According to current estimates, over 40 million1 Americans suffer from anxiety at some point in their lives, making it the most common mental illness in the United States – even more common than depression, which came as news to me.
Even more troubling, a new study published in the journal BMJ2 suggests that moderate to severe anxiety may be linked with the onset of dementia later in life. However, Dr. Natalie Marchant, lead author of the study, was quick to point out that anxiety is a “potentially modifiable risk factor” for dementia.
“We certainly do not want to create more worry for people already experiencing anxiety,” Dr. Marchant noted, adding that there are many therapies available that can help.
To her point, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that anxiety disorders are “highly treatable,” yet only a third of anxiety sufferers get treatment.
I have anxious moments myself, but experts say it’s important to distinguish between normal, occasional anxiety and severe anxiety disorders that require professional treatment.
With that said, I’ve compiled a list of four useful “hacks” that have worked for me and others. Take a look …
- Schedule a Worry Break
I bet you’re scratching your head, wondering if you misread that last sentence. No – you got it right! Many people who struggle with “overthinking everything” find that a daily worry break is helpful.
Sara Lindberg, of Healthline.com, suggests setting aside 15 minutes a day to give yourself permission to worry. Try to take your worry break at the same time daily. Now, if your worry pops up at another time of the day (or night), jot it down so you’ll be able to address it during your next worry time. Chances are that as you practice worry time, you’ll find that the power of your chronic worries will have decreased by the time you get back to them!
- Sigh Your Anxiety Away
All types of doctors, yogis and natural health practitioners will tell you about the benefits of relaxed breathing. But if you’re like many people, deep breathing is one of those things that can seem impossible when you are in the midst of an anxiety episode.
Dave Carbonell, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author, offered this advice in the Huffington Post. “A nice, comfortable sigh can help start the breathing process. It lets your shoulders down, helps relax your muscles and expels air, so you can slowly breathe more in.” I use this method in a variety of scenarios including stressful work deadlines and even challenging traffic jams. I can tell you firsthand … it works!
- Get your cue from the crew
A friend of mine suffers from anxiety during air travel. Her biggest issues are take-offs and landings, while turbulence can rattle her as well. (I’d say you’re a trusting soul indeed if turbulence doesn’t worry you.)
My friend offered her best technique for managing “out of control” feelings of anxiety. “I watch the flight attendants closely,” she told me. “If they are smiling and calm, chatting with passengers and moving around normally … I figure they aren’t worried, so why should I be?” Then she takes a deep breath and tries to loosen her grip on the arm rests!
- Change Your Outlook
Is it possible to have anxiety about your anxiety? Experts say “yes.” Instead, try changing your perspective on things. When you regard anxiety as a way your body is giving you information, it prevents you from thinking, “Yikes, something is wrong with me. I have an anxiety disorder!” Perhaps it’s your body and mind telling you that you need to slow down, improve self-care or even dissolve a toxic relationship, leave a bad job or tackle some other source of upset.
Now, I’m not saying that these four tips will work for you. Managing anxiety takes time and practice, and there’s no one-size-fits-all hack. But next time those anxiety demons start to get a foothold, consider trying one of these. And, by all means, if you’ve got some great tips of your own, please share!