Ways to Manage Anxiety:
A Chicago Therapist’s Guide for Promoting Calm

Written by: Angela Derrick, Ph.D. & Susan McClanahan, Ph.D.

Date Posted: January 9, 2024 1:02 am

Ways to Manage Anxiety:
A Chicago Therapist’s Guide for Promoting Calm

Ways to Manage Anxiety: <br>A Chicago Therapist’s Guide for Promoting Calm

Anxiety stands as one of the prevailing mental health challenges, with over 19% of adults in the United States experiencing anxiety disorders on an annual basis.

Anxiety can often feel like an insurmountable obstacle, but there are natural ways to manage its symptoms and promote a calmer state of mind. A Chicago therapist suggests that by tuning into the intricate relationship between our bodies and emotions, we can employ strategies to mitigate anxiety.

These techniques range from lifestyle modifications to mind-body exercises and the establishment of supportive community connections, each contributing to enhanced mental health.

Key Takeaways

  • Implementing strategies can help reduce anxiety and promote a calmer mindset.
  • Consistent self-care routines and lifestyle adjustments are crucial for managing anxiety.
  • Seeking professional therapy provides additional support for those dealing with anxiety.

Understanding Anxiety

Anxiety is a complex and multifaceted emotion that can range from mild, occasional nervousness to debilitating anxiety disorders. Understanding its psychology, recognizing disorders, and identifying symptoms and triggers are critical steps towards management.

The Psychology of Anxiety

Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress, characterized by feelings of fear or apprehension about what’s to come. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) involves persistent and excessive worry that interferes with daily activities. This psychological phenomenon is believed to arise from a combination of genetic factors, environmental stress, and irregularities in brain chemistry related to the fear response.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) impacts approximately 6.8 million adults in the United States, making up 3.1% of the population. However, it’s concerning that only 43.2% of those affected receive treatment, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Women are particularly vulnerable, being twice as likely as men to experience GAD.

Recognizing Anxiety Disorders

Recognizing anxiety disorders is pivotal. While occasional anxiety is a regular life experience, disorders such as panic disorder and social anxiety disorder (SAD) are marked by more intense and frequent feelings of fear and dread. Panic disorder leads to spontaneous, seemingly out-of-the-blue panic attacks and a preoccupation with their occurrence, while SAD involves an intense fear of social situations and being judged or negatively evaluated by others.

Did You Know: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects a significant portion of the U.S. population, with approximately 15 million adults, or 7.1% of the total population, experiencing its effects.

Symptoms and Triggers

Symptoms of anxiety can manifest physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Common symptoms include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Insomnia

Triggers for anxiety disorders vary greatly between individuals, but often include stressful life events, health concerns, or specific fears. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective form of treatment that helps individuals identify and challenge the thought patterns and behaviors contributing to their anxiety.

Did You Know: Panic Disorder (PD) affects approximately 6 million adults in the United States, which accounts for approximately 2.7% of the U.S. population.

Lifestyle Adjustments for Anxiety Management

Certain lifestyle adjustments can markedly reduce anxiety symptoms. By incorporating specific dietary approaches, engaging in regular exercise, crafting a soothing environment, and maintaining healthy sleep hygiene and patterns, individuals can foster a calmer mind.

Dietary Approaches

Eating a balanced diet plays a critical role in managing anxiety. It’s advisable to limit caffeine and alcohol intake, as these can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Incorporating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, and those rich in antioxidants, such as berries, can support brain health and mood regulation. Staying well-hydrated is essential to avoid dehydration, which can sometimes contribute to increased anxiety.

Limit/ Reduce Include
Caffeine Omega-3 fatty acids
Alcohol Antioxidants
Nicotine Ample water intake

The Importance of Regular Exercise

Consistent exercise can significantly help to reduce symptoms of anxiety. Activities such as yoga and tai chi not only promote physical fitness but also encourage mental clarity and stress reduction. It’s beneficial to establish a routine that incorporates aerobic exercises, like walking or swimming, which can release endorphins and promote a sense of well-being.

Creating a Soothing Environment

One’s surroundings can influence their level of anxiety. Calm, clutter-free spaces can create a restful backdrop for relaxation. Introducing elements like soft lighting, comforting scents, or calming music can transform a living space into a space conducive to stress relief.  If your home is not a calming environment, seek out places that give you this feeling, such as public spaces (the library, a coffee shop, the beach)

Sleep Hygiene and Patterns

Adhering to a consistent bedtime and wake-up schedule fortifies sleep patterns and can lessen anxiety levels. Ensuring a comfortable and quiet sleep environment, free from electronic distractions, nurtures better sleep quality. Adults should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night to maintain optimal health.

Mind-Body Techniques

To manage anxiety effectively, incorporating mind-body techniques can be a significant change. These practices anchor mental health strategies to tangible, physical activities that one can perform, leveraging the body’s own mechanisms to induce calm and improve mental well-being.

Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation and mindfulness are cornerstone practices in anxiety management. These techniques encourage individuals to focus on the present moment, minimizing worries about the past or future. Regular practice improves self-awareness and helps in recognizing anxious thoughts without judgement.

Deep Breathing and Relaxation Exercises

Deep breathing is a powerful tool for anxiety relief. The 4-7-8 breathing technique, for instance, involves inhaling for four seconds, holding the breath for seven seconds, and exhaling for eight seconds. This practice can quickly reduce stress in the body by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Similarly, progressive muscle relaxation prompts relaxation by tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups, which can alleviate the physical symptoms of anxiety.

The Role of Yoga and Physical Movement

Yoga is a prime example of how physical movement can soothe anxious minds. The combination of postures, breathing exercises, and meditation inherent in yoga practice has been found to be beneficial in reducing anxiety. Additionally, engaging in regular physical activity, such as a brisk walk in nature, can also act as a natural anxiety reducer, encouraging relaxation and mindfulness. The use of lavender or other calming essential oils during these practices can further enhance the relaxation experience.

Behavioral Strategies and Coping Skills

When addressing anxiety, behavioral strategies and coping skills are paramount. They empower individuals, providing practical techniques to mitigate anxiety symptoms. It is essential to tailor these strategies to individual needs for effective anxiety management.

Cognitive-Behavioral Techniques

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a well-founded therapeutic approach that can help individuals reframe negative thought patterns that contribute to anxiety. It incorporates strategies such as thought challenging and behavioral experiments.

Thought challenging involves questioning the reality of anxious thoughts and replacing them with more balanced ones, while behavioral experiments encourage individuals to test out the beliefs that contribute to their anxiety in a safe and controlled manner.

Avoiding Harmful Substances

The use of certain substances, including caffeine and alcohol, can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Avoiding these and other potential triggers is a crucial step in managing anxiety. For instance, replacing caffeine with calming herbal teas can alter pathways related to stress and relaxation, aiding in maintaining a more balanced state of mind.

The Power of Distraction

Implementing distractions can be an effective short-term strategy to break the cycle of anxiety. Activities like engaging in a hobby, exercise, or social interaction can provide a necessary break from distressing thoughts. Physical activities not only distract but can also create positive changes in brain chemistry, further aiding in anxiety relief.

Using these strategies requires consistent practice, and results may vary. Consulting with a mental health professional can help individuals further refine these techniques to fit their unique circumstances.

Natural Remedies and Aids

The use of natural products can be an effective way to aid in managing milder forms of stress and anxiety. This section will discuss herbal supplements and teas, as well as aromatherapy and scents, which have been identified for their potential to promote relaxation and emotional well-being.

Herbal Supplements and Teas

Chamomile is a popular choice and is backed by studies indicating its ability to help with symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). It can be consumed as a tea which may provide a soothing effect. Consult with your doctor about what type of supplements may help promote calm.

Aromatherapy and Scents

Aromatherapy incorporates essential oils that can evoke a sense of calmness and lower stress levels. Lavender is widely recognized for its relaxing scent and is commonly used in aromatherapy practices. The scents can be diffused into the air or applied topically in diluted form.

Essential oils should always be used as directed, considering individual allergies and reactions.

When incorporating any natural remedy or aid, it is important for individuals to consult with a healthcare provider to ensure it aligns with their overall health plan and to avoid any potential interactions with other treatments.

Emotional Support and Community

Emotional support and community play crucial roles in managing anxiety. They provide individuals with a sense of belonging and a platform to exchange coping strategies under the guidance of mental health professionals.

Building a Support Network

A support network typically includes friends, family, and peers who understand and empathize with an individual’s experience of anxiety. Seeking out groups within the community, such as local support groups or wellness workshops, can enhance this network.

These settings not only facilitate connection with others facing similar challenges but also offer access to professional help. Mental health professionals, including clinical psychologists and psychiatrists, often provide insights into effective management strategies during these community gatherings.

Sharing Experiences and Strategies

Sharing experiences and strategies in a safe environment is beneficial for managing anxiety. Dialogue with peers can lead to discovering new coping mechanisms and reduces feelings of isolation. People often find that participating in psychotherapy groups or peer-led meetings allows them to express their anxieties openly and learn from the collective wisdom of the group. This exchange empowers individuals to take active steps toward a calmer mind with the reassurance of a compassionate support system backing them.

When to Seek Professional Help

Deciding to seek professional help is a significant and often necessary step towards managing anxiety effectively.

Identifying the Need for Therapy

One should consider therapy when anxiety becomes persistent, interfering with daily life and causing distress. A mental health professional, like a therapist specializing in psychotherapy, can provide tailored strategies to cope with anxiety. If efforts to manage anxiety independently are unsuccessful or if the symptoms intensify, seeking professional help is recommended.

Exploring Medication Options

While therapy addresses behavior patterns and coping mechanisms, medication might be necessary for managing the physiological aspects of anxiety. A psychiatrist can assess the need for medication and prescribe appropriate treatment. It’s essential to understand that medication can be most effective when combined with therapy.  For many people, medication is an essential part of a long-term health care plan.  For others, it may be used occasionally during difficult times in one’s life.

Self-Care and Daily Routines

Incorporating dedicated self-care practices and establishing a consistent routine are powerful strategies for managing anxiety and enhancing overall well-being. These elements contribute to a sense of stability and can provide relief from symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Implementing Self-Care Practices

Self-care routines are personalized activities that focus on one’s health and pleasure. They play a fundamental role in anxiety management. These practices may include:

  • Mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation can help individuals center themselves and reduce stress levels.
  • Adequate sleep: Prioritizing sleep is essential, as a lack of rest can exacerbate anxiety. Creating a calming bedtime ritual aid in improving sleep quality.
  • Nutritious diet: Consuming a balanced diet with nutrient-rich foods supports both physical health and mental state.
  • Physical activity: Regular exercise releases endorphins, which act as natural stress relievers. Activities like yoga and walking are especially beneficial for those dealing with anxiety.

Self-care for anxiety encompasses both the activities one does and the mindset with which they approach them, emphasizing self-compassion and patience.

The Significance of Routine

Establishing a routine provides structure and predictability, which can be incredibly comforting for individuals with anxiety. A well-thought-out routine helps reduce the number of decisions one has to make daily, thereby lowering stress levels. Key components of a routine aimed at managing anxiety might include:

  • Consistent wake-up and sleep times: Regular sleep patterns contribute to better circadian rhythm regulation.
  • Scheduled meals: Eating at regular times can stabilize blood sugar levels, impacting mood and energy levels.
  • Time blocks for work and leisure: Allocating specific periods for tasks and relaxation can help maintain a balance between productivity and rest.

Integrating self-care practices into one’s daily routine is not just about managing anxiety but also about fostering an overall sense of control and satisfaction in life.  Daily structure gives us something to organize around so that we feel more purposeful and contained.

Alternative Approaches to Anxiety Relief

Exploring non-traditional methods can offer significant benefits for managing anxiety. This section examines how incorporating elements such as humor and the environment can have a positive impact on mental health.

Incorporating Humor and Laughter

Studies indicate that laughter and humor lead to the release of endorphins, our body’s natural chemicals that foster a sense of happiness. These endorphins can enhance overall well-being and provide temporary pain relief. Laughter also engages numerous receptors in the brain, which are linked to the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that serves as a natural anti-anxiety agent.  Consider watching a funny movie or comedy show to enjoy a laugh and distraction from stressors.

The Impact of Climate and Nature

Exposure to nature has consistently been recognized as an effective way to combat anxiety. It stimulates the sensory receptors that connect one to the environment, which can redirect attention from stress and promote a state of mindfulness.

Natural settings provide a calming backdrop that may alter one’s response to stress and provide a respite from the fast-paced urban environment. Studies have even suggested that certain climates, with ample sunlight and moderate temperatures, can have a bolstering effect on mood and anxiety levels.SpringSource can help.

At SpringSource Psychological Center, led by Drs. McClanahan and Derrick, our team specializes in guiding you through mental health challenges. We are experts on the treatment of anxiety from a number of different, research-based perspectives.

Take action. Contact us now, and get started with recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are effective techniques for calming an anxiety attack during the night?

Nighttime anxiety can disrupt sleep and cause distress. Techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation are effective in calming an anxiety attack.  Also consider grabbing an ice pack to cool down, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system and promotes deactivation.

Which strategies can provide quick relief from sudden nervousness?

For immediate relief from sudden nervousness, taking slow, deep breaths, focusing on sensory experiences, or engaging in brief physical activity can help. Applying the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique which involves acknowledging five things you see, four you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell, and one you can taste, can also be beneficial.

What methods can help alleviate chronic anxiety?

Chronic anxiety can be reduced by integrating lifestyle changes that include regular exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and mindfulness practices. Additionally, techniques such as journaling or cognitive-behavioral strategies can also be part of a natural approach to managing chronic anxiety.  Medication can be useful in many cases as well.

What actions can one take to soothe stress and regain composure?

When stress levels surge, one can regain composure by practicing deep breathing exercises, stepping outside for fresh air, or participating in calming activities like yoga or a leisurely walk. Maintaining a routine that includes self-compassion exercises can also help soothe stress.  It is important to be kind and gentle in talking to one’s self, as critical self-talk can promote activation or avoidance.

Can anxiety be permanently eliminated, and what are the sustainable approaches?

Although it is challenging to permanently eliminate anxiety, managing it effectively with sustainable approaches is possible. Consistent application of anxiety management techniques, therapy, and lifestyle modifications can lead to long-term improvement and symptom reduction.