I truly believe everything happens for a reason. A recent weekend was the perfect example. I was able to experience and witness the inner workings of an individual’s mind that was riddled with anxiety directly related to a recent traumatic event. I spent hours differentiating how this person and I deal differently with stress and conflict, and no matter what advice I offered, it was apparent that this person was continuing to struggle as if they were locked inside their own mind. The more they thought about the trauma, the more stress they endured; it was a toxic cycle of obsessive thoughts followed by fear. All I could do was offer love and support, and the more I thought about this individual, the more I realized how our medical society falls short in treating anxiety and related disorders.
The human reaction to fear
As humans, we are naturally driven by fear, anxiety, stress, and peer pressure to perform to the best of our abilities in order to prevent failure. Many of us live in fear of failing—failing at our jobs, failing in our relationships, failing within society, or even failing as individuals. For many, the fear may not be the driving force to succeed, but rather the driving force to become obsessed with thoughts leading to actions that can hinder our happiness, self-worth, and overall success. Anxiety is often prompted by some sort of fear or stress factor that enters our life and results in a flight-or-fight physiological mode in our bodies. Anxiety for most people is normal, short-lived, and can be overcome, but for many, anxiety can take over their life, hindering relationships, work performance, and personal happiness.
Anxiety disorders in the United States
General anxiety disorder and all other anxiety disorders affect approximately 30 percent of adults in the United States and is the leading cause of mental illness. Other anxiety disorders include panic disorders, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, specific phobias, acute stress disorder, social phobia, and agoraphobia. In general, treatment consists of psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. I personally have treated many individuals with anxiety by prescribing medication and referring them to a therapist or psychiatrist, but we often fall short in addressing the lifestyle modifications that can also help resolve symptoms of anxiety.
The importance of gratitude
The power of positive thinking and gratitude can help replace toxic negative thoughts harboring anxiety. Even when our lives are turned upside down, there is always a positive outlook an individual can take, but it is their choice whether to engage in this type of thinking or to continue to engage in their anxious thoughts. Expressing gratitude for your health, your safety, your job, your best friend, the roof over your head, or the ability to walk, talk, and accept human touch is one of the easiest ways to gain a positive outlook on life. Even if you feel like you have nothing left in your life, there will always be some individuals who are better off than we, and we will always be better off than some others—it is a spectrum, and it’s your choice to look at which side of the spectrum you are on. Choose wisely.
Lifestyle modifications for overcoming anxiety
Although medications and psychotherapy are considered the first-line treatment approaches for anxiety disorders, there are other avenues to keep symptoms at bay. These may seem easy at first to conquer, but for many, adopting these as part of an everyday lifestyle may take years.
- Keep a clean, uncluttered living space. Doing so has been shown to reduce anxiety and increase calmness and happiness. Make your home your sanctuary, a place where you feel the safest.
- Seek out positive people in your life who will support you throughout your journey. We have all met toxic people who have tried to tear us down, and many of us have learned to dissociate from them; however, many continue to allow toxicity into their lives. Be aware that the people you keep in your life as friends and loved ones are a direct reflection of who you are as an individual. Positive people can reduce anxiety; toxicity will worsen it.
- Eat well and exercise often. Exercise increases endorphins, which simply make you feel good. Keeping on a regular exercise routine can help balance your cortisol levels, prevent heart disease, and keep you in shape. Regular exercise should partner with eating a balanced and nutritious diet. Salty and sugary snack foods can become addicting and change your brain chemistry by altering your dopamine levels. Introducing whole foods that consist of produce, whole grains, and lean meats can increase your energy, concentration, and alertness, and make you feel good.
- Engage in a passion outside of work. Whatever your interest—adventuring outdoors, cooking, or music—it is important to set aside a specific amount of time to engage in activities outside your work that make you happy.
- Discover the perfect balance between work and your personal life. Many individuals who are riddled with anxiety are often stressed out due to their job and do not know how to create a healthy work-life balance. Taking your work home with you, and talking about work when you are away from the office, can worsen your anxiety. It may take time to figure out this balance—the sweet spot where you can be successful in your career without being so stressed by it that it affects your entire life.
- Meditate, journal, take a bath, and use essential oils to relax and calm your mind. When anxiety starts to creep into your head, it is easy to get lost in the racing and destructive thoughts and to jump to the bottle holding your anti-anxiety medications. Try to take a moment first to concentrate on your breathing, go for a walk, use your favorite de-stress essential oil, play with a puppy, or take a warm bath. Try to engage in these natural calming remedies, instead of becoming overwhelmed by your thoughts. Scents that are known to have calming effects on the body include lavender, lemon, frankincense, rose, chamomile, and ylang ylang. These methods can be used as preventive measures in addition to symptom relief.
Remember that everyone’s mind is uniquely different, and the treatment for this disorder is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Offer support, listen, and comfort someone you care about in the most positive way possible. Your personal approach for dealing with stress may or may not be beneficial to another individual.
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