40 million adults in the United States (U.S.) are affected by anxiety disorders (1). I will focus on the most prevalent anxiety disorder in the U.S.: Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I will outline some of the most effective methods I’ve personally used when dealing with anxiety.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a common anxiety disorder that is characterized by significant worrying, tension, and nervousness (2). We will refer to this disorder as “anxiety” for the remainder of this article.
*If your condition is persistent, severe, or ongoing, I highly encourage you to seek professional medical help. This article is not meant to serve as a substitute to proper medical treatment.
CURRENT MEDICAL TREATMENTS
I’m going to briefly touch on the most common medical treatments used for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. However, the majority of this article is meant to act as a guide for powerful lifestyle changes to combat anxiety.
COMMON MEDICATIONS USED IN THE TREATMENT OF ANXIETY:
- Benzodiazepines: Diazepam (Valium), Alprazolam (Xanax), Clonazepam (Klonopin), Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): Citalopram (Celexa), Escitalopram (Lexapro), Fluoxetine (Prozac), Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva), Sertraline (Zoloft)
There are some significant downsides to using these medications in the treatment of Anxiety. Benzodiazepines are habit forming. I’ve seen the effects of addictions to these medications in the long-term. It’s not pretty. The addiction is difficult to break. I’d encourage you to seek other options if possible. (Note, I am not a doctor and this should be discussed further with your healthcare provider.) However, there are cases of extreme trauma or life circumstances that warrant these medications. You’ll have to talk to your healthcare provider about this.
The evidence for the effectiveness of SSRIs in the management of anxiety is mixed. These drugs also come with a host of side effects and rarely address the underlying cause of your anxiety.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of thought restructuring supervised by a mental health professional. CBT is a highly effective method to treat anxiety (10). The results are often maintained in the long run as well.
DEALING WITH ANXIETY: LIFESTYLE MANAGEMENT OF ANXIETY
The good news is there are a lot of things you can do to manage anxiety in your daily life. In my case, I’ve assembled a list of lifestyle changes that have worked well for me. Here are my methods how I manage my own anxiety:
- Vigorous exercise – if you are physically able, moderately intense exercise has been shown to significantly decrease anxiety (3) This includes activities that elevate your heart rate to approximately 80% of your target heart rate maximum. You can calculate the suggested target heart rate for your age here. 30 minutes of sustained target heart rate or 15-20 minutes of high intensity interval training will often suffice.
- Yoga – While peer-reviewed evidence is limited (4), the use of yoga in your daily routine may help abate the symptoms of anxiety. The combination of conscious breathing with purposeful movement has a calming effect on the central nervous system.
- Mindfulness Meditation – A recent meta-analytic review (5) concluded that Mindfulness-based therapies may be an effective means to reduce anxiety. This practice has been one of the most helpful tools in my anti-anxiety toolbox. Mindfulness meditation is not about “clearing the mind.” It is a practice where we observe our thoughts through the mind’s eye. We watch. We listen. We acknowledge without judgment. By doing this, the tension of unsolved problems become less burdensome on our psyche.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) –The process involves a series of purposely tightening and relaxing muscles throughout your body. You typically start at your toes and systematically work your way up to your head. Most research of PMR has been performed on patients with cancer. In the research, PMR has produced favorable results for those dealing with anxiety (6). A free MP3 guided recording of PMR can be found here.
- Regular Sleep Patterns – If you are coping with anxiety, regular sleep patterns are a must. Sleep is a time to repair and rejuvenate the brain and body for the coming day. Without sleep, you will have difficulty focusing, feel wired, and / or anxious. Make a strong commitment to the times you go to bed and rise for the day. Sleep in a dark, cool room (68-70 degrees F), with as little noise as possible. These are optimal sleeping conditions.
- Address Gut Pathology – There is a significant amount of research (7) in the works examining the relationship between mood disorders and gut health. When I began working on my microbiome (gut environment) on a regular basis, there was a noticeable improvement in my mood. This likely is related to the gut-brain axis. Simply put, the gut-brain axis is a strong biologically-wired relationship between our mind and gut environment (8). If you have difficulty with your gut, it may be worth exploring further. An in-depth guide on how to restore gut-health can be found here.
- Acupuncture – Evidence is mounting that supports Acupuncture in the treatment of anxiety (9). While I don’t fully understand the mechanism behind this, I can personally attest how much acupuncture has helped me in the past while dealing with anxiety. While some may be averse to the idea of the needles, most clients report that acupuncture is almost entirely painless. This is my experience as well.
- Essentialism – Do you feel busy but not productive? Is your time often hijacked by other people’s agendas? Do you feel simultaneously overworked yet underutilized? If this is making it difficult to manage life while dealing with anxiety, I highly encourage you to check out the book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Greg McKeown outlines an “essentialist” lifestyle that helps you cut out all the extra garbage in your life. Instead you can focus on what really matters to you. This book opened my eyes to how many non-essential tasks I was undertaking, thereby increasing my anxiety.
- Toxic Relationships – If you are around individuals that suck the marrow out of your life, it might be worth reconsidering the value of such a relationship. This is certainly difficult. It may seem the relationship is worth more than it really is. This is because of how much time you may have invested already. Always continue to assess and re-assess the direction of such relationships.
These are but a few possible options that may help you cope with Anxiety. I’ve found these changes in my life to make the biggest impact dealing with anxiety in my own life. If you found this helpful, subscribe to our mailing list (above) to receive notifications on our upcoming online course to thrive despite anxiety.
Question for the comments section: How do you deal with anxiety?