Phobia. Panic. Worry. Though different in grammatical makeup, each of these words describe a similar feeling of dread or uneasiness, and are oftentimes symptoms of a larger disorder — anxiety.
Anxiety affects more than 40 million individuals across the United States, making it the most common mental disorder in our country. While only a third of sufferers are likely to seek treatment, there are a host of prescription options available including such popular items as Prozac (Fluoxetine), Zoloft (Sertraline), and Paxil (Peroxetine). These Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), work to block re-absorption of the neurotransmitter serotonin, ultimately changing the balance within the brain.
Touted as the general go-to, anti-anxiety drugs are considered safe when taken correctly. However, they aren’t without their flaws, and often deliver a host of uncomfortable side effects. One such individual, John Hunter*, says that his experience with SSRIs left him feeling sleepy a majority of the time. A common reaction, frequent side effects also include nausea, dizziness, and an increased sense of nervousness or irritability. It may take as long as six weeks to experience any type of positive result and many users will require changes in either dosage or the drug itself before desired outcomes are achieved.
Luckily, those who find themselves in such a situation, or who are simply looking for more natural alternatives to prescription medicine, have a host of options available to them. From upping physical activity levels to learning uniquely designed coping mechanisms, relief from anxiety may be easier than one might think.
1. Physical Activity
In conjunction with living an overall healthy lifestyle (including getting adequate sleep and proper nutrition) exercise is crucial for dealing with mental health issues. Studies even suggest that it is just as effective as antidepressants in treating major depressive disorder, a condition commonly associated with anxiety disorders.
One explanation may be due to the increased production of endorphins (feel-good hormone secreted in the brain during physical activity), while other positive effects include decreased feelings of tension and improvement of mood. Though these changes can be noted in as little as 10-15 minutes of exercise a day, experts suggest aiming for at least 30 minutes a day for 3-5 days a week.
2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
An excellent choice for those seeking relief from anxiety or depression, CBT is a form of counseling where the goal is to change the way individual feels by changing the way they think. Spearheaded in the 1960’s by American psychiatrist, Dr. Aaron T. Beck, it has since become a popular choice that involves little to no risk to the patient.
Typically, therapists will help the patient identify negative thoughts that arise about themselves, their world, or the future, and help them change such false notions into more realistic dialogues. This, in effect, allows the individual to re-frame their thinking, and their lives, in a more positive way.
Frequently therapists will also assign ‘homework,’ allowing the patient to practice the skills and techniques they have learned, allowing them to better cope with challenges that may arise.
*To locate a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist in your area, and to learn more about the uses of CBT, visit the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.
3. Intentional Breathing
In the early throes of an anxiety attack, our minds focus on little else besides what is whirling around inside of them. One way to combat this is by giving ourselves something else to concentrate on; something we generally do automatically and with very little thought.
By breathing with intention (consciously using the breath as not only a focus point, but a way in which to physically and mentally ‘slow down’), we can oftentimes stop a panic attack in its tracks. Indeed, deep breathing techniques have been shown to not only lessen stress, but stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system; leading to an overall greater feeling of relaxation.
One technique promoted by Dr. Mehmet Oz, involves blowing up a balloon. This method requires you to take deep breaths from your diaphragm, ultimately lowering your blood pressure, slowing your heart rate, and producing an overall feeling of calm.
Another activity capable of producing similar effects is the centuries old practice of yoga. Found to increase gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) — a neurotransmitter which promotes feelings of relaxation — and well-being when at healthy levels, yoga can both lessen anxiety and improve one’s mood. Sarah Williams,* who has made yoga a part of her daily life, says that she has found an incredible amount of peace through the practice.
4. Support System
Perhaps some of the greatest relief for anxiety prone individuals can be found through a loving support system comprised of trusted individuals. These groups promote feelings of normalcy and encouragement, while simultaneously offering a shoulder to cry on. Whether comprised of close friends and family members, anonymous peers, or an online community (especially helpful for those struggling with social anxiety), having the support of people who understand and can offer reassurance is priceless.
One such group, Anxiety Social Net, is recommended by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) and offers such helps as live chat sessions, support groups, and a unique ‘Diary’ feature which allows members to document their moods, feelings, and achievements. Members can also go through Anxiety Social Net to find therapists, treatment options, and other valuable resources. Visit their site or find them on Facebook
Daily Strength is another popular online forum. Boasting over 30,000 followers on Facebook alone, this organization offers 500+ online support groups including areas specific to anxiety. Users can take part in discussion boards, read health-related blogs, and ask questions of certified experts.
For those who find themselves struggling with panic attacks, incessant worry or anxiety, there are a variety of options available- many that don’t even require a prescription.
By working to create a more positive view of oneself and the world, communicating frequently with a trusted support system, or taking part in physical activities designed to calm the mind and relax the body, freedom from anxiety may finally be achieved.
If you or a loved one is having suicidal thoughts or tendencies, please contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
*Names have been changed.