Once you have recognized that anxiety is occurring more often then you’d like, you can make changes to decrease the frequency and intensity of the anxiety. The first step is to analyze your lifestyle and try to make changes
CAFFEINE: This is a staple of the American life and one of the few accepted addictions, and it can cause anxiety. How much caffeine are you ingesting? You might not have to give it up but may only have to change to a medium regular coffee vs. a double shot macchiato. Stop any coffee after 3:00pm if you need to improve your sleep cycle. Also beware of any “health” or “diet “ additives that may contain caffeine
SLEEP CYCLE: It is not a surprising that being tired increases susceptibility to anger, depression and anxiety. Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time as often as you can. Try not to sleep during the day unless it is a 20 minute “power nap“around midday. Try not to engage in social media or television that is provoking or scary at bedtime. If you like to read, watch TV, or go on social media at bed time, look for something that is funny, relaxing or inspirational
SOCIAL MEDIA: Social media is a huge contributor to anxiety, especially social anxiety. Not only does it keep us up when we need to sleep, but it also fuels our insecurities by setting up unrealistic expectations we feel we need to meet. On social media EVERYONE is good looking, hanging out with friends, traveling, going to great restaurants, skiing, swimming etc. “EVERYBODY” is doing this “ALL THE TIME” except us. Social media gives us the sense everyone else is managing their life really well except for us. We develop irrational thoughts about our selves and others which can lead to anxiety and depression. It can also lead to avoiding actual contact with real people who are necessary to prevent isolation and depression. Social media can also be very helpful. It helps us connect with others over a common interest which prevents the isolation and can also help us deal with stressful situations (like joining an online Anxiety Support group). I am not saying cut it out completely, just focus on the helpful parts.
EXERCISE: Add this to your life if is not already there. Cardio (running, walking, biking, and swimming) allows you to process worry and anxiety and anger in a healthy manner. Instead of the thoughts just going around and around in your head, the thoughts are being processed and solutions can be found. Running is especially helpful because the chemicals released during running are the same ones used in antidepressant medications. (This is a good place to put the disclaimer in that no one should start strenuous exercise without talking to their doctor) Yoga, Pilates and similar exercises are at the other end of cardio. These exercises are meant to help you control your body and breathing. Getting control of your body and breathing helps you to relax your mind. Your mind becomes calm, able to think rationally.
SUBSTANCE USE; Social use of alcohol and marijuana is a big part of interacting with others. Anxious people often use both to decrease their anxiety and smooth social interactions. This is normal and natural, however over use and dependence on substances leads to increased anxiety. EVEN POT? Yes even pot. Your anxiety off pot will be higher then it was before you started using it. The more pot you smoke, the more difficult it becomes for anxious people to go without it. Some people become anxious to the point of paranoia while smoking pot.
Binge drinking or using a lot of recreational drugs (including prescription medications not prescribed to you) over the weekend will make you susceptible to panic attacks when you are sober and in general make you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression and agitation. Do your mind and body a favor and use substances socially in moderation.
If you have implemented these changes and are still experiencing anxiety, now is the time to seek help. If you talk to your Primary Care Physician first s/he may just prescribe medication. You really need to seek a therapist first. Medication is only part of the solution and if used alone will not lead to your learning the root cause of the anxiety and how to manage it on your own.
Stay tuned for my next article “How to find appropriate treatment for anxiety”