Anxiety disorder symptoms are emotional and physical. Depending on the type of disorder, the physical symptoms may vary, but all types involve feelings of extreme fear.
Symptoms emerge when the body’s sympathetic nervous system “acts as a gas pedal, speeding up the body’s reaction to anxiety,” Hill said. “Basically the ‘fight or flight’ system causes all the … symptoms of anxiety.”
Doctors diagnosed Rachel Brummert with GAD, PD and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“With the generalized anxiety, it’s a constant state of dread, like something bad is about to happen, only I don’t know what it is,” said Brummert. “It’s a perpetual state of worrying and a heightened sense that danger is around the corner or hypervigilance. When I have a panic attack, I get shortness of breath and chest pains, as if I’m having a heart attack. A sudden, intense and paralyzing fear comes over me and I’ll also shake uncontrollably.”
Dealing with Anxiety Naturally
In addition to medications and therapy, there are several natural ways to help reduce anxiety and create a feeling of calm. These techniques may work for people who don’t want to use medications, can’t use them or are looking for coping mechanisms to add to their medication and therapy plan.
People who want to try to control their anxiety naturally shouldn’t stop taking medications without consulting their health provider first. In some cases, stopping a medication suddenly may cause serious side effects.
Exercise and Yoga
Studies have shown regular exercise can work as well as medication to control anxiety in some people, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. In fact, even a 10-minute walk can make a difference.
Exercise helps alleviate stress and calm the mind by stimulating chemicals in the brain called endorphins. Endorphins create a feeling of calm and a positive mood, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to be beneficial. Even gentle yoga focused on meditation can help.
“The very nature of acupuncture is calming,” said licensed acupuncture physician Samadhi Artemisa. “There are specific points on the body for calming the nervous system. We call it the Shen in Chinese medicine.”
Studies involving over 400 patients found that acupuncture often improved symptoms of anxiety compared to conventional treatments, according to Evidence Based Acupuncture.
Research shows that acupuncture releases endorphins and calms the release of neurochemicals implicated in the brain’s response to stress.
If you seek treatment, be sure to find a licensed, certified acupuncture physician or practitioner who has experience working with anxiety symptoms.
Deep Breathing and Meditation
Breathing and meditation techniques can manage anxiety and panic attacks when practiced regularly.
“Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness,” according to The American Institute of Stress.
Breathing goes hand-in-hand with meditation. About 30 minutes of meditation each day may improve anxiety and depression, according to a review of studies by researchers at Johns Hopkins.
Tips for Management and Prevention
There are a few things people can do when faced with anxiety. These tips involve the body, the mind and the idea of reaching out for help.
1) Accept Things Out of Your Control
Accept that there are things you cannot control. Focusing on the present instead of the unknown future is key to managing and preventing anxiety, said O’Mara.
“Anxious thoughts are all about what’s going to happen next,” she said. “If I am in this moment right now, I can’t be anywhere else.”
2) Learn Your Triggers
Being aware of what triggers anxiety can help you develop coping mechanisms and prevent symptoms.
“I try to recognize the signs early because if I catch it early enough, I can calm it down before it gets away from me. If I don’t catch it early, it’ll spiral and I won’t be able to get myself grounded again for quite a while,” said Brummert.
3) Limit Caffeine and Alcohol
Caffeine, alcohol and other substances like energy drinks or sugary beverages can stimulate the nervous system and increase anxiety and panic attacks.
4) Eat Regularly
Skipping meals can lead to low blood sugar, said Artemisa. Low blood sugar can trigger anxiety because the body produces more cortisol in response to the stress.
She doesn’t recommend fasting or diets that require a very low calorie count for people prone to anxiety.
5) Get Enough Sleep
Adequate sleep helps the body deal with stress. Get at least 8 hours of sleep each night. According to the National Sleep Foundation, lack of sleep can lead to anxiety disorders.
6) Move More
Exercise releases endorphins and helps regulate mood. Just 10 minutes of walking a day can help manage and prevent anxiety symptoms.
Getting enough exercise can also improve sleep and the body’s response to stress.
7) Get Involved in Your Community
Find a way to volunteer or be active in your community.
Science shows that helping others may influence levels of oxytocin in the brains of volunteers, according to a study in Hormones and Behavior by Michael J. Poulin and E. Alison Holman. Oxytocin helps the body manage stress.
Helping others also allows people to focus on something other than their anxiety.
8) Seek Out Support Groups
“Support groups can be great …. When we have a community around us, that is safety and security,” said O’Mara.
These support groups can be found online or in person.
9) Talk to Someone
Don’t be afraid to talk to friends, family, a health provider or a licensed therapist. Since anxiety stems from fearful thoughts, suffering in silence can make anxiety worse.
Getting help can empower people and make them feel less helpless. Taking action and having a plan can give people control over their symptoms.
10) Take a Moment to Slow Down
Take moments throughout the day to relax and center yourself. Deep breathing or taking part in an activity you enjoy can help break the anxiety cycle.
“What would be great is if we practice the deep breathing, the relaxation technique throughout the day,” said O’Mara. “Set an alarm for morning, noon and night for five minutes.”
Take a walk, listen to music, get a massage or practice yoga on your lunch break. Taking mini breaks will help take your mind out of stressful moments and make you more productive, too.