Question: I have been experiencing what my wife believes to be anxiety when commuting in heavy traffic to Boston. This problem seemed to come up suddenly. Do you have any suggestions about handling this kind of stress?
Answer: Many of us struggle with occasional feelings of anxiety. But people with anxiety disorders experience frequent, excessive anxiety, including fear, terror, and panic in what for many of us are routine situations, according to the Mayo Clinic. These can damage their quality of life and even prevent them from holding a job, going to school, or pursuing once-enjoyable activities. Anxiety has become widely prevalent in our society, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost one-third of adults will experience a diagnosable anxiety disorder over the span of their lives, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Symptoms of anxiety disorders include:
Feeling nervous or helpless
A sense of panic, danger, or doom
Rapid heart rate
Thinking obsessively about things that trigger these symptoms.
Usually, such feelings of anxiety are out of proportion to any actual danger. They can cause people with anxiety disorders to avoid places or situations. You should consult your healthcare provider if your anxiety is impacting your life and relationships. Your provider can assess your health and rule out any physical issues as a cause of your anxiety before suggesting you visit a mental health professional. Many people with anxiety disorders need medications or psychotherapy to control the condition. Others find lifestyle changes and coping strategies can provide relief.
Here are some tips for dealing with an anxiety disorder:
Stay physically active
Develop a routine that keeps you physically active several days each week. Exercise busts stress, boosts your mood, and helps you stay healthy.
Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs
These substances can cause anxiety or make it worse. If you believe you should quit or reduce your intake of alcohol or recreational drugs but can’t, reach out to your healthcare provider or find a support group.
Stop smoking and drinking caffeinated beverages
These can worsen anxiety.
Practice stress management and relaxation techniques
Visualization, meditation, and yoga have been found to ease anxiety.
Get enough sleep
Do whatever you can to make sure you’re getting enough sleep to feel rested. If you aren’t sleeping well, tell your healthcare provider.
Try sticking to a diet that features plenty of vegetables, fruits, fish, and whole grains. This diet may be linked to decreased anxiety.
Learn about your feelings
Discuss your feelings with your healthcare provider to find out what might be causing them and what treatments might work best for you. Ask your family and friends for support.
Follow a treatment plan
Take your medications as directed. Attend all your therapy appointments and complete any assignments your therapist gives. Being consistent improves outcomes, especially regarding medications.
Learn what actions or situations cause your anxiety. Use any strategies you’ve developed with your mental health provider so you can deal with your feelings once these situations arise.
Keep a journal
Writing about your personal life can help you and your mental health provider pinpoint the cause of your stress and design remedies to help you feel better.
Don’t go it alone. Don’t let anxiety isolate you from family, friends, and activities.
If your worries don’t ease on their own, they may worsen over time if you don’t seek help. See your healthcare or a mental health provider before your anxiety increases. In addition, you may contact the Massachusetts Behavioral Health Help Line, which connects you directly to clinical help, when and where you need it. It’s free, available 24/7, and has real-time interpretation in over 200 languages. Visit https://masshelpline.com or call/text 833-773-2445. I wish you the best of luck.