Anxiety Management

Most people experience stress and anxiety from time to time. Anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry, or unease. It can be a reaction to stress, or it can occur in people who are unable to identify significant stressors in their life. Anxiety disorders can affect a person’s ability to work, study and participate in other activities. Recovery is possible with appropriate treatment. Anxiety disorders can be distressing and debilitating. They may contribute to loss of educational and employment opportunities and difficulties in family and social relationships. Recovery is possible with appropriate treatment such as exposure therapy, attention training, and a range of anxiety management techniques that can help you manage your symptoms. You can learn the following strategies yourself or you can consult with a trained professional.

Cause of Anxiety

For most people, stress and anxiety come and go. They usually occur after particular life events, but then go away.

  • Common causes
  • Common stressors include:
  • moving
  • starting a new school or job
  • having an illness or injury
  • having a friend or family member who is ill or injured
  • death of a family member or friend
  • getting married
  • having a baby

Drugs and medications

Drugs that contain stimulants may make the symptoms of stress and anxiety worse. Regular use of caffeine, illicit drugs such as cocaine, and even alcohol can also make symptoms worse. Prescription medications that can make symptoms worse include:

  • thyroid medications
  • asthma inhalers
  • diet pills

Anxiety-related disorders

Stress and anxiety that occur frequently or seem out of proportion to the stressors may be signs of an anxiety disorder. An estimated 40 million Americans live with some type of anxiety disorder.

People with these disorders may feel anxious and stressed on a daily basis and for prolonged periods of time. These disorders include the following:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a common anxiety disorder characterized by uncontrollable worrying. Sometimes people worry about bad things happening to them or their loved ones, and at other times they may not be able to identify any source of worry.
  • Panic disorder is a condition that causes panic attacks, which are moments of extreme fear accompanied by a pounding heart, shortness of breath, and a fear of impending doom.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that causes flashbacks or anxiety as the result of a traumatic experience.
  • Social phobia is a condition that causes intense feelings of anxiety in situations that involve interacting with others.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a condition that causes repetitive thoughts and the compulsion to complete certain ritual actions.

Symptoms of Anxiety

While anxiety symptoms vary from person to person, in general the body reacts in a very specific way to anxiety. When you feel anxious, your body goes on high alert, looking for possible danger and activating your fight or flight responses. As a result, some common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • nervousness, restlessness, or being tense
  • feelings of danger, panic, or dread
  • rapid heart rate
  • rapid breathing, or hyperventilation
  • increased or heavy sweating
  • trembling or muscle twitching
  • weakness and lethargy
  • difficulty focusing or thinking clearly about anything other than the thing you’re worried about
  • insomnia
  • digestive or gastrointestinal problems, such as gas, constipation, or diarrhea
  • a strong desire to avoid the things that trigger your anxiety
  • obsessions about certain ideas, a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • performing certain behaviors over and over again
  • anxiety surrounding a particular life event or experience that has occurred in the past, especially indicative of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Panic attacks

A panic attack is a sudden onset of fear or distress that peaks in minutes and involves experiencing at least four of the following symptoms:

  • palpitations
  • sweating
  • shaking or trembling
  • feeling shortness of breath or smothering
  • sensation of choking
  • chest pains or tightness
  • nausea or gastrointestinal problems
  • dizziness, light-headedness, or feeling faint
  • feeling hot or cold
  • numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesia)
  • feeling detached from oneself or reality, known as depersonalization and derealization
  • fear of “going crazy” or losing control
  • fear of dying
There are some symptoms of anxiety that can happen in conditions other than anxiety disorders. This is usually the case with panic attacks. The symptoms of panic attacks are similar to those of heart disease, thyroid problems, breathing disorders, and other illnesses. As a result, people with panic disorder may make frequent trips to emergency rooms or doctor’s offices. They may believe they are experiencing life-threatening health conditions other than anxiety.

Managing Anxiety

Some of the management options for anxiety disorders include:

  • learning about anxiety
  • mindfulness
  • relaxation techniques
  • correct breathing techniques
  • cognitive therapy 
  • behavior therapy
  • counselling  
  • dietary adjustments
  • exercise
  • learning to be assertive
  • building self-esteem
  • structured problem solving
  • medication
  • support groups

Learning about anxiety

The old adage ‘knowledge is power’ applies here – learning all about anxiety is central to recovery. For example, education includes examining the physiology of the ‘flight-or-fight’ response, which is the body’s way to deal with impending danger. For people with anxiety disorders, this response is inappropriately triggered by situations that are generally harmless. Education is an important way to promote control over symptoms.


When feeling anxious, a person can spend a significant amount of time caught up in anxiety-provoking thoughts. Mindfulness guides us to bring our attention back to the present moment and unhook from thoughts that may be unhelpful. Mindfulness is becoming more and more popular as people start to realize how beneficial it is for a number of issues. There are many resources available to support you to develop a mindfulness practice.

Relaxation techniques

A person who feels anxious most of the time has trouble relaxing, but knowing how to release muscle tension can be a helpful strategy. Relaxation techniques include:

  • progressive muscle relaxation
  • abdominal breathing
  • isometric relaxation exercises.

Correct breathing techniques

The physical symptoms of anxiety may be triggered by hyperventilation, which raises oxygen levels and reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood. Carbon dioxide assists in the regulation of the body’s reaction to anxiety and panic. It can be helpful for a person who suffers from anxiety to learn how to breathe from their diaphragm, rather than their chest, to safeguard against hyperventilation. The key is allowing your belly to expand as you breathe in. 

You can make sure you are breathing correctly by placing one hand on your lower abdomen and the other on your chest. Correct breathing means your abdomen moves, rather than your chest. It also helps to slow your breathing while feeling anxious.  Some people can find abdominal breathing challenging. There are many other breathing techniques that you can try. You can also try to hold your breath for a few seconds. This helps to boost carbon dioxide levels in the blood.

Cognitive therapy

Cognitive therapy focuses on changing patterns of thinking and beliefs that are associated with, and trigger, anxiety. For example, a person with a social phobia may make their anxiety worse by negative thoughts such as, ‘Everyone thinks I’m boring’. The basis of cognitive therapy is that beliefs trigger thoughts, which then trigger feelings and produce behaviors. For example, let’s say you believe (perhaps unconsciously) that you must be liked by everyone in order to feel worthwhile. If someone turns away from you in mid-conversation, you may think, ‘This person hates me’, which makes you feel anxious. Cognitive therapy strategies include rational ‘self-talk’, reality testing, attention training, cognitive challenging and cognitive restructuring. This includes monitoring your self-talk, challenging unhelpful fears and beliefs, and testing out the reality of negative thoughts.

Behavior therapy

A major component of behavior therapy is exposure. Exposure therapy involves deliberately confronting your fears in order to desensitise yourself. Exposure allows you to train yourself to redefine the danger or fear aspect of the situation or trigger. The steps of exposure therapy may include:

  • Rank your fears in order, from most to least threatening.
  • Choose to work first on one of your least threatening fears.
  • Think about the feared situation. Imagine yourself experiencing the situation. Analyse your fears -– what are you afraid of? 
  • Work out a plan that includes a number of small steps – for example, gradually decrease the distance between yourself and the feared situation or object, or gradually increase the amount of time spent in the feared situation. 
  • Resist the urge to leave. Use relaxation, breathing techniques and coping statements to help manage your anxiety.
  • Afterwards, appreciate that nothing bad happened.
  • Repeat the exposure as often as you can to build confidence that you can cope. 
  • When you are ready, tackle another feared situation in the same step-by-step manner.

Dietary adjustments

The mineral magnesium helps muscle tissue to relax, and a magnesium deficiency can contribute to anxiety, depression and insomnia. Inadequate intake of vitamin B and calcium can also exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Make sure your daily diet includes foods such as wholegrain cereals, leafy green vegetables and low-fat dairy products. 

Nicotine, caffeine and stimulant drugs (such as those that contain caffeine) trigger your adrenal glands to release adrenaline, which is one of the main stress chemicals. These are best avoided. Other foods to avoid include salt and artificial additives, such as preservatives. Choose fresh, unprocessed foods whenever possible.


The physical symptoms of anxiety are caused by the ‘flight-or-fight’ response, which floods the body with adrenaline and other stress chemicals. Exercise burns up stress chemicals and promotes relaxation. Physical activity is another helpful way to manage anxiety. Aim to do some physical activity at least three to four times every week, and vary your activities to avoid boredom.

Learning to be assertive

Being assertive means communicating your needs, wants, feelings, beliefs and opinions to others in a direct and honest manner without intentionally hurting anyone’s feelings. A person with an anxiety disorder may have trouble being assertive because they are afraid of conflict or believe they have no right to speak up. However, relating passively to others lowers self-confidence and reinforces anxiety. Learning to behave assertively is central to developing a stronger self-esteem.

Building self-esteem

People with anxiety disorder often have low self-esteem. Feeling worthless can make the anxiety worse in many ways. It can trigger a passive style of interacting with others and foster a fear of being judged harshly. Low self-esteem may also be related to the impact of the anxiety disorder on your life. These problems may include:
  • isolation
  • feelings of shame and guilt
  • depressed mood
  • difficulties in functioning at school, work or in social situations. 
The good news is you can take steps to learn about and improve your self-esteem. Community support organisations and counselling may help you to cope with these problems. 

Structured problem solving

Some people with anxiety disorders are ‘worriers’, who fret about a problem rather than actively solve it. Learning how to break down a problem into its various components – and then decide on a course of action – is a valuable skill that can help manage generalized anxiety and depression. This is known as structured problem solving.


It is important that medications are seen as a short-term measure, rather than the solution to anxiety disorders. 

Research studies have shown that psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavior therapy, are much more effective than medications in managing anxiety disorders in the long term. Your doctor may prescribe a brief course of tranquilizers or antidepressants to help you deal with your symptoms while other treatment options are given a chance to take effect. 

Support groups & education

Support groups allow people with anxiety to meet in comfort and safety, and give and receive support. They also provide the opportunity to learn more about anxiety and to develop social networks. 


Stress and anxiety are treatable conditions and there are many resources, strategies, and treatments that can help. If you’re unable to control your worries, and stress is impacting your daily life, talk to your primary care provider about ways to manage stress and anxiety.

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  1. This subject need a lot of awareness. Thanks for sharing

  2. Really awesome post. For me I follow mindfulness to avoid. Thank you

  3. In depth details given
    Thanks for this

  4. Very detailed article. Love how you put medication as the last resort and not right at the top. It may be helpful to provide immediate relief but any shortcut comes with a price and so does this. I wish more people understood this!

  5. Yes indeed anxiety is a real thing been through it.. really detailed article