I often hear anxiety being associated as fear. But in fact, anxiety is not exactly fear. Fear is something detectable, that you can see right in front of your face. When looking at anxiety, as New York Times puts it, “it is a kind of fear gone wild”1. A feeling of uneasiness about something that appears threatening, but in truth is not threatening and could possibly not even exist. Anxiety is a continuous cycle of “what ifs”. For example, I am a student that eventually has to take a comprehensive exam to obtain my masters degree and an additional exam to gain my licensure. Due to this, I find myself asking “what if” questions in my head, due to being anxious: What if I fail the exam? What if I don’t remember everything I learned? What if all the hard work I did was for nothing?
All in all, everyone experiences anxiety in some way, shape, form or fashion. In fact, 70% of adults in the United States say that they experience anxiety on a daily basis. So how do you reduce it?
Try these on for size:
Exercise: physical activity helps release stress hormones such as cortisol. In return, chemicals such as endorphins are released, in turn improving our mood.
Spend Time with Friends or Family: being a part of a network often gives us a feeling of self-worth and belonging. In addition, being socially active is a need that our brain requires in order to thrive, especially when it comes to conquering anxiety. When we’re around friends and children a natural stress reliever called oxytocin is released, thus promoting the “tend and befriend” effect.
Spend time with a Furry Friend: Research shows that dog owners reported lower levels of stress than non-dog owners. Now, this isn’t to say that you’re limited to just dogs. Companionship from any animal can be beneficial to individuals that are experiencing stress or anxiety. The interaction that takes places with pets also causes the brain to release oxytocin, thus promoting a positive mood. Even though pets can promote a positive mood, we must keep in mind that they are an additional responsibility. Pets, just as humans, have essential needs, such as food, water, exercise, and attention. If an individual cannot meet the pet’s needs due to depression or lack of motivation, one should avoid getting a pet due to the possibility of neglect.
Replace Negative Thoughts with Positive Thoughts: The brain is an organ that learns through repetition. Whenever a negative thought pops into your head, replace it with a positive one. I understand that this is easier said than done, however when you introduce this positive thought, your brain creates a connection called a synapse. The more you introduce that positive thought, the stronger that connection becomes. This in turn causes you to think this positive thought more often, because it’s what your brain has learned to be true.
Deep Breathing: I know. You’ve probably heard the concept of deep breathing more times than you can stand. However, it really is a good technique to help calm your self, when done properly. It’s a way of getting oxygen to the brain, which in turn helps the brain to function more efficiently. Not to mention, it’s something that can be done no matter what setting you’re in.
Mindfulness: it’s a good idea to practice mindfulness in an attempt to bring your attention back to the present moment when you get anxious or carried away. Find a place to sit that is calm and quiet for you, find a stable position with your body that you feel comfortable in, feel your breathing, let your thoughts wander, and then come back when you become aware of your wandering thoughts. It takes some practice, but it gets easier and easier as you practice it.
Give yourself credit: Show yourself a little credit and COMPASSion! You’ve recognized that you are having anxious thoughts and that’s the first step to conquering it. There’s so many times where we get caught up in the big battles that we have to overcome, that we forget about the small victories that we have already won.
By Kia Batiste, MSSW Candidate Intern, UT Social Work College