Your question: What should I do if I feel anxious?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. Through this article I would like to explain to you what techniques and strategies you can implement if you feel that anxiety generates intense and frequent discomfort, as well as explain why anxiety is at the same time necessary in daily life.

Anxiety is an emotion as primitive as life itself. Anthropologically, anxiety, like fear, allowed the first human beings on earth to react to external threats, thus allowing the survival of the species.

Anxiety occurs when your brain sends a signal that there is a real or imagined danger that threatens your integrity and therefore demands a reaction on your part, whether it is to flee from the threat, confront it or remain paralyzed.

There are many ways to react to anxiety and therefore many ways to experience it. Anxiety becomes a problem when it impedes daily functioning. It then ceases to be a common, healthy anxiety and becomes an anxiety disorder.

Statistics show that more than 40 million Americans aged 18 and older experience some anxiety disorder. These can only be diagnosed by a mental health professional.

Before we can discuss what strategies may be helpful in coping with anxiety, it is necessary to understand the symptoms of anxiety and the purpose of anxiety in your life. In particular, cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be extremely useful in alleviating people’s anxiety symptoms, as it works on the principle of teaching patients to regulate their emotions and thoughts in order to gradually decrease anxious symptoms (1).

How can you identify anxiety?

Anxiety symptoms have cognitive, emotional, physical and behavioral components. In general, they are symptoms that cause profound discomfort in people and are perceived as undesirable. Some of them are:

You feel:

  • Very worried or afraid most of the time
  • Tense and on edge
  • Nervous or scared
  • Panicky
  • Irritable, agitated
  • Worried you’re going crazy
  • Detached from your body
  • Feeling like you may vomit.

You think:

  • Everything’s going to go wrong’
  • I might die
  • I can’t handle the way I feel
  • I can’t focus on anything but my worries’
  • I don’t want to go out today’
  • I can’t calm myself down’.

You also experience:

  • Sleep problems (can’t get to sleep, wake often)
  • Pounding heart
  • Sweating
  • Pins and needles
  • Tummy aches, churning stomach
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness
  • Twitches, trembling
  • Problems concentrating
  • Excessive thirst.

Why is your anxiety necessary?

Anxiety is a normal experience, which although unpleasant, is harmless. Anxiety is necessary because it helps protect you from external dangers and threats. For example, anxiety sends a warning signal to your body when a potentially aggressive person or situation approaches you, which allows you to prepare yourself to flee from potential harm.

Anxiety becomes a problem when it occurs indiscriminately, that is, in different areas of life even when there is no normal threat. More specifically, anxiety is a problem when it prevents you from enjoying life.

What can you do if you have anxiety?

Tackling anxiety can be complicated, so the strategies you apply should be implemented gradually so that you don’t feel overburdened. At your own time and pace, you will be able to find the right solutions to your anxiety problems. If you feel that your symptoms persist, it is necessary to seek professional help.

Question your thoughts

Thoughts are not facts even though they feel like facts. One of the most overwhelming things about anxiety is the lack of control you have over the dysfunctional thoughts that trigger anxious symptoms. Therefore, you need to stop to observe and question the thoughts you have when you are going through a period of anxiety.

Improve your sleeping and eating habits

Establishing fixed routines for sleeping and eating is beneficial for your physical and mental health and helps decrease feelings of anxiety. In general, your body needs energy, which you get by resting and eating properly. By doing this, your brain is likely to be less agitated and stimulated during the day, so the feeling of anxiety will decrease.

Physical activity

Exercise is useful not only because it allows you to train your body, releasing hormones and neurotransmitters associated with satisfaction and happiness. It also allows you to create social bonds in other spaces and feel more relaxed in general terms.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Technique 

This tenchnique consists of using your senses to dissuade emotional discomfort at a specific moment. It is useful when you are experiencing a lot of physical agitation or you feel that you have a lot of unpleasant thoughts, and find it difficult to control your emotions. Wherever you are, you will focus on identifying 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Whether you are in your room, in a car or a public place, you can sit and practice this exercise in silence, breathing slowly as you do it as many times as you feel necessary to decrease the anxious symptoms.

Emotional recording

This strategy consists of keeping a record of every time you experience sudden anxiety in your daily life. In this diary you will write down the events related to the anxiety sensation, specifying where you were when it occurred, what activity you were doing, and with whom you were surrounded.

At first you may not identify a specific pattern, and you may feel that your anxiety occurs in more than one context. In that case, your anxiety has more than one cause, and is closely related to dysfunctional thoughts that make you feel anxious. It is important that in this diary you rate from 1 to 10 how much anxiety a specific situation generates in you. In this way you will know which aspects of your life generate the most anxiety and therefore will be the main ones to address.

In my experience…

Feeling anxious is completely normal, and you must learn to reconcile yourself with this feeling as it is a natural part of life. But you must also learn to distinguish when your anxiety is out of control and therefore requires attention and strategies to alleviate it.

It is necessary to mention that cognitive behavioral therapy is extremely helpful in addressing anxiety problems, as it works directly with the dysfunctional thoughts that trigger the physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety.

I hope that with these suggestions you can improve. I recognize and applaud you for seeking professional counseling, because it shows that you want to feel better and you are on the right path to change the things that make you feel bad. I believe that you have the capacity to improve, although sometimes our mind makes us believe that you have no solution.

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