Inside Out, the latest offering from Disney Pixar, is about the adventures of five personified emotions living inside an 11-year old girl’s head. Joy, Anger, Fear, Sadness and Disgust co-exist and interact, working together to help their girl, Riley, get through life as an adolescent who’s just moved across the country. The filmmakers consulted with scientists to get the feeling just right.
In real life, we can’t sum up our feelings on one hand. (For starters, there are six basic emotions; all of the characters listed above plus surprise.) Anxiety, an emotion that didn’t make the cut in Inside Out, is one many of us struggle with regularly.
Anxiety disorders include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Anxiety disorders are among the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses in the United States. But people without anxiety disorders struggle with this unpleasant emotion, too. How do you know when to get help? And how can you effectively tackle your anxiety?
When to Go to The Doctor For Anxiety
Public speaking, job interviews, asking someone on a date, or moving to a new city are all events that might (will likely!) cause stress. It’s typical that certain specific events provoke relatively mild, brief bouts of anxiety.
If you have severe anxiety and it lasts for at least six months, it is generally considered wise to seek evaluation and treatment. Reach out to your primary care doctor first. They can rule out if other causes of anxiety, such as a medication or other illness, could be causing your symptoms. Then, if needed, they can refer you to a mental health care professional.
The stigma surrounding mental health remains and creates a barrier between people and resources that can help them feel better. This stigma stinks. Get the help you need. Encourage the people you love to get the help they need and promise to support them no matter what. Living with severe anxiety is challenging, and further, it can steal joyful moments from us.
Symptoms of Mild Anxiety and Severe Anxiety
Mild anxiety is caused by specific events. If you know your department at work is facing layoffs, you might have trouble sleeping at night until the ordeal is over. An elderly parent driving to come see you might make the hours until they get to your house a little tense. Everyone is familiar with symptoms of mild anxiety. We each seem to have our own cocktail of reactions when we’re anxious. For you, it may be a headache and a tendency to snap at others. For your sister, it may be absentmindedness and feeling sick to her stomach.
Severe anxiety is a feeling you can’t shake, even when you realize your feelings are more intense than the situation calls for. When someone with GAD is anxious, they can’t relax. They may startle easily or be unable to concentrate or fall asleep. Physical symptoms may include nausea, feeling out of breath, hot flashes, trembling, fatigue, and difficulty swallowing.
How to Treat Mild Anxiety
If you suffer from severe anxiety, talk through treatments options with your doctor. What they recommend may include medication or cognitive behavioral therapy.
There are “natural” ways to treat anxiety as well. The following techniques can help people combat mild anxiety. They can help people with severe anxiety, too!
Yoga: Enthusiasts have preached the benefits of yoga for years but their claims weren’t backed up with data. They were rather relaxed about it. In recent years, a number of good studies have pointed to practicing yoga as a good way to tame stress and anxiety. Primary evidence suggests the benefits of yoga are similar to exercise and relaxation techniques. Further, yoga involves controlled breathing, a technique that shows promise as a means of providing relief from depression. Read more about yoga’s benefits here.
Exercise: Yes, exercise. It’s good for everything, from heart disease to anxiety. Exercise has psychological and physical benefits that help reduce anxiety and improve your mood. Exercise releases pleasant brain chemicals, including endorphins. When you exercise, you reduce immune system chemicals that can worsen depression. You also raise your body temperature, which can have calming effects.
Mindfulness Meditation: Yoga and meditation are regular bedfellows and their presence on this list may make you pause and worry about hippie advice. But there’s real science backing up these practices. And if you’re struggling with anxiety, they’re worth a try. People who practice mindfulness meditation are taught to let go of regrets from the past and to let go of anxieties about the future. Techniques include visualizations to shift your attention away from thoughts that cause anxiety. Another technique is the body scan (yoga participants will be familiar with this.) The body scan asks you to lay still, flat on your back. An instructor will lead the class in relaxation, starting in your jaw, moving down to your neck, shoulders, and so forth, right down to your toes. The intent is to connect your mind and your body while preventing your thoughts from wandering. If it still sounds crazy, here’s a link to the Harvard Health Blog’s post about its benefits.
Diet: Sadly, there’s no change in diet that can eliminate anxiety. But a healthy diet can have a positive impact on your symptoms. Eating a breakfast with protein, choosing complex carbs over simple ones, drinking enough water, and avoiding caffeine, can help.