and nutrition. There is ample evidence of causal links between certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies and anxiety. Studies have shown lack of vitamins D, B6 and B12, magnesium and zinc can all be related to increased levels of anxiety. Adding these vitamins to your diet through supplements or food intake can help reduce anxiety levels. Other nutrients shown to help reduce anxiety include tryptophan, vitamin E, and omega 3 fatty acids. Exercise is another effective way to manage your own anxiety. When the body is active, the brain produces endorphins which are hormones that promote feelings of wellbeing and improve mood. 20 minutes of cardio 3 times a week can do great benefits for one’s mental wellbeing. Higher level activities that require concentration such as playing an organized sport can also keep the mind occupied and limit racing thoughts.
Meditation is also an excellent strategy to manage one’s anxiety levels independent of a mental health professional. Meditation is the practice of engaging in contemplation and reflection. Through meditation, one tries to focus their thoughts in a specific direction and not allow the mind to wander. Many people find the practice of meditation difficult at first, but with practice, it becomes easier over time. In the fast-paced modern world, there are many distractions for our minds and many opportunities for thoughts to wander, but this practice can have great benefits in helping us to control the directions of our thoughts. There are many options to help one who wants to begin the practice of meditation. One of the most recent options is the use of smartphone apps. These apps are convenient as your phone is always with you making them readily available to use over a lunch break or before bed to help you put your mind at ease.
Overall, anxiety is becoming much more prevalent in our society. In the information age, we are aware of so much happening around us that it is not uncommon to feel overwhelmed and anxious. If you or someone you know is experiencing unhealthy levels of anxiety, please do not feel ashamed or stigmatized, these feelings are all too common. Please consult your physician and discuss the treatment options to find what method will work best for you.