Feeling anxious sometimes is totally normal. And to be honest, who wouldn’t feel worried these days?
But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by frequent, intense or excessive worry or fear, it may be a problem – and may be keeping you from living life to the fullest. Anxiety can take a toll on your mental and physical health and negatively affect work and school performance, family life, relationships and more.
If you live with anxiety, you’re not alone. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders in the U.S. and affects 42.5 million adults, according to Mental Health America. It’s also one of the most treatable.
Knowing the signs of anxiety, how to ease symptoms and when to seek treatment can help keep your worries and fears in check.
What are the signs you have anxiety?
Anxiety is the body’s natural reaction to danger and something everyone deals with. That fight-or-flight response can often be a good thing. (Think work deadlines, school projects or dicey situations.)
But there’s a difference between normal anxiety and anxiety that’s harmful.
There are several types of anxiety disorders that can have different symptoms. Those symptoms can be mental, physical or both.
Common mental and behavioral symptoms may include:
- Feelings of panic, fear and uneasiness.
- Having a sense of impending danger or doom.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Sleep problems, including nightmares.
- Difficulty controlling worry.
- Avoiding things that trigger your anxiety.
- An inability to stay still and calm.
Some common physical symptoms include:
- Increased heart rate.
- Rapid breathing.
- Gastrointestinal issues.
- Muscle tension.
Heart palpitations can be scary. And if you’ve never experienced them before, you may feel as if you’re having a heart attack. Fortunately, in most cases, heart palpitations are not dangerous and will usually go away when whatever is causing your anxiety passes.
In less common cases, heart palpitations may be a sign of a more serious health problem, such as abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). You should seek medical care right away if your heart palpitations are accompanied by:
- Chest pain.
- Trouble breathing.
Sidebar: Anxiety isn’t just for adults
Like can be stressful for kids, too. Between 2016 and 2020, around 5.8 million children in the U.S. had diagnosed anxiety, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Learn more about how to recognize anxiety symptoms in your child, what you can do to support your child with anxiety and how Indigo can help with their mental distress.
What are some immediate coping strategies for anxiety?
When anxiety rises, there are things you can do right away to ease your symptoms, clear your head and better understand the situations and events that are causing your distress.
Here are some common and effective coping mechanisms that you can do in the moment:
- Grounding techniques are a great way to immediately detach yourself from your feelings of anxiety and better understand the situations and events that cause your anxiety. Here are two grounding methods:
- Write down what makes you anxious. The exercise gets the thoughts out of your head and lets you take stock of your emotions at that moment.
- Practice the 3-3-3 rule. Name 3 things you can see, 3 sounds you can hear and 3 things you can touch.
- Body scan meditation. This is a good way to check in with your body and identify and release stress. Start at the top of your head and gently scan through your body to your toes. Notice each part of your body and how it feels.
- Breathing exercises. Even breathing can help slow your heart rate. Breathe in for 4 counts and breath out for 4 counts for a total of 5 minutes.
- EFT tapping. The emotional freedom technique focuses on tapping pressure points of the face and body with your fingers where you feel anxiety or other uncomfortable emotions. Those pressure points include:
- The side of the hand.
- The inside the eyebrow (where the hair of your eyebrow starts).
- The side of the eye.
- The area just under the eye.
- The area under the nose.
- The area between the bottom lip and chin.
- Around two inches below your collarbone.
- The side of your body, at the top of the ribcage.
- The top of the head.
What long-term strategies will help manage my anxiety?
If anxiety is a regular part of your life, it’s important to find ways to help keep it under control. Here are some long-term strategies that may help:
- Know your triggers. If you know what causes your anxiety, it’s easier to develop strategies to deal with your feelings.
- Try to be social. Worries shouldn’t isolate you from the people and activities you love. Studies show that socialization can help relieve stress and loneliness and, over time, help build resilience to stress.
- Keep a journal. Research shows that the act of regularly writing down your thoughts and emotions can help reduce anxiety, depression and feelings of distress.
- Seek treatment when you need it. Your anxiety may not go away on its own and may worsen over time. Talk with a health care clinician about treatment options, including anxiety-management techniques and medication options. The earlier you seek care, the easier it is to treat your anxiety.
Lifestyle choices also play a big role in your mental health. If you’re struggling with anxiety, these anxiety-reducing recommendations may help:
- Make sleep a priority. Sleep and mental health go hand-in-hand. If you’re not sure how much you need, the CDC offers some helpful sleep recommendations. It’s also important to maintain a consistent sleep and wake-up schedule, even on weekends.
- Stay active. Exercise is vital for mental health fitness and can boost your mood as it improves your health. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. But don’t let that deter you. Even a 10-minute walk each day can make a big difference.
- Take time to go outside. It only takes a few minutes of fresh air and sunlight to lift your mood, lower anxiety and boost your mental health.
- Focus on nutrition. A healthy diet full of veggies, fruits, whole grains and fish may be linked to reduced anxiety.
- Drink more water. Dehydration doesn’t cause anxiety, but it may lead to increased feelings of anxiety and depression. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake for healthy individuals is around 15.5 cups a day for men and 11.5 cups for women.
- Avoid alcohol, recreational drugs, caffeine and tobacco. These substances can worsen your anxiety symptoms.
How is anxiety treated?
In addition to anxiety management and coping strategies, there are different types of treatment approaches depending on your symptoms and type of anxiety disorder.
The main treatments include:
- Talk therapy with a trained mental health clinician. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to change unhealthy thinking and behavior patterns. It also helps identify and manage factors that contribute to a person’s anxiety.
- Medications, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety treatments.
If you need treatment for your anxiety or just need someone to talk to, Indigo is a great place to start.
Indigo Virtual Care offers mental health screenings for adults 18 and older. Simply complete a quick questionnaire on your favorite device and get connected with a trusted clinician via video to talk about a care plan and treatment options.
Indigo Virtual Care visits are offered every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at indigohealth.com.
When you need immediate help
If you or someone you know is in severe mental distress or has suicidal thoughts or behaviors, seek emergency treatment immediately. The following resources are free, confidential and available 24/7.