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What is Anxiety? And 10 Ways to Cope With It

August 27, 2020

Worry, nervousness, fearing the uncertain — anxiety. It’s something millions of Americans face. Most can say they have experienced it in some form throughout their life. Whether it be related to something as common as getting anxious before a test or a deeper rooted issue that’s recurring, the feeling is not uncommon. For those that experience anxiety on a regular basis, it can become tortuous, life impeding and can even cause health implications. 

Anxiety Statistics

Based on figures from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA):

  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.
  • Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.
  • People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.
  • Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.

There are several types of anxiety disorders. The five major types that are recognized by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) are as follows:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder – characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these so-called “rituals,” provides only temporary relief, and not performing them increases anxiety.
  • Panic Disorder – Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.
  • Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder) – characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. Social phobia can be limited to only one type of situation – such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, eating or drinking in front of others or, in its most severe form, may be so broad that a person experiences symptoms almost anytime they are around other people.

How to Cope With Anxiety

When it comes to coping, there is a wide variety of ways to deal with feelings of anxiety that can be easily incorporated into your lifestyle. Some are small day-to-day rituals that can have an effect almost instantaneously and others may take time because they look deeper into the root of the cause. Whichever the case, it is important to stay patient and be kind to yourself.  

Deep Breathing

When you’re feeling anxious, shift to deep belly breathing. You should be able to clearly see your stomach expand and contract, your chest should rise very little. When you exhale, exhale a breath out of your mouth with a relaxed jaw. Do this for a few minutes until you start to feel better. 

Breathing deeply increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and fends off your “flight or flight” reaction that is caused by anxiety. It can bring a feeling of calmness to ease ruminating thoughts and relax the body of tension. 

If you find that breathing is making your anxiety worse, focus instead on movement activities that will increase your heart rate slightly, which will allow your breath to come naturally. Sometimes when we feel anxious, we hold our breath. Notice if you are holding your breath and then engage in movements such as jumping/shaking, walking, squats, lunges, standing on one foot. Notice how your breath shifts. 

Yoga & Meditation

There’s a reason It’s been used for centuries as a centering, stress relief practice. Yoga and meditation also goes hand in hand with breath work. The practice of meditation uses visualization, and focusing on breathing to help with let go of worry and fear — the common precursors to anxiety. 

Yoga combines physical poses, controlled breathing, and meditation or relaxation to help elicit the relaxation response, allowing both the body and mind to gain a sense of calm and ease by lowering heart rate and blood pressure. 


Exercise promotes the release of feel-good endorphins, and other natural brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of well-being. Regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Just five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.

Getting outside

Getting outdoors is a great way to relax the mind. Proceedings from The National Academy of Sciences Studies (PNAS) have found that simply going for a walk can help encourage new thought patterns and decrease rumination by decreasing activity to the prefrontal cortex. In many people who experience anxiety, this part of the brain malfunctions, allowing a repetitive loop of negative thoughts to take over. 

Spending time in any natural setting lowers our blood pressure, heart rate, and our body’s production of the stress hormone cortisol.

Eat a Balanced Diet

What you eat fuels your body and brain. According to The Harvard Medical School, a large percentage (about 95%) of serotonin receptors are found in the lining of the gut. This directly correlates with mood. A balanced diet is what your body needs to function at its best. Don’t skip meals, don’t go overboard on sugar, stay hydrated, and lighten your alcohol and caffeine intake. 

Write Down Your Thoughts

Repetitive thoughts? Release it from your mind by simply writing it down. Just getting it out provides a form of relief. Also, seeing your thoughts can help you come to terms with what’s on your mind in order to start questioning an unhealthy thought pattern. 

Engage in Creative Activity

Get your mind off things by shifting your focus to something creative. This helps to outlet nervous energy in a productive way. 

Get to the Root of What is Bothering You

Dig deep to find the real source of your anxiety. Are you creating an issue that might not be realistic? Don’t fixate on worst-case scenarios. Stay positive with your thoughts rather than immediately jumping to the negatives. Don’t fixate on the future, find comfort in the present moment. Embrace your fears, try the things that scare you. After some practice you’ll become more and more comfortable. 

Talk to Loved Ones

Sometimes just talking works wonders. Don’t keep everything bottled up. Talk about what’s bothering you to those you trust most. Just getting it out is so much better than dealing with it alone. Who knows, maybe they are going through something similar. 

Therapy and Medication 

There is absolutely no shame in getting professional help. No one has all the answers. Talk therapy really helps to address some of the deeper roots of anxiety. A trained professional can help you understand why you are experiencing certain thought patterns and give effective tools to shift into more healthy ways of thinking. Some people have a chemical imbalance or a predisposed genetic make up, medication can help balance you out. 

Sandstone Care Can Help

If you or a loved one is struggling with anxiety that is leading to self medicating with alcohol or other substances, Sandstone Care can help. Our goal is to help you address your anxiety’s underlying causes so that you can relax and enjoy life again. With support and treatment, you can overcome anxiety and start being your best, happiest self. We have locations in Colorado, Maryland and Virginia


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