Living with anxiety isn’t easy. The excessive worrying, missed sleep, and panic attacks can be overwhelming. Chronic anxiety may leave you feeling isolated and affect your relationships with family, friends and coworkers, exacerbating the problem. And this is to say nothing of the health consequences, which range from a compromised immune system to the development of heart disease. After being officially diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, rather than feeling validated and hopeful, some people feel even worse. Being forced to confront this reality sometimes leads to even more worry, perpetuating a cycle of fear and anxiety. But recovery is possible. The path to overcoming anxiety varies from person to person and is not without obstacles, but know that your options are not limited and that there is hope.
Seeking Therapy for Anxiety
Working with a skilled counselor or therapist is the most common strategy for overcoming anxiety. It is thought that internal fears are the cognitive/emotional root of anxiety, rather than the external situations or events that we believe cause us to experience anxiety. Thus, the main goal of therapy for anxiety treatment is to identify your fears and face them. There are two primary therapeutic methods for treating anxiety: cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is the most common type of therapy used to address anxiety. It has been shown to help in the treatment of panic attacks, phobias, social anxiety disorders, and generalized anxiety disorder. The cognitive aspect of CBT focuses on identifying the negative thoughts that trigger anxiety, while the behavioral aspect focuses on how you react to these negative thoughts as well as how you react to situations that cause you to feel anxious.
Exposure therapy, also called desensitization therapy, forces you to stop avoiding situations that bring on anxiety. First you are exposed to situations that present a minor threat, and gradually you are exposed — in a controlled manner — to increasingly anxiety-provoking situations. During exposure therapy, you are given techniques to deal with your anxiety and help build confidence.
Lifestyle Changes for Overcoming Anxiety
There are 168 hours in a week – so even if you’re making great progress in therapy, you’ll still need to figure out a strategy for managing anxiety during the 167 hours each week that you’re not working with a professional. While some of what we we outline may seem cliché, each suggestion is a powerful tool for overcoming anxiety – especially if you implement several or all of them.
We recommend that you honestly asses this area of your life first. If you are not eating a mostly healthy diet, you are doing yourself a huge disservice. Many people become defensive at the suggestion that they should change their diets, but make no mistake – it is virtually impossible to fight any health issue, mental or physical, without proper nutrition. And aside from the overall importance of a healthy diet, it is well-known that certain nutritional deficiencies – as well as certain types of foods – can cause anxiety and anxiety-like symptoms. Check out our complete guide to treating anxiety with diet to learn more.
Physical activity increases self-confidence and releases natural feel-good chemicals called endorphins, contributing to improved mood. Numerous studies have confirmed the anti-depressant properties of exercise. You don’t need to become a gym rat to realize the benefits of exercise though – even 30 minutes of mild or moderate exercise three times per week can make a huge impact.
Yoga carries all the benefits of exercise, but there is a meditative element to the practice as well. It calms the mind and helps alleviate tension and stress. The bridge that yoga creates between the mind and body is one of its most powerful benefits. Yoga forces you to concentrate on the movement of your body and to connect that movement to your breath. It relaxes and stretches your muscles, releasing tension that has inevitably built up from long-term anxiety. It is no coincidence that so many who try yoga get hooked – “coming to your mat” becomes a retreat from the pressure and stresses of daily life.
Meditation and breathing exercises
Meditation and breathing exercises are an excellent aid in overcoming anxiety. These exercises quiet the mind and induce a state of deep relaxation. They also offer a valuable technique for calming intense anxiety or panic. The more you practice, the easier you are able to bring yourself into a relaxed state. Meditation also helps lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is responsible for the body’s “fight or flight” response.
As difficult as it may be to accept, this one is non-negotiable. You need seven to eight hours of sleep every night to function optimally and combat stress, disease and illness. Research has shown the connection between sleep deprivation and increased anxiety levels, and you can probably confirm this with your own experience as well – just think about how you cope with a stressful day at work on four hours of sleep versus eight. We rank adequate sleep right alongside diet as one of the MOST important factors in overcoming anxiety.
Pursuing hobbies and interests
When you suffer from anxiety, it can be a challenge just to get through the daily grind. With all the stress of managing relationships, caring for family, and earning a living, it may seem that there’s never a free moment to focus on yourself. But cultivating your own interests and hobbies is extremely important. Even if you can only find an hour a week, use that hour to catch up on your reading, to get creative, to ride your bicycle, to test a new recipe – whatever makes you happy!
Building a support network
Anxiety can be inherently isolating, and sometimes it’s tempting to retreat for fear of burdening loved ones or feeling even more overwhelmed. But it’s important to maintain a network of friends and family you can turn to in times of stress and hardship.
Try to find at least one or two individuals who you trust enough to open up to, who are willing to listen and help you without judgment. Having a shoulder to cry on, or even just someone to share a laugh with or help take your mind off your troubles for a moment, can be invaluable.
Medication or supplements
We don’t advocate quick fixes, but sometimes supplements or medications are necessary for treating chemical or nutritional imbalances in the body. Anxiety medications are commonly prescribed, but we believe that natural supplements for anxiety are often a more effective solution in the long run. Natural and herbal anxiety supplements can address specific nutritional deficiencies and offer extra support to calm the mind and improve mood. These supplements are safe, do not carry the same dangerous side effects as prescription medication, and can be used long-term without the risk of addiction.
Taking Your Life Back
Overcoming anxiety doesn’t happen overnight – you have to commit to a treatment plan and accept that you will have setbacks. Most importantly, overcoming anxiety means you have to make yourself a priority in own your life. Taking care of your body is crucial, but staying connected to your inner self shouldn’t be overlooked. Building your sense of identity will help to improve your confidence and self-worth, aiding in a recovery-oriented mindset. Following the steps to overcoming anxiety that we’ve outlined can change the way you perceive and react to situations so that when setbacks do occur, you’ll be confident in your ability to cope and move past them.