What is anxiety and how do I make it go away?

What is anxiety and how do I make it go away?
Find therapists best matched to your needs. Always free and confidential.
Find therapists best matched to your needs. Always free and confidential.

Standing in front of the class to give a presentation. Waiting for those 3 dots (for all you iPhone users) to go away and the text to come through. Sitting in a job interview for the opportunity of a lifetime. Sooner or later, we all experience the uncomfortable, queasy feelings that signal we are experiencing the physiological experience of anxiety. Why do we feel this way when the situation is most tense?

Without getting too into the scientific weeds, anxiety is programmed into our DNA. It’s commonly referred to as our “fight or flight” response and is meant to alarm us to physical safety concerns. Back in the day, this looked like lions, tigers, and bears. The problem is not that we have this internal mechanism, it’s that it always seems to go off when we least need it to. These days, true threats to our physical safety are not as common as they used to be. Instead, things like overdue bills, text messages, relationship issues, and mortgage payments dominate the anxiety space. People experience these stressors in ways such as unwanted thoughts, constant worrying, and physical tenseness (drop your shoulders and take a deep breath as you’re reading this, we both know you need it). 

About 1 in 5 people in America have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, totaling more than 40 million people. In my opinion, this is a massive undercount. If you’re reading this, you have struggled with anxiety at one point or another. It’s human nature. Usually, our body is pretty capable of handling this worrying, but sometimes life gives us more than our brain and body know how to handle. If you’re struggling with anxiety, it means you’re human. Welcome to the club!

The million-dollar question…what do I do about it? If there were one simple, straightforward answer this blog post would be a whole lot shorter. The truth is, everyone goes through a trial and error process of figuring out what their body responds to most effectively. However, there are some very common practices that can help alleviate anxiety!

  1. Deep breathing exercises are incredibly effective when practiced. Just like baseball, the only way to get better is to practice. Diaphragmatic breathing hacks our body’s own nervous system to actively bring our anxiety down, and the more you practice the better you get!
  2. Grounding exercises use the constant inflow of sensory stimuli (touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing) to divert our minds attention away from distressing thoughts and onto something more neutral. Try purposefully focusing on the sound of the HVAC in your office, or the sight of the birds chirping in the trees outside. If you can commit to doing this, you’ll allow your brain and your body to escape the mental loop that it’s stuck in and settle on a calmer, more desirable place. 
  3. Fill a large bowl with water and ice, and plunge your face in it for 15-20 seconds, 2-3 times. I know, it sounds bizarre, but many people need a real shock to the system to distract them from what they may be worrying about. 
  4. Speak with a therapist! We are here to listen, understand, and help you figure out what’s going on and what you can do about it. The simple act of being heard and validated goes miles in helping us look at our problems differently and feel better. You deserve that just like anyone else!
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