People often ask me that as a therapist, what “issues” do I specialize in for counseling. My honest answer is that I don’t really specialize in any one topic but rather work with clients who are facing a variety of life experiences; both past and present. Now with that said, I do happen to see a lot of clients who are trying to manage chronic anxiety.
Like all therapists, I have my own beliefs about what works and what doesn’t work in treating the type of anxiety that doesn’t seem to completely go away when life circumstances change. Just about everyone has experienced brief moments or a season where anxiety was present and when the situations were different, the anxiety faded. There are, however, many folks who must learn to manage anxiety as the go-to response their nervous system chooses on a regular basis. To those people I say, you are not alone. Many of us have anxiety as the thorn in our flesh, so to speak, and we must learn to manage it so it doesn’t manage us. Everyone has a portal that stress shows itself and for some people, it’s anxiety. For other people, it might be anger or depression or isolation or a combination of a few. But put a person under prolonged stress and everyone will have an unwanted coping skill that pops out.
For those of us that have anxiety as our mechanism of letting off too much emotional pressure, I have a few suggestions that I think really help to keep our internal rubber-band from getting too stretched and leading to a snap of anxious feelings.
If you find yourself dealing with anxiety on a regular basis, consider whether you are implementing a few of these ideas:
Exercise, Exercise, Exercise
It is a must for a chronically anxious person. There are all sorts of good physiological changes that take place during and after exercise that aid in decreasing anxiety symptoms. If you are a science nerd (and nerds are awesome, I consider myself one actually) you can do a simple Google search and find a truck load of research that supports this belief. I have to say though, that exercise to reduce anxiety should be done in a simple, fun and engaging manner. If you hate swimming (which I happen to) then please do not go swim to help with your anxiety. It will only make things worse by creating frustrations. But please do find something that you hate less than some other form of exercise and stick with it! We don’t have to become a gym rat in order to gain the benefits of exercise for our anxiety. A thirty minute walk, three times a week, on a treadmill or elliptical or outside could do wonders for lowering anxiety naturally.
Stay Clear Of Rude, Draining, Selfish or Otherwise Negative People
I know this might be easier said than done, especially if said awful person or people are co-workers or family and you don’t feel you can stay clear of them. But when and where you can disconnect from toxic people, please do so. Spending time with individuals that create drama or just have a negative mindset will cause us more anxiety and our nervous systems just don’t need any additional help in this way. Setting boundaries and letting relationships go can be hard but in the long run, you and I will experience a lowering of annoyance chemicals and that’s always a good thing! Now, for those people we wish we could steer clear of but can’t, we need strategies for how we are going to take care of ourselves so that their issues don’t become ours. There are several great books out there to help on the subject and counseling is also very useful for sorting through the options of setting limits and taking care of ourselves.
See Your Doctor and Get A Physical
There are surprisingly many health issues (and not just the big scary ones) that can cause symptoms of anxiety so it’s super important that we are up-to-date with our physicals and have scheduled blood work drawn. Issues related to thyroid, low/high blood sugars, inner ear issues, allergies, dehydration and a bunch of other treatable medical conditions can make our anxiety symptoms worse or even be the cause of them.
Eat, Sleep and Drink Water
To know me is to know I love coffee. To know me even more, is to know I love Dunkin Donuts coffee. Since my own nervous system likes anxiety, I have learned that I can’t OD on coffee or I feel awful. Same goes for sugar. If I really want to make myself feel miserable, having really high sugar desserts like eating a whole donut or piece of cake will surely give me a lingering sick feeling. What we eat is really what we feel. Eat junk, feel like junk. So those who deal with chronic anxiety, need to understand the cause and effect of diet on our nervous system. Sleep is critically important and a lot of people report an increase in anxiety symptoms after they have been burning the candle at both ends and sometimes in the middle! Dehydration is also a cause of symptoms for some folks so start carrying water and keep yourself hydrated; especially with the summer months approaching.
Be Honest With Yourself and Others
I often say that feelings are like Jello, you can push it down but it will squirt out somewhere. We can deny our feelings and ignore them for only so long before they make an appearance and want to be dealt with and this is especially true for those of us who have experienced chronic anxiety. Now, this doesn’t give us license to be overly blunt or rude in the name of lowering OUR stress levels. But it should encourage us to first be honest with ourselves about our thoughts and feelings. Lying to ourselves is a really dangerous habit to form and we often will employ less than stellar coping skills in order to mask and numb our true feelings. Instead, be brave and be honest within your own thoughts. Then find a trusted friend and confidante to share those thoughts with and release the burden of carrying them alone. Many people I see in the office say they like coming to counseling because it provides a very safe place to say anything and not be judged or told thoughts are “wrong”. We all need that level of authenticity in our lives.
There are probably half a dozen additional suggestions of how to overcome chronic anxiety but I just wanted to share a few today. If you are struggling with anxiety, I hope you will implement some new things now and remember, that doing something one day doesn’t bring about change. It must become a lifestyle shift to truly be free from anxiety.
What do you need to do today to lower your anxiety?