Worry, concern, and nervousness are common human emotions at any age. They’re designed to keep us alert and prepared for unfamiliar situations and uncertainty. But when thoughts of danger persist – especially if they’re not real or accurate – they can negatively interfere with our jobs, families, and personal lives.
“We all get anxious on occasion, but if excessive worry continues, it can become a mental health issue known as an anxiety disorder,” says Adam Silberman, MD, a psychiatrist with Atlantic Health System. “Trauma, stress, drugs and alcohol, extreme shyness, even a family history of anxiety can all contribute to social anxieties, panic attacks or phobias. Fortunately, many people can sidestep troubling thought patterns with a few coping strategies.”
Common Symptoms of Anxiety
If you have ever felt tension somewhere in your body, a flutter in your belly, or feelings of dread, it could be your body signalling danger. This is our fight-flight-freeze response for survival instincts. But when this heightened sense of fear becomes constant, it can affect our mental health in the form of general or social anxiety, panic attacks or phobias. Here are a few warning signs:
- Pounding or racing heart
- Trembling or tingling
- Chest pain
- Feelings of impending doom
- Feelings of being out of control
Five Coping Strategies to Manage Anxiety
- Talk with your doctor to confirm that there is not a medical condition contributing to the sensations of anxiety-inducing thought patterns.
- Check your routines. If you’re not sleeping well, eating healthy meals, and staying connected to friends and family, this is a good time to get back to those basics.
- Take an inventory of changes, losses, and difficulties you might be facing. If you are going through a tough time, self-validation can help you begin to make small changes.
- Learn how you experience anxiety so you can take charge of it. Where do you feel it in your body? What situations seem to bring up those sensations? What do you tell yourself when you feel it?
- Try some stress busters such as slow, conscious breathing, healthy distractions to redirect your mind and body, or writing down your worries to get the thoughts out of your head and onto paper.
“It’s human nature to move away from things that are uncomfortable -- and anxiety is uncomfortable. But the more we avoid it, the bigger a problem can become,” says Dr. Silberman, who says that working with a psychologist can provide additional ways to manage negative thoughts.
Two common forms of psychotherapy include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy helps change your thinking patterns and teaches you to recognize when your thoughts are distorted. When you revaluate your thoughts in the context of reality, you’ll likely gain a better understanding of the behaviour and motivation of others.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy helps you stay focused on the present moment and accept thoughts and feelings without judgment. It allows you to move forward through difficult emotions so you can put your energy into healing instead of dwelling on the negative.
“It takes the body 20 to 60 minutes to return to normal after a stress response is activated, so give yourself time to get back into a normal physiological and psychological state,” says Dr. Silberman. “Use soothing self-talk to remind you to stay positive, accept mistakes or anything that can't be changed, and to focus on the people and things that you appreciate in life.”
Additional crisis intervention providers:
- Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: 988
- The Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQIA+ Youth: 1-866-488-7386⠀
- Disaster Distress Helpline: Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
- Veterans Crisis Line: Dial 988 and Press 1
- Dial 211: 211 provides callers with information about and referrals to social services for every day needs and in times of crisis
- SAMHSA Treatment Locator
Be Proactive About Your Health
To stay safe and healthy, it's good to have a primary care provider who knows and understands your health history and wellness goals.