Anxiety. You might know it well.
It routinely sneaks up on you and sabotages your afternoon. Your chest tightens, your breath quickens, and suddenly your mind is running through a slew of random things. For some people, these thoughts come and go, but for others, they can completely derail their day several times a week.
If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. More than 40 million Americans suffer from reoccurring anxiety.
“Everyone experiences anxiety occasionally,” said Susan Raulston, health and wellbeing consultant at Unum. “It’s unavoidable in today’s world, but it’s manageable. If you experience anxiety regularly and it interferes with your daily life, discuss it with your medical provider. It could be symptomatic of a general anxiety disorder that requires additional treatment.”
Whether your heart occasionally races when you open a late-night email from your manager or if you habitually fret over minor details, here are three ways to help reduce anxious thoughts and get your focus back.
A racing heart when you’re threatened with anxious thoughts is part of your body’s fight or flight response. You can calm down this response by taking deep, measured breaths. Here’s how:
- Relax your hands, drop your shoulders and let your jaw relax (people rarely recognize how much tension they hold in their jaw).
- Begin by breathing in slowly for four seconds.
- Hold that breath for four seconds.
- Exhale for four seconds.
- Repeat four times, or until you feel your pulse steady and the nagging thoughts partially dissipate.
Raulston also recommends using directed meditation apps such as Calm or Headspace.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends routine exercise to mitigate unwanted thoughts. In some cases, working out prevents anxiety disorders from springing up in the first place.
According to Dr. John J. Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, exercise lowers anxiety by:
- Decreasing muscle tension
- Changing brain chemistry
- And better controlling the part of your brain which reacts to real or imagined threats
Lift weights. Run. Do yoga. Just move. And if you’re crunched for time, some psychologists say even a 10-minute walk reduces worrisome thoughts.
- See a therapist or doctor.
There’s a difference between occasional anxiousness and a general anxiety disorder. If you find your disquieted nerves ping your consciousness often, consider seeing a therapist or a doctor.
A counselor trained in cognitive behavior therapy will help you build resilience to negative thoughts. You’ll learn how to react positively to situations that trigger anxiety. Depending on the severity of the anxiety, a doctor might prescribe short-term medicines while you work with a therapist.
Seeking help is a critical step to control anxiety. Together, these three tips will help you become a healthier you.
If you’re a manager, here’s a bonus tip from Raulston on how to work with an employee who routinely struggles with anxiety:
“First and foremost, respond with empathy and compassion,” she said. “We need to reduce the stigma around anxiety (and any mental health issue) and acknowledge that everyone deals with it in some form or fashion from time to time. If your company has a human resources department, you might refer the employee there for information about the resources and benefits available to them. Many companies offer work-life balance programs, and that’s a good place to start looking for help.”