Anxiety. Just thinking about the all-too-familiar experience can itself be anxiety-provoking. If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, then you probably know how it can pop up at the most inconvenient times. Anxiety is more than just a passing bout of fear or stress that you can typically work through and still engage in work or play. A little anxiety is a normal aspect of the human experience. In fact, it’s considered an evolutionarily adaptive characteristic because it can indicate when a person, place, or thing could be dangerous. In other words, anxiety promotes survival.
By contrast, when anxiety is excessive and pervasive, it is considered a disorder. There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and various phobia-related disorders. When you’re living with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety doesn’t just go away with ease; sometimes, it gets much worse before it gets better. It is typically highly disruptive to everyday life, compromising relationships and preventing work from getting done. The stress can quite literally be debilitating. Nevertheless, finding a way to manage your anxiety is critical to living a happy and healthy life.
Origin of Anxiety
While the origins of anxiety disorders are still a subject of intense research, evidence shows that they may be linked to particular genes. One study concluded that generalized anxiety disorder, for example, is indeed heritable, with a heritability of approximately 30%. Generalized anxiety disorder is associated with childhood separation anxiety, social phobia, and panic.
Some scientists seek to understand anxiety disorders through the framework of the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (EEA), which refers to the environmental conditions that our ancient ancestors survived in and adapted to. This framework suggests that the roots of anxiety go back hundreds of millions of years. Differences in the environment of the past and today may have caused a mental mismatch. This mismatch is theorized to be one cause of mental or behavioral disorders. Some theorize that many psychiatric disorders, like anxiety disorders, are “expressions of proximate mechanisms that are adaptive for survival.” In other words, they may have protected us from some specific threat in our environment.
How Can I Manage It?
There are many ways that a person suffering from anxiety disorder can manage the condition. First off, if you think you have a disorder but haven’t been clinically diagnosed, it’s a good idea to consult with a physician to determine if you have a disorder and, if you do, which type. They may recommend medication to treat the symptoms, which may require long-term use. In addition to medication, or even alternatively, you could attend therapy to identify the underlying causes or triggers of your anxiety. A therapist can help you develop a management plan that fits with your daily schedule.
Another option to manage your anxiety is exercise. Evidence shows that routine exercise, such as yoga, jogging, swimming, and more, reduces anxiety by increasing endorphins and blood circulation to the brain. Meditation is another practice to consider. In a 2014 study with 3,515 participants, mindfulness meditation programs resulted in moderate improvements in anxiety and depression but did not change behaviors impacted by stress, like substance abuse and sleep. Another study suggests that persons who meditate may have a higher ability to process information due to the increased folds found in the outer layer of the brain. Meditation may even slow, stall, or even reverse the aging of the brain.
Breathwork is another proof-in-the-pudding activity that can be easily used anywhere and any time. There are various types of breathwork. One kind is the 4-7-8 practice: breathe in for four seconds, hold for seven, breathe out for eight. For some, this breathing pattern can immediately ease the effects of anxiety. A different pattern is the breath of fire, which, if you do yoga, you might already be familiar with. It involves the continuous and fast-paced pumping of the diaphragm, pushing air out through the nose only. You can practice this for sixty seconds and then take a deep, clearing breath, then repeat if necessary. Research suggests that such breathing techniques can result in increased and sustained attention after practice, in addition to significantly lower cortisol levels which are associated with stress.
Anxiety disorder comes in several forms, but all are characterized by intense and abnormal fear and stress that can be long-lasting. In the U.S., these disorders are quite common, but that doesn’t change the fact they can be debilitating. Living with such a pervasive condition can feel like you are living in a painful drama and you are the star. Some scientists hypothesize that anxiety disorders stem from adaptations to our ancestral environments, helping us survive under very different conditions than today. They have also found genetic linkages to such disorders, indicating they are heritable and can run in families. Regardless, learning how to cope in our modern environment is central to surviving and thriving. While there are various and proven beneficial techniques like exercise and intentional breathwork, that might not be enough for some. Consulting a physician and determining how to manage your disorder can be life-changing. Oceanfront Recovery, located in picturesque Laguna Beach, has a program to offer you: our Anxiety Treatment Program. Our clinical staff has a variety of treatment modalities at their disposal and will develop a recovery plan specific to you and your situation. We’ll be waiting to hear from you. Call us today at (877) 279-1777.