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What to do if you are anxious

Anxiety disorders are very treatable, but few people actually get any treatment. If you are struggling with anxiety, here are some suggestions for things you can do on your own and information on different forms of professional help.

Self care

  • What we put into our bodies can influence how we feel
    • reduce your caffeine intake
    • reduce your alcohol intake
    • reduce or stop smoking
      Caffeine, alcohol and smoking can all exacerbate symptoms of anxiety.
  • How we treat our bodies can influence how we feel
    • Exercise can have a powerful effect on the body. It increases endorphins, increases your heart rate, relieves muscle tension, and reduces stress and anxiety. Try to fit simple forms of exercise into your day.
      • go for a walk with a friend after dinner
      • take your dog for a walk
      • take the stairs instead of the elevator
      • look into exercise classes at your local gym
      • try a yoga or tai chi class
  • Get plenty of rest
    • try to go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday.
    • do calming activities as you prepare for bed (for example, taking a bath, reading a book).
    • avoid stimulating activities before bedtime, such as organizing your closet, or reviewing your expenses
  • Practice relaxation strategies
    • listen to calming music you enjoy
    • write in a journal
    • read a good book
    • flip through magazines
    • walk in nature
    • take a bath
    • draw, paint, sketch

Getting professional help

There are many different forms of professional help and different places you can get help if you are anxious.

  • Talk to your doctor
    Your doctor will likely ask you questions about your thoughts and feelings, how long you have been feeling that way, and what is happening in your daily life. S/he might be able to refer you to a specialist to talk to. It is also important to see your doctor in order to rule out any medical conditions that my cause similar symptoms.
  • Medications
    Medications need to be prescribed by a doctor (most often a psychiatrist). The medications most commonly used for anxiety are antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs and beta-blockers.
    • Antidepressants have been helpful for both people with depression and anxiety. Antidepressants will need to be prescribed by a medical doctor (usually a psychiatrist). These medications work by acting on different neurotransmitters in the brain. It is important to follow the directions for taking the medication. Most medications take up to four weeks to have any effect, and should not be stopped suddenly. Talk to your doctor about your concerns about taking medications.
    • Anti-anxiety drugs will need to be prescribed by a medical doctor (usually a psychiatrist). These drugs are called benzodiazepines. They have few side-effects, but people can develop a tolerance for them – requiring higher and higher doses to get the same effect. For this reason, they are often prescribed for a short period of time.
    • Beta-blockers were originally developed to treat individuals with heart conditions. They have been used to treat the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath or sweating. These drugs are effective in keeping these symptoms under control during a feared situation (for example, giving a speech).
  • Psychotherapy
    Talk therapy can be very helpful for some people with anxiety. There are many different people who do psychotherapy. Social workers, mental health therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists are some. It is important to work with someone with whom you feel comfortable. Some therapy is short-term (10-20 sessions), whereas other types are longer-term. This depends on your struggles and your goals for therapy. There has been a lot of research done on cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) for various anxiety disorders. CBT usually involves a combination of exploring one’s anxious thoughts, challenging these thoughts, and developing strategies for managing anxious situations. Some therapists incorporate exposure strategies, where one faces the situations or objects one fears. This is often done in a gradual fashion, starting with something small and working your way up to bigger fears. CBT is an active and collaborative approach between the client and therapist. Some therapists incorporate relaxation strategies. All of these approaches have been shown to be effective for anxiety.
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  • Women's College Hospital