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Healthy coping mechanism for anxiety (An ultimate guide)

An anxious mind can prevent you from living a happy life

What is anxiety

Anxiety is a natural physiological response to stressors or negative emotions. However, when it becomes persistent or severe, it can create symptoms that negatively affect a person’s life.

It is important to note that not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way. Some people are able to manage their anxiety effectively and lead productive, fulfilling life. Others are able to cope with anxiety to a limited extent and are able to perform at a high level. Yet others are unable to cope with anxiety at all and may suffer from debilitating anxiety that impacts their work, relationships and health to the point that they are considered depressed.

While the causes of anxiety are many, they can often be traced back to the stressors that a person encounters in their daily life. For example, someone who is constantly stressed by work deadlines and constant interruptions may find themselves struggling to sleep, feel anxious and irritable, and experience difficulty concentrating at times.

Some people may be able to cope with anxiety on their own and avoid the negative emotions that often accompany it, but the negative impact it can have on the lives of those who suffer from anxiety far outweighs the benefits. Anxiety is often referred to as a brain disease.

Anxiety and your body’s natural safeness centre

A number of organs in the body’s central nervous system work together to help us experience the feeling of safeness on a physical level.

They do so by encouraging the release of happy chemicals, endorphins and oxytocin into the body. These chemicals are responsible for helping us feel at peace, contented, safe and satisfied.

The body’s Natural threat detection centre

As I write this paragraph, I just can’t seem to shift the image of meerkats out of my head. You know that image of a meerkat standing tall on its hind feet, with its head stretched out looking out for any signs of danger.

Well, our natural threat detection centre, behaves exactly like that.

Just like our body’s safeness centre, the threat detection centre is made up of a number of organs within the central nervous system. It is the centre that deals with fear in the brain.

The main aim of the threat detection centre is to keep us alert to danger and prepare us to deal with that danger if necessary. When we are caught up in fear, it is often because this system has gone into hyperdrive.

The threat detection centre encourages the body to produce Adrenalin and Cortisol.

Cortisol limits the use of resources making sure that resources are available for the parts of the body that require it most during threatening periods. For example, energy is forced down to the legs, if you need to run or to the hands if you need to fight.

This is where we get the now popular “fight or flight” phase. This fight or flight phase tends to be the cause of heart palpitations, which is really the increased effort of the heart to pump resources through the blood to the parts that need more resources for managing the threat.

The reduction of resources to parts of the body over a long period of time can lead to symptoms that mimic a nervous breakdown like trembling, shaking, sweating in bed, forgetfulness, intense fatigue or heart palpitations we experience when we feel anxious.

IMPORTANT NOTE:
These symptoms only mimic symp[toms of a nervous breakdown. It is crucial that you are not caught up in the belief that you are actually having a nervous breakdown, because if you do, your anxiety is bound to skyrocket.

Strangely, the body’s immune system, get’s its resources axed as well. Hence we may experience more physical illnesses after prolonged periods of anxiety.

Even more ironic is the fact that our cognitive abilities, experience a resource hit too, so our ability to be rational in our thinking reduces as we become increasingly anxious. This is also why long periods of anxiety often result in a tendency to be more forgetful.

How our threat detection and safeness centres interact to help us feel balanced

Sadly, severe anxiety disorder occurs due to the way our threat detection and safeness centres interact with each other.

Current evidence suggests that the threat detection centre cannot switch itself off, or tone itself down once activated. It needs a signal from the safeness centre of the mind.

Without this signal, the threat detection centre will just keep the body pumping out threat-related chemicals (Remember adrenalin and cortisol).

This will keep us feeling constantly on edge, snappy and irritable.

The threat detection centre has a few tricks of its own.

Whenever we perceive a threat, the threat detection centre sends signals to the safeness centre.

“Hey, stop producing happy chemicals, keep your head down. We can’t be feeling all happy and safe in the face of danger. I have a mission to protect this ship.

Okay...

I know we are not ships, but do you remember those old cowboy movies where the guy who's got the gun has pushed a table on its side. He’s holding a damsel in distress down, shouting “stay down.”

As if tables could really stop bullets.

Anyway, I digress.

What I am really trying to say is that the threat detection centre sends signals to the safeness centre forcing it to tone down or switch off the feeling of safeness and security.

Imagine what would happen if the safeness centre refuses to switch off.

Probably, something like

A taxi driver whistles securely to himself, even though there’s a cobra sitting right on the dashboard preparing to strike him.

Or

A lady sitting on a lump of wood enjoying her bar of chocolate although a big, ugly, fearsome Lion is pounding straight at her, thinking “what a lucky meal.”

Seriously, though, we take for granted the many loops and corners, the body has to get through in order to keep us safe. All we are really aware of is that we feel threatened and we react.

Understanding why it all happens is crucial to helping us feel safe and normal.

Severe anxiety symptoms

Here is a list of anxiety symptoms you can expect to feel during a panic attack.

It might be scary, but it’s important to know that panic attacks are a natural reaction to extreme anxiety. When you start feeling anxious about something, your body reacts by producing hormones to help you cope.

If you feel overwhelmed by anxiety or fear, you may have a panic attack. A panic attack is an intense experience in which you feel dizzy, your heart races, your hands and legs shake, and you feel short of breath. You might also feel like you're losing control of your thoughts and actions. This makes sense, since your body is in fight or flight mode.

In a panic attack, you might have a sudden urge to flee from the situation, which is why many people find themselves running from a situation that feels dangerous. 

Here are some signs that you might be experiencing a panic attack:

* Feeling tense, nervous, worried, or afraid.

* A racing heart, sweating, or chills.

* Shortness of breath.

* Chest pains or a pain in your stomach.

* Feeling dizzy, unsteady, or lightheaded.

* Fear of losing control or going crazy.

It might be scary, but it’s important to know that panic attacks are a natural reaction to extreme anxiety. When you start feeling anxious about something, your body reacts by producing hormones to help you cope.

If you feel overwhelmed by anxiety or fear, you may have a panic attack. A panic attack is an intense experience in which you feel dizzy, your heart races, your hands and legs shake, and you feel short of breath. You might also feel like you're losing control of your thoughts and actions. This makes sense, since your body is in fight or flight mode.

In a panic attack, you might have a sudden urge to flee from the situation, which is why many people find themselves running from a situation that feels dangerous even when there is no real threat.

Feeling anxious for no reason

Sometimes there might be no obvious reasons for your anxiety but the internal build-up of stress over a period of time can be a contributing factor. This is often called "anxiety sensitivity" or "trait anxiety".

If you struggle with anxiety, you'll be generally more sensitive to the presence of anxiety-related bodily sensations. you will more likely to notice your symptoms than less anxious people, and you will also be more likely to interpret bodily sensations as signs of danger. 

If you can relate, then it is important to be mindful of how you interpreted the bodily sensations as this may be what is constantly triggering your anxiety. You could be misinterpreting the sensations as a sign of panic or danger. In the long term, this could lead to you being hyper-vigilant, overthinking, worrying and stressing about every little thing, making you feel worse and worse.

Unhealthy coping mechanisms for anxiety

Since no one tells us how to deal with anxiety, we are prone to cope purely by trial and error. This means we are more likely to get stuck in vicious cycles where we feel anxious, act in unproductive ways, and feel even worse about our situation, leading to more anxiety. Some common unhealthy coping mechanisms for anxiety include...Focusing on the negative - you focus on what you don’t like rather than what you like.

Self-blame - you feel like the cause of our stress lies with us.

Distraction - you distract yourself from the source of the stress all the time.

Dependence - you become addicted to alcohol, drugs, or other substances.

Withdrawal - you turn away from your friends, family and other people who may have a positive influence on you.

Overcompensation - you over engage is certain behaviours and thinking processes

Avoidance of negatives - you stop looking at the negatives and instead acknowledge all the good that exists in your life.

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Healthy anxiety management techniques and what they work well for

There are many anxiety management techniques that can work for anxiety. However, to see quick gains, it is important to match the technique you choose to the type of anxiety you are struggling with. 
Here are different types of anxiety problems and the specific anxiety management techniques that work for them.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): This form of anxiety is more chronic and long-lasting. As a result, individuals struggle with feelings of dread and worry throughout the day. Although general anxiety is a common problem, it is often overlooked. It can be caused by anything from a traumatic event to something that happens on a daily basis.  Common anxiety techniques that work for GAD include... worry time, problem-solving and meditation.

Health anxiety: Health anxiety is usually associated with fear of disease. This type of anxiety can be triggered by touching a piece of fruit, smelling food, or simply hearing about an illness. It often leads to avoidance of food and water. To overcome health anxiety, use exposure and response prevention, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation.

Trauma-related anxiety: This form of anxiety is triggered by an event that was extremely frightening or painful. These events are associated with the most severe anxiety disorders. Common anxiety techniques that work for Trauma-related anxiety are... reliving, grounding techniques, self-compassion and self-soothing, self-massage.

Social anxiety: People who have social anxiety feel anxious and embarrassed when interacting with others. This can be about anything from being around a crowd to talking to someone new, to going to a party or meeting friends. Social anxiety is most common among teenagers and young adults. Common anxiety techniques that work for social anxiety include ... exposure therapy, systematic desensitization and relaxation.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): People who suffer from OCD obsess over certain thoughts, images, or activities. OCD sufferers find it difficult to control the things they think about. Common anxiety techniques that work for OCD include... Exposure therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, and psychodynamic therapy. Common anxiety techniques that work for OCD are... Exposure and response prevention, Imaginary exposure, Normalization and grounding techniques.

Separation anxiety disorder (SAD): People with SAD suffer from extreme anxiety when separated from those they care about. For instance, they may feel upset, angry, and/or guilty if they are left alone. Common anxiety techniques that work for SAD include... relaxation exercises, breathing, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Common anxiety techniques that work for separation anxiety disorder include ... parental coaching, role-playing and modelling, and imaginal exposure.

Body image and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD): People with BDD spend a lot of time and energy trying to change aspects of their appearance. They often develop an obsession with an aspect of their body, such as a pimple, birthmark, mole, hair or nose, and may spend hours each day taking pictures of themselves, looking at magazines, and comparing their appearance to others. Common anxiety techniques that work for BDD include... mental rehearsal, exposure and response prevention, mental contrasting and making objective comparisons.

Agoraphobia: People with agoraphobia have intense fears of being away from familiar places. Agoraphobia makes it really hard to travel, get on public transportation, or visit places like restaurants, grocery stores, and the movies. Common anxiety techniques that work for agoraphobia include... exposure therapy, guided imagery, normalization and progressive muscle relaxation.

 

Therapist approved techniques that can reduce anxiety immediately (Quick descriptions)

In order to be able to reduce anxiety immediately, it is necessary to have habituated certain coping strategies first.

The trick is that once habituated, and these strategies work amazingly fast.

These strategies include...

Attention training: Which is the ability to focus our attention on our senses and thoughts and also to disengage from them. Attention training is useful to cope with stressful situations but also to cope with any situation that causes an increase in anxiety, such as exams or even simple stress.

Visualization: The ability to mentally simulate situations and feelings associated with those situations, helping to reduce anxiety.

Distancing: This is the ability to mentally remove oneself from a situation and distance oneself from it. Distancing helps us to cope with anxiety by letting us focus on something else.

Acceptance: It is the ability to let go of one's expectations and to let go of the way one thinks things are supposed to be. Acceptance allows us to accept what happened and the results it brought.

Reaction control: This is the ability to avoid reacting to the anxiety of the situation causing the anxiety and instead focus on the actions and reactions we have learned. This allows us to react to the situation while keeping our emotions in check.

Abdominal breathing: This is the ability to inhale and exhale deeply and regularly, which helps us to calm down and relax.

Deep relaxation: This is the ability to take ourselves to a relaxed and relaxed state of mind. Deep relaxation helps us to feel more comfortable with situations that are causing anxiety.

Grounding exercises: These are the physical activities that help us to ground ourselves, keep our minds in the present and not to lose ourselves in the future. These include things like walking, running, stretching and yoga.

Mental rehearsal: This is the ability to rehearse situations in your mind to mentally prepare yourself for a particular situation. This can help to make us less anxious.

Mindful breathing: This is the ability to pay attention to the breath while doing any task and to breathe calmly and deeply at all times.

Distraction: This is the ability to take ourselves away from a situation that is causing us anxiety, to think about something else or to focus on our emotions.

Body Scan: This is the ability to focus on the body and notice what one feels at the moment and what the muscles and the rest of the body are doing. A body scan helps to keep the mind calm and relaxed.

Self-massage: This is the ability to give ourselves a massage and to move our body in order to release tension and stress.

Exposure and response prevention: This is the ability to expose ourselves to situations that make us anxious and to practice not reacting to those situations. This helps to help us to reduce anxiety and to develop better-coping strategies.

Mental contrasting: This is the ability to compare what we are feeling now with the thoughts and memories that we have of how we felt before the situation that caused us anxiety.

Self-talk: This is the ability to talk to yourself and to let go of negative thoughts, and replace them with positive thoughts.

Worry time: This is the ability to set aside a specific time to worry about a particular situation and the emotions and thoughts related to that situation. If you are eager to stop anxiety thoughts efficiently or you are trying to get rid of anxiety at night, this is the best strategy to learn.

Problem-solving strategies: These are the specific methods that are helpful in coping with the situation. They can be anything from asking for help, to accepting the situation and doing nothing, to distracting ourselves and changing the situation.

How to calm a panic attack fast

Panic attacks are different from anxiety. As such the best strategies will also differ.

The fastest way to calm a panic attack is to use the one nostril slow breathing technique. You simply breathe through your left nostril, holding the breath in your right nostril, and then breathe slowly. The slow inhale and exhale help relax the lungs and the nervous system.

Repeat the process for 2 minutes. 

When you first attempt this technique, you may feel a little dizzy. Don’t worry; the feeling passes quickly and gives way to the sensation of calm. You can repeat the exercise until your anxiety level decreases.

What does it mean to remain in the moment? (And why this is important for overcoming anxiety problems)

Anxiety causes us to live most of our lives in the future. When we’re anxious, we’re thinking about what’s coming next, what’s going to happen, what we’re going to say, what we’re going to do, or what’s going to be said or done to us. In this case, all of these thoughts keep us from fully experiencing the present moment. We’re always anticipating what’s going to happen.

In contrast, remaining in the moment means being aware of what’s happening. When we’re able to do this, we can notice and appreciate the things happening right now and be mindful of the people and activities around us. Remaining in the moment helps us calm down, feel better about ourselves, and helps us live more purposefully. 

The good news is, mindfulness can be learned. By learning to be mindful of the present moment, we can stay centred when faced with anxiety.

Foods that reduce anxiety fast

Some foods can help us deal with stress and anxiety and, in turn, boost our energy levels and focus, helping us to feel better. 

However, the best outcomes can be achieved if you compound the eating of these foods over some time. The benefits come after a few hours and a few days. So it’s best to have a routine of how you approach eating these foods.

The best foods to reduce anxiety naturally need to be high in...

 1) Magnesium: Which is a natural tranquillizer. This is because magnesium can decrease the release of dopamine, which is associated with stress.

2) Vitamin D: Which is associated with improving the levels of serotonin in the brain. This neurotransmitter has been shown to increase mood, and also decrease anxiety.

3) Omega-3 Fats: These include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA have been associated with reduced blood cortisol levels (a marker of stress), and are effective at reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

4) Potassium: This is associated with decreasing the amount of anxiety and stress hormones (cortisol, norepinephrine, and epinephrine), and also the heart rate. In addition, it can help to maintain a healthy digestive system and can assist in balancing the sodium/potassium ratio.

5) Flaxseed: These have been associated with reducing anxiety and decreasing the amount of cortisol in the body.
6) Herbs: These include lavender, chamomile, valerian, passionflower, and lemon balm. All of these herbs are known to improve mood and are used in teas to promote relaxation.

7) Protein: Protein is a great way to stay focused and on task. A study showed that people who ate eggs for breakfast felt calmer and performed better in tests. This is because protein helps the brain function properly.

8) Choline: The levels of this neurotransmitter are reduced when people are anxious, and increasing them can help to reduce anxiety. Choline can be found in eggs, beef and poultry.

9) L-theanine: This is a calming amino acid found in green and black tea.

10) Calcium: This is linked to a feeling of calmness. Research has shown that people with low levels of calcium are more likely to be anxious.

11) Citrus: Citrus fruits such as lemons and limes are associated with increased feelings of calm.

12) B-vitamins: These are linked to a reduction in anxiety and stress.

13) Zinc: This is associated with a decrease in anxiety, and is also linked to a decrease in cortisol levels.

14) Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10): This is involved with cellular energy production and is linked to feeling relaxed and calm.

15) Chlorophyll: This is associated with an increase in serotonin levels, which has been shown to decrease anxiety.

16) Flaxseed: This contains lignans, which have been shown to decrease anxiety, and increase serotonin levels.

17) Potassium: This is associated with a decrease in anxiety, and can also help to balance the sodium/potassium ratio.

The best anxiety self-help books, worksheets and PDFs

The world wide web has been a blessing.

You’ll find that there’s an abundance of information, and most of it is really good information. There are websites dedicated to the science and psychology behind anxiety and anxiety disorders, there are countless books written by professionals and amateurs alike, and there are even tools and apps designed to help people manage their anxiety.

The problem with all of this information, however, is that you can spend days scrolling through websites or downloading PDFs trying to find the resources that can actually help you.

Luckily, we’ve done the legwork for you and curated a list of the best anxiety self-help books, worksheets and PDFs that you can download and use to help you through your recovery.

For the best self-help anxiety worksheets and PDFs look no further than the center for clinical interventions. Here are the links...

Self-help worksheets for Anxiety and panic attacks

anxiety self-help pdf

Panic attack self-help pdfs

Health anxiety self-help pdf

Therapist approved anxiety self-help books

Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think

How to Stop Overthinking: The 7-Step Plan to Control and Eliminate Negative Thoughts

Help with Anxiety: 150 Easy to Read Tips to Cope with and Overcome Anxiety, Worry & Panic

Help with Anxiety: 150 Easy to Read Tips to Cope with and Overcome Anxiety, Worry & Panic

The top 10 therapy approaches for anxiety

No 1: Cognitive behavioural therapy

CBT has been found to be the most effective treatment approach for anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders.

The theory behind CBT is that negative thoughts and beliefs drive anxiety and depression. CBT teaches people to identify and challenge negative thoughts so that they no longer control how they feel. CBT also works with the individual’s environment and surroundings to encourage positive thinking and behaviours.

It is believed that CBT has an effect on reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Research has shown that CBT can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety in adults and young children.

No 2: Mindfulness-based CBT

Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of the present moment, without judgement. It helps individuals cope better with the challenges they face and increase their resilience. Mindfulness is taught as a formal practice.

A typical mindfulness exercise involves an individual sitting quietly for a period of time. The individual can be guided by an instructor or use a self-guided program.

No 3: Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT)

IPT is an effective treatment for a range of anxiety, mood, and somatic disorders. IPT focuses on the interaction between the patient and their environment. IPT encourages the individual to focus on their current situation, identify problems, and develop plans to improve and maintain wellbeing.

No 4: Family-based treatment

Family-based treatment (FBT) is a supportive, cognitive-behavioural therapy that takes place within the family. It is based on the idea that the child will receive the benefits of the parent’s attention and support while also learning the skills needed to deal with their fears.

The goal of FBT is to decrease the child’s distress and prevent it from worsening. The parent is trained to help the child learn how to express his or her feelings and thoughts more clearly. This way, the child learns to recognise and understand his or her emotional reactions and learn how to regulate them.

No 5: Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

ACT is a type of CBT that seeks to change how people react to situations. Instead of identifying thoughts and changing those, ACT focuses on accepting and tolerating thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. The aim is to let go of the need to change things in order to be happy.

No 6: Virtual reality exposure

Virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) uses virtual reality to simulate what happens when someone is exposed to anxiety-provoking stimuli. In this case, the person is put in an environment that simulates the anxious situation, such as a public speaking event or a public transit ride. The individual is able to experience the feared situation in a safe and controlled environment, where he or she can see the outcome in advance. This technique is useful for overcoming social phobia.

No 7: Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT)

DBT is a form of CBT that seeks to change how people react to stressors. It involves a variety of psychological techniques that are used to help the individual identify and manage their emotions and stress.

The goal of DBT is to help individuals cope with stress and prevent mental health problems. The primary tool used is mindfulness meditation. The therapist helps the individual to increase awareness of his or her own behaviour and emotions.

No 8: Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)

EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) is a form of psychotherapy that helps individuals manage their emotions. It is based on the premise that negative emotions and emotions related to fear, anxiety and panic are stored in our muscles.

The main idea is that our emotional energy is stored in our muscles. The theory is that when a muscle is contracted, it stores emotional energy. When we can relax a muscle and release the stored emotional energy, the individual will feel less anxious.

No 9: Solution-focused therapy (SFT)

Solution-focused therapy (SFT) aims to identify solutions rather than problems. The theory behind SFT is that the more we focus on problems and how they can be resolved, the more likely we are to achieve a solution. To do this, the therapist guides the individual to break problems down into smaller, more manageable chunks and find ways to address each piece. 

No 10: Psychodynamic psychotherapy

Psychodynamic psychotherapy is used when a patient is unable to express his or her inner world due to a lack of insight into his or her own behaviour. In such cases, psychodynamic psychotherapy can help to uncover the unconscious conflict that is causing the problem.

Chronic anxiety can impact your quality of life... But you can break free from it permanently.

No one wants to be laden with anxiety problems. Anxiety can affect the way you think, feel and behave. It can be caused by events in your life such as changes, crises, disappointments or problems. You may also suffer from anxiety because of previous traumatic experiences. Anxiety can cause a number of other mental health problems and issues.

Throughout this article, you have seen how chronic anxiety can negatively impact your physical health too.
But like you have seen, the good news is that with some simple techniques and coping strategies, you can live a happier, healthier and more productive life.

 

 

Written by Adewale Ademuyiwa
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