Treating and Living with Anxiety
Anxiety is treatable. People are helped by a treatment plan developed in partnership with health care providers which includes therapy, medication, support from others who understand.
When we asked people living with anxiety and a mood disorder what they are doing to treat their anxiety, here’s what they said:
Medication 62.9 %
Self-talk 39.7 %
Talk therapy 35.3 %
Relaxation exercises 25.8 %
Peer support 13.7 %
Other popular responses included: physical exercise, creative activities, and learning more about anxiety
Many medications that treat depression can also work for anxiety. Other times, a person takes a combination of medications to relieve anxiety symptoms. It may take some time for your medications to start working. It may also take more than one try to find a combination that works for you. Learn all you can about medications prescribed for your depression and bipolar disorder and what you can do if you think your treatment should be working better.
Your doctor may prescribe additional medications called benzodiazepines for your anxiety and sleep. Some people develop a tolerance (need to take more to get the same effect) to these medications and other people don’t. Greg Simon, MD, a member of DBSA’s Scientific Advisory Board, explains, “If you are prescribed benzodiazepines over the long term, your doctor should monitor closely for signs of tolerance. I tell my patients, ‘If you feel that you need to take more of this, you really need to take less.’ ”
Track your medications and learn more about side effects.
Mood and anxiety disorders can affect a person’s thinking. Symptoms of these illnesses can make it more difficult to see things in a positive light or feel hopeful about the future.
It’s not as easy as simply “thinking positive” to overcome your anxiety or mood disorder, but you can learn to spot self-defeating thoughts and see them for what they are.
Self-defeating beliefs include:
Believing things are all good or all bad
Anticipating the worst will happen
Believing the good things in your life don’t count
Thinking that if you believe something (for example, that someone is angry with you) it must be true
Many people have found that practicing self-talk helps them to beat their self-defeating beliefs. Here’s a self-talk exercise you may want to practice if you notice yourself having self-defeating thoughts:
I will never feel better.
Never is a long time I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow.
Even though I feel terrible right now, I won’t always feel this way.
Talk therapy can also help you identify this type of thinking and work to correct it. More than 40% of the people in DBSA’s survey said their health care providers suggested talk therapy as a treatment for their anxiety. Therapy can help you do many things, including:
Understanding your illness
Defining and reaching wellness goals
Overcoming fears or insecurities
Coping with stress
Making sense of past traumatic experiences
Developing a plan for coping with crises
Understanding why things bother you and what you can do about them
Sometimes anxiety can be caused by an automatic reaction to a person, place or thing called a “trigger”. You may know exactly what your triggers are, or you might be able to identify new triggers by recording your anxiety and life events on a day-to-day basis. In therapy, you can work on your reactions to these triggers, or make changes in your life to rid yourself of the triggers.
More about talk therapy
Relaxation exercises include activities such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and meditation. Many people living with anxiety and mood disorders find these exercises to be very helpful.
Lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest. Take slow, deep breaths through your nose into your abdomen. The hand on your abdomen should rise with each breath. Exhale slowly and gently through your mouth. Continue taking these slow, deep breaths for 5-10 minutes.
Progressive muscle relaxation
First find a comfortable position. You can do this exercise either sitting or standing. Once you’re comfortable, close your eyes.
Make a fist with your right hand. Notice the tension in your hand when you do this. Clench the fist for one minute and then relax your hand. Be aware of the difference between the tense and relaxed muscles. Repeat.
Continue these steps for the following muscle groups. Relax your muscles after each step.
Clench your left hand into a fist.
Flex your biceps while bending your elbows.
Wrinkle your forehead.
Close your eyes tightly.
Press your lips together tightly.
Press your tongue against the roof of your mouth.
Clench your jaw.
Suck in your stomach and hold it; then expand it by taking a deep breath to fill it with air.
Arch your back to tense it.
Press your heels into the ground to flex your thighs.
Make your calves tense by curling your toes down.
Tense your shins by bending your toes towards the top of your foot.
Find a quiet location and make sure you won’t be interrupted for 10-15 minutes. Get into a comfortable sitting or lying position. Find a spot on the ceiling or on a blank wall to focus on. Take a long, deep breath in, hold it for a few seconds, and then let it out very slowly. Repeat this two more times. Now close your eyes and continue your breathing pattern.
You may want to put on soothing music while you meditate, or you may be content to sit in silence. Focus on your breathing. Anytime your mind starts to wander, bring yourself back to thinking about your breathing. You can do this exercise for as long or as short of a time as you want. When you are ready to finish, sit still a moment and take several deep breaths and return to whatever activity awaits.
If you are feeling anxious, depressed or manic, talking to others may not be the first thing you want to do. But DBSA Support Groups are more than talking—they are places where you can learn about your disorder and find understanding and new ways to cope.
If you don’t feel up to leaving the house, do everything you can to stay in touch with people. Call someone, send an e-mail or log on to DBSA’s Forums or Online Support Groups.
Talking to your health care provider
You have the best chance of getting an accurate diagnosis and treatment that works if you tell your health care providers all of your symptoms.
In addition to symptoms like worry, tension and fear, be sure to bring up symptoms like pains in your head, back, or stomach; shaking or trembling, rapid heartbeat or shortness of breath for no apparent reason. If you often forget things, make a list of symptoms or concerns before your appointment and bring it with you.
Tracking your symptoms daily can surprise you. You might notice patterns or certain symptoms that affect you more than you realized.
See yourself as a partner with your health care provider. You aren’t wasting their time by asking for things you need.
You have a right to:
Privacy, confidentiality and respect
Sensitivity to your needs and cultural background
An understandable explanation of what is the matter and all of your treatment options
Freedom to find another professional if you are not satisfied with your treatment or don’t think it’s working as well as it should
Help track your symptoms and talk to your health care provider
Here are some ideas from others who live with anxiety and depression or bipolar disorder. Start with this list. Use the things that work for you and add ideas of your own.
Tell yourself you can feel better when you are having a difficult day. Even if you don’t feel better right away, know that you have the tools to work toward wellness. Use affirmations, for example, “I can get through this.” or “Nothing is all bad.”
Get enough rest, eat nutritious meals and do some type of physical exercise daily.
Get help before there is a crisis. Make an appointment with your health care provider to stabilize your mood before an episode occurs.
Take time to recover if you have had an increase in your symptoms. Allow yourself to take things slower.
Prepare yourself for stressors that can’t be avoided by talking with a trusted friend before dealing with a stressful situation, setting aside time to be alone after stressful incidents or taking a break during the day for a brief rest or meditation. Canceling or postponing a stressful encounter if you are not feeling well is a legitimate way of taking care of yourself.
Write down your feelings and thoughts in a journal or on paper you throw away if you are not ready to talk with a health care provider or support person. Reading your journal entries over a period of time can give you insights about some of your thoughts, feelings or behaviors.
Express yourself through music, art or other creative activities. You don’t need to worry about the quality of your work or share it with anyone when you are finished.
When symptoms keep you from going out, call someone, write a letter, or contact someone by e-mail.
Allow yourself to relax and make a commitment to spend some time relaxing at the same time each day or week.
Break large tasks down into smaller, more manageable steps.
Set realistic expectations for yourself. No one can “do it all.” Perfection is impossible, yet many people believe they must be perfect and put themselves under stress trying to achieve perfection. Work on accepting yourself as you are and not punishing yourself for your mistakes.
Look for triggers you may not be aware of along with patterns in your symptoms and stress levels. Keep a journal of the time of day and what you were doing when you felt stress, fear, worry or panic.
Event – Arguing with a loved one
My Reaction (Thoughts, Emotions, Actions) – I get anxious, my thoughts start to race, I feel like everything I do is wrong.
What Can I Do?
Take a deep breath, remind myself I am worthwhile. Be aware of my own attitude, discuss this stressor in therapy or support group, spend less time with this person.