I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories involve feeling anxious with a tight chest and general feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. Over the course of my life, anxiety has affected my work, relationships and general quality of life. And as someone in recovery, my anxiety only got worse once I stopped numbing my symptoms with drugs and alcohol.
We tend to view anxiety as a bad thing, but physiologically, anxiety is just the body’s natural response to a threat. The problem occurs when we experience anxiety without a threat, especially during the most vulnerable beginning phases of the recovery process. This can be paralyzing at times, but it doesn’t have to be. By understanding the root of anxiety and learning strategies to cope, you can overcome anxious feelings and function well in everyday life.
What Is Anxiety?
As many as 18 percent of adults in the United States struggle with anxiety. It is a progressive condition, like substance use disorder, meaning it will get worse over time unless managed effectively. Typical symptoms include difficulty thinking and making decisions, panic, overwhelming self-consciousness, chest pains, dizziness, sweating, hyperventilating, nightmares, fear of leaving home, obsessive thoughts, shortness of breath and abdominal pain.
Anxiety is often described as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about an impending event or something with an uncertain outcome. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), there are five major types of anxiety: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia and panic disorder.
Anxiety as a Natural Response
When it comes to anxiety, what we don’t often recognize is that, to some degree, anxiety is normal: We experience it before everyday stressful events like job interviews, important deadlines, first dates, weddings or vacations. Ultimately, anxiety is a physiological process designed to keep us safe. Feelings of anxiousness are associated with something called the fight or flight response, or the biological mechanisms the body uses to respond to a perceived attack, danger or threat. The response floods the body with hormones and neurotransmitters to prepare the person to either flee from the situation or confront it head-on.
Anxiety isn’t the problem — the anxiety disorder that triggers the body’s fight or flight response in the absence of any real danger is the problem. Unfortunately, the cause of an unnecessary fight or flight response is unknown. What is known is that there are a number of factors that are known to contribute to anxiety, including stress, genetics, poor habits and coping skills. Fortunately, these can be mitigated through professional intervention and daily self-care practices.
Managing Anxiety Holistically
Anxiety can feel overwhelming, but the good news is that it can be managed with the right combination of professional support and holistic techniques. The ultimate goal of both of these measures is to keep your mind healthy. Over the years, I have personally developed a number of holistic practices that help keep my anxiety at bay. Here are some of my top tips:
- Meditate. Taking time to breath calms your nervous system and relaxes the body.
- Exercise. Making time for regular physical activity releases feel-good chemicals in the brain, burns off the stress hormone adrenalin, and helps the body and mind relax.
- Eat Well. Eating foods high in the following vitamins and minerals can help balance your moods and improve your overall sense of well-being:
- B vitamins help the nervous system. These can be found in avocados, almonds and oats.
- Vitamin C protects and repairs your body’s cell. This vitamin is present in kiwis, blueberries and citrus fruits.
- Omega-3 has been shown to keep stress hormones under control. Salmon, walnuts, chia seeds and eggs contain this valuable fatty acid.
- Magnesium helps regulate stress hormones and has a calming effect on the body. Foods like spinach, dark chocolate and leafy greens contain magnesium.
- Tryptophan produces neurotransmitters that promote tiredness and calmness. Turkey, pumpkin and oats contain this helpful amino acid.
- Make Time for Self-Care. Ensuring you get a minimum of eight hours of sleep per night, drinking lots of water, quitting smoking and limiting caffeine (or cutting it out altogether) are small, helpful steps you can take to improve your anxiety levels.
Having the tools to help you cope with anxiety makes the condition more manageable and less overwhelming. If you’re in recovery and working to lessen your anxiety, using these tips can improve your daily anxiety levels. If you’re currently struggling with anxiety in addition to a substance use disorder, professional intervention might be the most effective way to address both of your conditions at once.
Treatment providers at The Recovery Village combat addiction, anxiety and other co-occurring disorders using effective, evidence-based techniques. If you or someone you know is struggling and needs a helping hand, reach out to one of our intake coordinators today. The care you need is only a phone call away.