A few nights before I was supposed to give a group presentation on a topic, I was informed that I would, in fact, be giving the presentation by myself. I began feeling nervous and felt a sense of impending doom. I imagined myself failing and making a fool of myself. Every time I sat down to prepare, my heart raced, I began to sweat, and I even found myself trembling.
I had trouble concentrating, and the worry was ever present. I didn’t find any relief when I tried to sleep, and found myself up all hours of the night. I avoided the preparation, procrastinated, and tried to figure out how I could get out of it. In short, I experienced the symptoms of heightened anxiety that many people experience every day in relation to their activities, work, or social relationships.
Excessive anxiety can interfere with daily activities and make it hard to get through the day, but anxiety is naturally meant to be protective. Some levels of anxiety or worry helps keep us safe. Imagine if we did not have a healthy fear of buses driving across the street when we were trying to walk across. However, our anxieties are often out of proportion to the actual danger we are experiencing and they lead us to overreact to the triggers in our environment. Without treatment, excessive anxiety can persist for a long time, and even turn into an anxiety disorder.
Often, symptoms start in childhood and persist through adulthood. At times, anxiety disorders can be a result of medical issues. Therefore, it can be a good idea to see your doctor when your anxiety is interfering with your life, if it’s difficult to control, you are using drugs or alcohol, or you have suicidal thoughts. If you feel like harming yourself, please contact a prevention hotline at 9-8-8, or 9-1-1 if the feelings continue to escalate.
Some of the medical causes of anxiety include heart disease, diabetes, thyroid problems, respiratory disorders, drug misuse, and alcohol withdrawal. Anxiety can also be a side effect of certain medications. If you have new onset anxiety, a visit to your primary care provider would be a good first step.
What causes Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorders are not a personal weaknesses or character flaw. They are a result of a combination of factors including a possible chemical imbalance or a state of nervous system dysregulation that may be caused by severe and prolonged stress, environmental factors like trauma, and heredity. There are many reasons someone might feel anxious, including work-related stress, financial stress, health problems, social relationships, and trauma.
Getting Relief from Anxiety
What can you do when the waves of anxiety come crashing down around you? It can feel overwhelming and the physiological effects can disable you. Here are some quick coping techniques to calm your nervous system down when it is galloping out of control:
Start with 4-2-6 breathing. Breathe in for 4 counts through the nose. Hold for 2 counts and then breathe out slowly through your mouth for 6 counts. Repeat this until the anxiety begins to reduce and you notice your heart rate slowing.
Use guided imagery to imagine completing a task or getting through an anxious situation successfully. Make it as detailed as possible. This can be done lying in bed or sitting in your desk chair at your office. Simply close your eyes and take a few minutes to upload this positive view of the situation. Repeat as needed. The more you imagine yourself tackling a task in a successful way, the more likely you are to be successful.
Use a weighted blanket to sleep. Some people report reductions in anxiety and better sleep through the use of a weighted blanket at night. There are even weighted vests to wear during the day.
Take a warm shower or bath. Help yourself feel physically more comfortable by soothing yourself with warm water. If you take a bath, light a candle and give it a spa-like feeling. Alternatively, cold showers or baths can help reset your dopaminergic systems and help regulate your mood and mind.
Make some lifestyle changes. If you’re experiencing regular periods of anxiety, examine your diet, sleep, and exercise and see if you can make some changes that will be beneficial. Practicing good sleep routines, good hygiene, and getting more exercise will improve your quality of life.
Talk to Friends or a therapist. Don’t suffer alone. It can be of great help to speak to others about your anxiety and its causes.
In my case, I couldn’t get out of my talk, so after using positive imagery and doing some breathing exercises, I got down to the business of preparing for and giving the presentation. It wasn’t perfect, but I did it, and it was good enough. I was reminded that sometimes my own brain likes to play tricks on me too. But I proved to myself that I could be successful even in the midst of my anxiousness. Even when my anxiety threatens to sabotage, I could stay grounded, calm myself, and take one step forward at a time.