Your heart is racing. Thoughts are scattered. Focus is not going to happen today. Anxiety has taken charge of your brain and body.
It’s actually a common mental health issue that affects millions of people worldwide. Anxiety can cause feelings of worry, nervousness, fear, and even panic that interfere with you living your life. Not only does it affect your mental health, anxiety impacts your physical health, causing myriad symptoms, such as headaches, insomnia, chest pain, or digestive problems.
While anxiety affects us all to certain levels over the course of our lives, it can be especially challenging for midlife men and women, who also face a variety of other stressors such as career changes, health issues, and familial responsibilities. Anxiety is not a normal part of aging, and it can be treated effectively with the right strategies.
Why Overcoming it Matters
Anxiety can have negative impacts on your well-being, relationships, and productivity.
Specifically, it can:
- increase the risk of developing other mental health problems, such as depression, substance abuse, or suicidal thoughts
- worsen your physical health – contributing to chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or obesity
- impair cognitive function, as it may affect memory, attention, or decision-making
- reduce your quality of life by limiting your social interactions, hobbies, or enjoyment
Luckily, it can be overcome provided you recognize it for what it is and start some small behaviors to work through these times.
Some of the most helpful ones are:
- Relax. Relaxation techniques can help you calm your mind and body and reduce the symptoms of anxiety. Some examples of relaxation techniques are deep breathing, saunas, bathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, yoga, or tai chi.
- Exercise. Exercise can help you release endorphins, which are natural chemicals that make you feel good and reduce stress. Exercise can also improve your physical fitness, self-esteem, and mood.
- Dietary Balance. Eating a balanced diet can help you nourish your brain and body and regulate your blood sugar levels. Avoid foods that can increase anxiety, such as caffeine, alcohol, refined carbohydrates, sugar, and/or processed foods. Choose foods that boost your mood and energy, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, or omega-3 fatty acids.
- Connect. Connecting with others can help you feel supported and understood and reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. Seek positive people who are supportive and share your thoughts and feelings with them. You can also join a support group or a community organization.
Here are a few of my favorite practical tips to try:
The 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique
Here’s how it works (This technique works best if you pair it with deep, slow breathing):
- Five. Look around the room, then name five things you see around you. These can be objects, spots on the wall, or a bird flying outside. The key is to count down those five things.
- Four. Next, name four things you can touch. This can be the ground beneath your feet, the chair you’re sitting in, or your hair that you run your fingers through.
- Three. Listen quietly, then acknowledge three things you can hear. These can be external sounds, like a fan in the room, or internal sounds, like the sound of your breathing.
- Two. Note two things you can smell. Maybe that’s the coffee brewing.
- One. Notice something you can taste inside your mouth. Maybe that’s the remains of breakfast.
Question Your Thoughts
Anxiety doesn’t come out of the blue. When you have anxiety attacks, it’s often because you tend to ruminate on negative thoughts. You can control this by learning to dismiss the triggers causing anxiety.
There are many different strategies you can try that may be effective. Here’s something to try:
When you feel anxious, have a checklist on hand of questions to ask yourself about that anxiety experience. The longer the checklist, the more you’ll find that your thoughts become more realistic.
Questions that you can use include:
- Why do I believe something is wrong?
- What evidence do I have? Is it true?
- What if it’s not true?
- If it is true, what’s the worst that could happen?
When you are feeling anxious, grounding techniques can put you back in control. There are many methods for grounding and you can practice them at anytime so that when symptoms do arise, the techniques are second nature. Here’s an example:
Body Scan Exercise: this helps raise awareness of your body and what is going within. The focus is not on the feelings of good, bad, painful, pleasurable, etc, but rather that you notice there is a sensation (tingling, warmth, tightness, etc.) For this exercise, lay down and simply breathe for a minute or two. Begin by bringing awareness to your back, feeling the surface you are on. Then bring your focus to one foot and notice sensations as you slowly move up your to the ankle, then the knee and the thigh, move to your other foot and up the leg in the same way. Next, move up to the abdomen, the chest, then the shoulder, arms and hands. Next bring attention to the top of your head. Complete the practice by feeling your whole body from bottom to top. Rest in appreciation of your body for a few moments before moving on to another activity.
Seek help as needed
If your anxiety is severe or persistent, you may benefit from consulting a mental health professional who can diagnose your condition and provide appropriate treatment. Treatment options may include psychotherapy, medication, or both.
Live for Today
Learning to live for today can lower your anxiety. Anxiety is a normal part of life. It is something that everyone experiences. Chronic anxiety, on the other hand, that interferes with daily functioning becomes unhealthy.
When your focus is on fears and worries about the future, it keeps you from the present. Each day becomes a struggle, in trying to live with anxiety about the future instead of living for today. Learn to accept that you have anxiety. If you let yourself experience the fear and try to live life anyway, you may find that your anxiety dissipates.
You can learn how to manage anxiety in mid-life and beyond in our 6-week program. Get on the list for more details.