6 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Recovery from Depression and Anxiety

Psych Central Article Here

By Therese J. Borchard
Associate Editor Last updated: 10 Apr 2019
~ 3 MIN READ
Recovering from depression and anxiety call for the same kind of shrewdness and amount of perspiration as does running a 4,000-person company. I say that having never done the latter. But hear out my logic: great leaders must master impeccable governing skills, develop the discipline of a triathlete, and build enough stamina to manage multiple personalities. And so does anyone wanting to get outside of her head and live a little.

So I think it’s fitting to translate the insight of a book about business success, The Wisdom of Failure: How to Learn the Tough Leadership Lessons Without Paying the Price by Laurence Weinzimmer and Jim McConoughey, to victory over a mood disorder, or even mild but annoying anxiety and depression.

Weinzimmer and McConoughey describe their “taxonomy of leadership mistakes,” or nine common ways an executive falls flat on his face and is made fun of by his peers. The business world is replete with calculated risks. It’s a chess game, and a few too many wrong moves will have you packing up your stuff from the corner office.

As I read through them, I kept thinking about my main job — managing my depression as best I can — and the pitfalls that I so often run into. Many are the same listed in this book. Here are six mistakes business leaders make that are appropriate for our purposes:

Mistake one: Trying to be all things to all people.
The “just say no” problem that I have all the time. If you think of requests from friends, families, bosses, co-workers, and golden retrievers as customers asking you for all kinds of products that you can’t simultaneously produce, then you see the logic in your having to draw the line at some point. You must hang on to your resources to stay well.

Mistake two: Roaming outside the box.
Clarification: thinking outside the box is good. Hanging out there, strolling around in pursuit of some meaning that you keep finding in everything that passes by — that’s dangerous. When it comes to recovery, this is very important to remember. I like to try new things: yoga, new fish oil supplements, a new light lamp, different support groups.

What gets me in trouble is when I start to think that I don’t have bipolar disorder and can go off all meds, healing myself through meditation alone. I tried that once and landed in the hospital twice. Now I double check to make sure the box is still in my peripheral vision.

Mistake three: Efficiencies before effectiveness.
This has to do with seeing the forest behind the trees, and subscribing to a policy of making decisions based on the view of the forest, not the trees that are blocking everything from your sight. The authors cite the example of Circuit City’s CEO who cut 3,400 sales people to decrease costs despite the fact that their research said that customers want knowledgeable sales people to help them make decisions when buying electronics. His approach was efficient, but not all that effective.

When you are desperate to feel better, it’s so easy to reach for the Band-Aid — booze, cigarettes, toxic relationships — that might do an efficient job of killing the pain. Effective in the longterm? Not so much.

Mistake four: Dysfunctional harmony.
Like me! Like me! Please like me! Dysfunctional harmony involves abandoning your needs to please others, which jeopardizes your recovery efforts.

“Being an effective leader [or person in charge of one’s health] means that sometimes you will not make the most popular decisions,” the authors explain. “By doing what is necessary, you will sometimes make some people angry. That’s okay. It’s part of the job. If you are in a leadership role and you try to be liked by everyone all of the time, you will inevitably create drama and undercut your own authority and effectiveness.”

So think of yourself as the CEO of you and start making some authoritative decisions that are in the best interest of You, Inc.

Mistake five: Hoarding
I’m not talking about your sister’s stash of peanuts and Q-Tips. This is about hoarding responsibility. For those of us trying like hell to live a good and happy life, this means giving over the reins now and then to other people, persons, and things that can help us: doctors, husbands, sisters, even pets. It means relying on the people in your life who say they love you and letting them do the small things so that you can try your best to be the best boss of yourself again.

Mistake six: Disengagement
Burnout. It happens in all recovery. I have yet to meet someone who can continue a regiment of daily meditation, boot camp, and spinach and cucumber smoothies for more than three months without calling uncle and reaching for the pepperoni pizza. That’s why it is so critical to pace yourself in your recovery. What’s a realistic number of times to exercise during the week? Are you really going to do that at 4:30 am? Why not allow yourself one day of hotdogs and ice-cream in order to not throw out the whole healthy living initiative at once?

Imagine yourself a great leader of your mind, body, and spirit — managing a staff of personalities inside yourself that need direction. Take it from these two corporate leaders, and don’t make the same mistakes.

The Deceitful Voice Of Depression

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Teenage Depression

I never considered myself the sort of person who would take their own life…

That’s an awful lot of people, but I never expected to become one of them. I have always been known for my sunny, cheerful nature and natural ease in social situations. Neither was I an anxious person. How could someone like me become so anxious and depressed I actually contemplated taking my own life? The truth is I don’t know the answer. On paper, there’s nothing in my life that could make me feel this bad. I have a good marriage, a job I love and am financially secure. I have a decent group of friends and time to indulge in my hobbies. But some of the resources online that talk about depression are less than helpful.

“Focus on the positives,” they say. “Think of all the good things in your life.”

But that doesn’t make me feel better. It makes me feel worse because if I concentrate on the good things in my life, I feel selfish and overprivileged. Other people have far worse problems than I do. The truth is depression is common and is not always situational (e.g. a response to trauma or a bereavement). And the thing about depression is it lies to you, tells you you’re worthless and a burden and it’s not easy to ignore its insidious voice.

So after months of trying medication after medication, I was getting progressively worse to the point where I had completely lost hope.  The crushing feeling of despair that things were never going to get better was overwhelming, and what had been fleeting thoughts of suicide suddenly crystallized into a plan. I even had the music I wanted to play. It was a stupid and dangerous plan, one that could have inadvertently hurt other people and it was that thought that stopped me. I had no desire for anyone to be hurt because of me. Instead, I called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline3 (1-800-273-8255, or text the 2-letter abbreviation for your state to 741741).

I was in my car in a parking lot and they told me to stay where I was until the crisis team found me. The police showed up and asked me a few questions before taking me off to a crisis center for evaluation. At the crisis center, I was handcuffed to be taken inside. My shame and humiliation, already at a high level, increased dramatically.

Inside the crisis center, it was a chaotic scene. Most of the people there were either drunk or high. The staff were nice but seemed harried and overstretched. Eventually, I was assessed and referred to a local hospital for inpatient treatment. The whole thing took hours and I got no sleep that night. The next day I was distressed and scared and nobody was telling me what was happening. My husband was desperately trying to get in contact with me but they had my cellphone and nobody would tell him anything or let him see me. I understand why, but it was very difficult for him.

Despite the rough beginning, it was exactly what I needed. Enclosed in this cocoon where the outside world could not penetrate, I could concentrate on myself for a while. I spent about a week in the hospital, and now I am out again, I’m looking at the world with new eyes.

Maybe you’d argue I’m oversensitive, but every time someone uses suicide hyperbolically in casual conversation, it hurts me. My throat clogs and my eyes burn. Because now I understand what it means to truly want to die.

If someone you know (or a celebrity) dies by suicide:

Don’t say you never expected it. The truth is, you have no idea. Some people, like me, are very good at faking it.

Don’t tell a suicidal person they have so much to live for. It’s not as helpful as you might think.

Don’t call suicide selfish. I used to think this but that’s because I didn’t understand. A depressed person often believes their death would be beneficial to the people in their life because they feel like a burden.

If someone in your life has depression:

Be supportive. That means being understanding if they don’t want to socialize, or aren’t feeling chatty. Be willing to listen if they want to talk, but don’t ask them how they’re feeling every 5 minutes.

Encourage them to seek help. There are resources out there, although they’re terribly overstretched. Reference 3 can help you find local resources.

Things have gotten better for me. My psychiatrist has added another medication, I’m going to start attending group therapy as well as my weekly individual therapy sessions and I’m going to try transcranial magnetic stimulation4. The new medication is already helping, and I’m investing in some wellness measures as well. I’m grateful to everyone who has been helping me. It’s still a daily battle and I’m a long way from winning this war, but now at least, I have hope.

  1. www.nimh.nih.gov/…
  2. afsp.org/…
  3. suicidepreventionlifeline.org
  4. www.mayoclinic.org/…

You Might Be Procrastinating Because You’re Anxious

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Procrastination may be the reason you’re reading this post, but the reason you’re procrastinating in the first place might actually be anxiety.

It took me a long time to start writing today: first, I had to check all three of my email accounts, Twitter, Instagram, text my dad about something I remembered, get a glass of water, then check my email again. My procrastination habits are what’s keeping me from taking over the world, I’m pretty sure. I’ll figure it out as soon as I Google what year Julia Child was born.

For those of us who have a habit of procrastinating, especially when it comes to something important, it might be more than just ‘goofing off.’ The urge to procrastinate is connected to a “fight or flight” response in our brains, per an article in Quartz at Work on how anxiety is stopping us from finishing important projects. The procrastination is the “flight” response in action. Here are some ways to figure out if you’re anxious—not lazy—and then get out of the hole.

Recognize the symptoms

Maybe you’re feeling relaxed and enjoying a day of ignoring laundry or other chores—great! That’s probably not anxiety. Psychologist Andrew Rosen, founder and director of the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida, told Quartz at Work that you can tell it’s anxiety if you’re spending a lot of time rationalizing your behavior or even dismissing the thing you’re supposed to do as meaningless:

Humans are remarkably creative when it comes to finding ways to avoid that bad feeling, be it procrastination (“I’ll do it tomorrow”), diversion (“I’ll just check Twitter first”), or self-sabotage (“You know what? It’s a dumb idea anyway.”) This last one is particularly popular among analytical or cerebral types who may not even realize the extent to which their hyper-rational reasons for abandoning a dream are influenced by fear.

If you are spending a lot of your procrastination time up in your head, justifying why the thing you have to do is stupid, it might mean you’re not really comfortable with avoiding it.

Examine your justifications

As long as you’re procrastinating, do so in a way that can fight back the anxiety. If you’ve been making up lists of reasons why you can’t do something, take that list and make it into a new list—one that examines the legitimacy of those justifications. Robin Yeganeh, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, had a great exercise for that:

“We often get in the bad habit of choosing actions that are more comfortable over behaviors that are good for us based on ‘reason giving,’” Yeganeh said. “For example, ‘I work hard so I shouldn’t have to do X’ or ‘I am too tired to make progress on X.’ I would suggest listing all the reasons for not engaging in higher priority behaviors and then challenging the credibility of each reason. Decide if these rules have led to successes in life or if they need to be upgraded in favor of success-oriented reasons for making decisions.”

This is a gentle way to face what you’re doing: avoiding responsibilities. It might be enough to snap you out of it, so you can move on to what actually needs to get done.

Examine your feelings

At the heart of all this is the reason why you’re feeling anxious in the first place. If you’re cleaning under the fridge to avoid a project that might lead to a promotion, there’s probably something deeper going on, according to psychologist Leslie Connor:

Every success comes with tradeoffs—more exposure, more pressure, less freedom—and ignoring worries about those can come back to bite us.

“If we only connect with the affirming feelings, and push down the ambivalence or fears, they will come out. But sometimes they will bang on the door,” Connor said.

And then there is the big one: the fear of failing.

If you’re finding this is a constant issue in your life, you might need to speak with a therapist about your anxiety, because no one should have to live in this state no matter their obligations. But, for some, acknowledging fears and anxieties might be a start to breaking the cycle of procrastination.

7 Signs You’re Dealing With Anxiety

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If you’ve ever felt butterflies in your stomach before a big presentation at work or had sweaty palms before seeing the dentist, then you know what anxiety feels like.

It’s no fun but it does serve a purpose: “Anxiety is tied to the fight or flight state,” explains Elizabeth Ward, PhD, a psychologist and performance coach in the Boston area. “It allows us to perform at a higher level by producing adrenaline and other hormones that give us energy and optimizes our bodies to pump blood to our lungs and hearts to get us moving.”

This chain reaction works as an evolutionary advantage in do-or-die situations, but regularly experiencing too much anxiety can indicate generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), says Dianne Chambless, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Just experiencing anxiety in itself isn’t a problem,” she says. “It’s when the anxiety is so severe it’s making your life miserable or interfering with your work, your relationships, your ability to enjoy hobbies or activities — that’s when we call it an anxiety disorder.”

Indeed, the National Institute of Mental Health characterize people with GAD as displaying “excessive anxiety or worry, most days for at least 6 months, about a number of things such as personal health, work, social interactions, and everyday routine life circumstances.”

If you’re debating whether “it’s just stress” or something more, talk to your doctor who may refer you to a specialist for additional help. In the meantime, here are seven common signs associated with anxiety in women, according to psychologists:

1. You catastrophize frequently.

The number one sign of a generalized anxiety disorder is constant worry that gets in the way of doing everyday tasks. It’s okay if this happens from time to time but “at some point, given enough difficult experiences, it can cross the line into disorder,” Dr. Chambless says.

Generally speaking, Dr. Chamless says thoughts typically associated with generalized anxiety disorders are two-fold:

  • Thinking it’s highly likely that something bad is going to happen, AND
  • Thinking that if that something bad does happen, it would be truly awful

For example, if you’re socially anxious and you’re about to give a big talk at work, you’ll not only worry that people won’t like the presentation but you’ll also catastrophize that if you blow it, you’ll lose your job.

2. You have trouble falling — and staying — asleep.

Stress and anxiety can cause or exacerbate existing sleeping problems, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Not only does mentally running through your to-do list keep you up at night, but some researchers theorize that biological factors – like your brain structure or the neurotransmitters in your body — may also play a role, according to a systematic review published in Sleep.

To make matters worse, missing out on sufficient sleep (about seven to eight hours per night for most people) can also aggravate symptoms of anxiety. “If you’re consistently getting less than enough, your body’s not working at its top level, which makes you more susceptible to feeling anxious,” says Dr. Ward.

According to the Mayo Clinic, other physical symptoms associated with anxiety include:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension or aches
  • Sweating
  • Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome

3. You frequently stress about your relationship.

This can take a toll on a friendship or marriage as the person with anxiety seeks reassurance, Dr. Chambless says — not just occasionally, but over, and over, and over again. Constantly being on edge can also breed irritability, another stressor that can impact the quality of the relationship.

4. You dwell a lot on your appearance.

While some of us may notice a new wrinkle, put a little makeup on it, and go on with our day, people with an anxiety order may become overly fixated on how they look

“A person who’s more anxious might obsesses about their appearance before they leave the house, ruminate on it more during the day, or even feel ‘Gosh, I don’t want to go to that dinner tonight because I don’t like the way that I feel,'” Dr. Ward explains.

5. You avoid social situations or parties.

Happy woman holding glass of red wine on sofa
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To keep anxiety at bay, someone with GAD might skip out on events that may trigger their anxiety — which only impacts how they get along with others more. On top of that, dodging social events can put a strain on your relationship. “It restricts the spouse’s world as well as the world of the person who has the problem,” Dr. Chambless says.

6. You’re constantly comparing yourself to others.

Social status and money come up a lot among Dr. Ward’s clients, whether it’s dwelling on a friend’s exotic vacation or their kids going to a better school. While it’s common to feel a fleeting “I wish I had that,” this type of anxiety goes beyond momentary envy.

“It may become a major concern for people with anxiety,” Dr. Ward says. “It becomes a slippery slope where they have a lot of negative or over-exaggerated thinking.”

If you spend a lot of time on social media, that may only exacerbate this kinds of comparison-based thinking.

7. You struggle with drugs or alcohol.

While there’s no proof that substance abuse can cause GAD or vice versa, there is evidence of a relationship between the two.

Approximately 20% of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder have an alcohol or other substance use disorder, and about 20% of those with a substance use disorder also have an anxiety or mood disorder, according to the ADAA.

“Anxiety problems tend to start before substance abuse,” Dr. Chambless says. “We think at least some people start using drugs to self-medicate.” As for how much is too much, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines moderate alcohol consumption as up to one drink per day for adult women, and up to two per day for men.


What to Do If You’re Struggling With Anxiety

Having anxiety can feel overwhelming and debilitating at times, but there are a lot of ways you can address these feelings and find help. Talk your doctor, who may refer you to a professional psychologist or licensed clinical social worker for cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or a psychiatrist to discuss medication options. In addition to seeking professional advice, these steps may also help:

  • Get more sleepExperts recommend sleeping for at least seven hours each night to avoid negative effects on your mood, focus, and decision-making.
  • Exercise more. Working out produces endorphins, which can help offset anxiety, Dr. Ward says.
  • Rethink your diet. Getting the sufficient nutrients you need from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains can improve your mood, according to GH Nutrition Director
    Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN.
  • Try mindfulness techniques. Practicing meditation or yoga may help elicit a relaxation response to offset stress, Dr. Ward says.

If you’re struggling with anxiety and feel worried about your health or safety, you can contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357)This free, confidential information service can provide referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations

Health EditorCaroline is the Health Editor at GoodHousekeeping.com covering nutrition, fitness, wellness, and other lifestyle news.

How Gardening Can Fight Stress And Improve Your Life

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It’s National Nutrition Month, which makes it a great time to evaluate how you’ve been fueling your body. If one of the changes you’ve decided to make involves eating more fruits and vegetables, you might want to consider starting your own garden. Not only could this decision be beneficial to your waistline, it could also improve your mental health.

The Research

We’re fascinated by nature and this curiosity can help us better cope with life’s challenges. In fact, one study showed that engaging with a garden distracts us from our worries and stops us from obsessing about our problems. Over 12 weeks, participants saw an improvement in the severity of their depression during and immediately after the gardening study, and three months later, they still reported significant improvements!

Cortisol is a hormone released by the body when we’re experiencing stress. When the levels remain elevated in our bodies, it can increase our risk of depression, mental illness, impaired immune function, weight gain, heart disease and so much more. Incredibly, spending time in nature can help keep things under control.

Japanese researchers discovered that spending 30 minutes in the woods could not only lower cortisol levels, but could also improve heart rates and blood pressure. Similarly, another study showed that after 30 minutes of gardening, participants’ cortisol levels dropped and their moods were boosted by the activity.

The takeaway? Spending just half an hour with your hands in the soil, surrounded by vegetation, can provide serious benefits for your body, mind and overall health. Interested? Here are some tips to help you get started.

Keep it Simple

If you’ve never gardened before, you might feel overwhelmed by the prospect of starting a new hobby. The key is to start small and keep it simple. You don’t have to tear up your whole backyard and plant a farm — be realistic about the time and effort you’re willing to put into it. The last thing you want is to be stressed out about your stress-relieving garden!

While it’s great to listen to suggestions and advice from experienced “green thumbs,” this garden is all about you. No, you don’t need a specific type of shoes or apron to do this. Yes, starting with a few potted plants on your porch counts. Gardening is an escape and a hobby, so as soon as it starts feeling like a chore, simplify!

Unplug and Dig In

When you step out to your garden, leave the world behind. Thirty minutes from now, everything will be right where you left it. You’ll devote more than enough hours to texting, emails and social media throughout the rest of your day. When it’s time to weed, plant and till, allow yourself to slow down and disconnect.

Interestingly, studies have shown that multitasking decreases efficiency and that excessive mobile phone use can disrupt sleep and actually increase feelings of stress and depression.  Besides, you don’t want to get soil and grime in the grooves of your smartphone, right? Easy solution — leave it inside!

Stress-Reducing Designs

Ready to take your gardening efforts to the next level? There’s nothing wrong with keeping things small, but this is an opportunity to get creative. Use your imagination when choosing plants and a color palette and let it be a reflection of what you love to see.

For those seeking a little guidance, Dr. Leonard P. Perry at the University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science described some of the traits associated with gardens designed for serenity. As he explained, stress-reducing gardens “are often similar to any other woodland or flower garden, only emphasizing certain design principles and colors.”

Live in the Moment

There’s so much to see and do in a garden. Rather than dwelling on the challenges you’re facing or the lengthy to-do list waiting for you, give yourself permission to live in the moment. Notice the birds chirping, the gentle breeze and aromatic scent of soil and vegetation.

Practice mindfulness, a stress-relieving technique, by becoming fully captivated with what’s happening in your garden. Notice the ants scurrying to find shelter, note the color of the blossoms and contemplate the texture of the earth on your fingers. Be fascinated by all of the life that’s happening right before your eyes. It’s life-changing.

Get Down and Dirty!

This spring, for both your mental and physical health, consider planting a garden. As an added benefit, if you grow fruits and vegetables, you’ll have fresh produce to enjoy! No salad will taste better than the one grown by your own hands.

Even if you’ve never had a green thumb, give it a try and see what happens. Set aside 30 minutes, start small and see what happens. You might be surprised by how much you enjoy it!

Jeanne is a social sciences professor and writer.

Feeling Anxious? Being Kind Can Change That

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“Walking around and offering kindness to others in the world reduces anxiety and increases happiness and feelings of social connection,” says Douglas Gentile, professor of psychology at Iowa State University. “It’s a simple strategy that doesn’t take a lot of time that you can incorporate into your daily activities.”

Researchers tested the benefits of three different techniques intended to reduce anxiety and increase happiness or well-being. They did this by having college students walk around a building for 12 minutes and practice one of the following strategies:

  • Loving-kindness: Looking at the people they see and thinking to themselves, “I wish for this person to be happy.” Students were encouraged to really mean it as they were thinking it.
  • Interconnectedness: Looking at the people they see and thinking about how they are connected to each other. It was suggested that students think about the hopes and feelings they may share or that they might take a similar class.
  • Downward social comparison: Looking at the people they see and thinking about how they may be better off than each of the people they encountered.

The study, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, also included a control group in which researchers instructed students to look at people and focus on what they see on the outside, such as their clothing, the combination of colors, textures, as well as makeup and accessories. Researchers surveyed all students before and after the walk to measure anxiety, happiness, stress, empathy, and connectedness.

WHICH TECHNIQUE IS BEST?

The researchers compared each technique with the control group and found those who practiced loving-kindness or wished others well felt happier, more connected, caring, and empathetic, as well as less anxious. The interconnectedness group was more empathetic and connected. Downward social comparison showed no benefit, and was significantly worse than the loving-kindness technique.

Students who compared themselves to others felt less empathetic, caring, and connected than students who extended well wishes to others. Previous studies have shown downward social comparison has a buffering effect when we are feeling bad about ourselves. The researchers found the opposite.

“At its core, downward social comparison is a competitive strategy,” says coauthor Dawn Sweet, a senior lecturer in psychology. “That’s not to say it can’t have some benefit, but competitive mindsets have been linked to stress, anxiety, and depression.”

The researchers also examined how different types of people reacted to each technique. They expected people who were naturally mindful might benefit more from the loving-kindness strategy, or narcissistic people might have a hard time wishing for others to be happy. The results surprised them somewhat.

“This simple practice is valuable regardless of your personality type,” says coauthor Lanmiao He, a graduate student in psychology. “Extending loving-kindness to others worked equally well to reduce anxiety, increase happiness, empathy, and feelings of social connection.”

US VS. THEM

Social media is like a playground for comparisons: he makes more money than I do; she has a nicer car. While the study did not look specifically at social media, Gentile says the results demonstrate that comparison is a risky strategy.

“It is almost impossible not to make comparisons on social media,” Gentile says.

“Our study didn’t test this, but we often feel envy, jealousy, anger, or disappointment in response to what we see on social media, and those emotions disrupt our sense of well-being.”

Comparison works well when we are learning something or making a choice, Gentile says. For example, as children we learn by watching others and comparing their results to ours. However, when it comes to well-being, comparison is not as effective as loving-kindness, which consistently improves happiness.

Source: Iowa State University

The 10 Best Vitamins for Anxiety, According to Experts

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7 Signs Your Body Is Expressing Anxiety Physically

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You may experience anxious thoughts, but physically, anxiety lives in your body. Everyone is born with a predisposition towards occasional anxiety — a form of self-preservation — but with time, some people do become more anxious than others. Dealing with chronic anxiety is multifaceted, but figuring out how anxiety exists in both your mind and body can be really helpful towards understanding these issues on a deeper level.

Anxiety is meant to be hard-wired. It is a natural way humans have protected themselves throughout the course of evolution. But different people have different thresholds for anxiety, and different bodies process these feelings differently. You may even look back on your past and realize that your adult anxiety has been becoming more and more hard-wired over the years, as you’ve learned the specific ways you personally respond to stress.

“Each time we experience stress and don’t manage it, it builds in our body,” Kristen Fescoe, clinical program manager at Resility Health, tells Bustle. “Over time our bodies become wired for stress and anxiety. Every time we experience day-to-day stressors our bodies exhibit this hard-wired response of fight or flight.” Because of this, anxiety can build up over time.

Understanding whether or not you’re more hard-wired for anxiety than most, however, isn’t that difficult. According to mental health professionals, there are multiple ways to tell.

Here are seven signs your body may be physically wired for anxiety, according to experts.

1Difficulty Focusing Or Concentrating

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When your body is predisposed to anxiety, you may struggle with attention issues a bit more than most. You may not have a clinically-diagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but you may find that concentrating is a bit harder for you than others — especially when you’re stressed.

“One of the most common signs that you are hard-wired for anxiety is having difficulty focusing or concentrating,” Fescoe says. Finding coping mechanisms for anxiety that work best for you can help you struggle with this issue less.

2You Struggle With Sleep

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Bodies that are physically wired for anxiety may have more trouble than others when it comes to relaxing at night. So if you struggle with both anxiety and sleep, this may be the missing link.

“You may also find that you have trouble sleeping, whether it be falling asleep, staying asleep, or not feeling rested after you are able to sleep,” Fescoe says. This isn’t to say, however, that sleep issues are incurable. Both therapy and medication can help you deal with your nighttime symptoms of anxiety.

3You Have Stomach Problems

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Anxiety and the gut are deeply connected. So if you can correlate bouts of stomach upset to moments of stress in your life, you may be predisposed to anxiety.

“Many people living with high levels of stress and anxiety experience stomach issues of all sorts,” Fescoe says. Both mental health professionals, as well as physicians, can help you deal with these unpleasant symptoms.

4You Were Socially Anxious As A Child

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Not all signs of anxiety being hard-wired in your body actually show up in your body. Sometimes it requires a little digging into your past to understand why you may experience these feelings.

“When you’re young, your brain has a lot of myelin, the substance that turns neurons into superconductors,” author and professor Loretta Breuning, PhD, tells Bustle. “Any neurons you activate repeatedly when you’re young get myelinated. So any social pain you anticipate when you’re young gets wired in.” If you had a childhood where socializing was difficult, then, your brain may automatically react to social situations with fear. Therapy can help with this.

5You Have Back Pain

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For people who are physically wired for anxiety, back pain is pretty common. Holding tension in your back and neck is a natural reaction to long periods of stress.

“Many people who experience muscle tension and blame everything from prolonged sitting to poor posture, but this is one of the most common physical signs that your body is hard-wired from anxiety,” Fescoe says. Of course, multiple issues can cause back pain, but if you deal with anxiety, there’s a chance there’s a link between the two issues.

6You Get Headaches Often

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Headaches, like many chronic health problems, have a variety of causes. But if you get anxious often, and have headaches, there may be a correlation in your physical wiring.

“Chronic and irritating headaches [… are] a telltale sign that your anxiety level is triggering a physical response,” Fescoe says. Making sure you talk to your doctor about both your physical and emotional symptoms is important.

7You Have Been Rewarded For Being Anxious In The Past

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If your anxiety leads to perfectionism, which leads to success in school or extracurriculars as a child, then you may have developed a physical hardwiring for anxiety as an adult.

“It is useful to know how your anxiety habit got built,’ Dr. Breuning says. “Sometimes people get rewarded for being anxious in one way or another.” Anxiety you feel now can be traced back to this.

Since everyone is physically wired to experience anxiety to some degree, the goal is not to cure yourself of anxiety itself. Finding healthy coping mechanisms and physical relief from the more uncomfortable symptoms is a worthy goal as you strive to attain more balanced mental health.

3 Words That May Help You Deal With Anxiety

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When anxiety hits, those of us who have experienced it in its various forms may feel an array of things: a racing heart, hot and cold flushes, tightening of the chest, excessive fear, tension, and restlessness. And while there are myriad ways of finding support and treating anxiety (trust us when we say that your doctor knows a thing or two about anxiety conditions), new research suggests that three simple words may make all the difference when you’re feeling frazzled.

In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers investigated whether trying to calm someone when they were feeling anxious was, in fact, doing as much good as it was believed to be. From the study, the researchers found that channelling the anxious energy to deal with the exact thing you’re feeling nervous about is the key to overcoming it. And this comes down to repeating one three-word mantra. As reported by Stylist, the three words are, “I AM EXCITED.”

Come again?

“I find that an overwhelming majority of people believe trying to calm down is the best way to cope with pre-performance anxiety,”Alison Wood Brooks, author of the study, explains. “I investigate an alternative strategy: reappraising anxiety as excitement.”

“Compared to those who attempt to calm down, individuals who reappraise their anxious arousal as excitement feel more excited and perform better.”

It’s worth noting that during this study, this mantra was measured against performance anxiety — so, getting anxious or nervous about, say, public speaking or having a confrontational conversation with someone — something that involves using plenty of energy.

The idea is that these three words will help you embrace the task at hand, turning fear into excitement. This is something that isn’t applicable to feeling anxious at night, as this is a period when you should be resting, not running on excitement.

Anxiety is something that is being more and more talked about in American culture. On average, one in four people will suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point, and another 25 percent of the population will experience less severe symptoms.

So the next time you’re feeling anxious before a big meeting or presentation, why not give these words a try? And if you’re going through something that requires a different approach, check out these tricks for reducing stress and stopping anxiety in its tracks.

This article was originally written by Ellie Mcdonald. For more, check out our sister site, Now to Love.

Why We Worry: Understanding Anxiety And How To Help It

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Most of us are familiar with the dry mouth, racing heart and knotted stomach that are the hallmarks of feeling anxious. Usually this is a fleeting response to danger and uncertainty. In some people, however, the state of high alert won’t switch off. Their anxiety becomes so draining it is impossible to leave the house or function in daily life.

One woman feels agitated and lightheaded each morning when she wakes. She worries about the accidents that might befall her if she travels to work, but also about what would happen if she had nothing planned for the day. Another avoids work, friends or even walking her dog in case it triggers another panic attack. One man finds it difficult to pick up the phone for fear he will mash his words and be misunderstood.

These are real cases of people who have sought help for their anxiety. Their experiences aren’t unusual. Anxiety disorders – including generalised anxiety, panic attacks, social anxiety and phobias – are the most prevalent mental health problem in the US and Europe, and a growing number of reports from other regions suggest they could be a global concern. In the West, they cost healthcare systems more than $40 billion each year. On average 1 in 6 of us will contend with an anxiety disorder at some stage in our lives – women more than men.

Read more: Brain and mental health

A new collection of some of the best, recent New Scientist articles on mental and neurological health to highlight World Health Day

The damage is real. Anxiety disorders have been linked to depression and increased substance abuse, particularly of alcohol. A recent study found that men who have anxiety disorders are twice as likely to die from cancer as men who don’t, even when factors such as drinking and smoking are taken into account.

So what is the cause of all this anxiety? Is there more of it about, and what is the best way to tackle it?

How much anxiety is normal?

Anxiety is a natural response that evolved over millions of years to make us more vigilant and prime our bodies to flee danger. But feeling anxious because you heard a noise on a dark street isn’t the same thing as having an anxiety disorder. “The key thing we look for in the clinic is whether anxiety is interfering with a person’s day-to-day life, or causing them a lot of distress,” says Nick Grey of King’s College London.

To clinical psychologists like Grey, “maladaptive beliefs” are a hallmark of anxiety disorders and are often used to diagnose the type of anxiety someone has. In social anxiety disorder, the most common anxiety disorder, you might believe that blushing will result in people laughing at or shunning you. People with this type of disorder experience persistent and overwhelming fear before, during and after social events.

If you have panic disorder, you might assume that you are having a heart attack if your heart starts to race. The physical symptoms of anxiety – a pounding heart, difficulty breathing, feeling dizzy or flushed – will then come on in a rush. Everyone can experience such panic attacks from time to time, but in panic disorder the attacks are regular and become a source of anxiety themselves.

Other maladaptive beliefs are less specific. Generalised anxiety disorder is characterised by chronic worrying about a range of different events or activities, for at least six months. If you have this condition, the belief driving your anxiety could, for example, be the feeling it’s your job to take care of other people, or that you have responsibilities that you must meet at all cost. To decide who to refer for further treatment, doctors might use a tool called the GAD7 test.

“Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health problem in the west“

Are we more anxious than we used to be?

The Roman politician and philosopher Cicero was among the first to define anxiety as an illness, in the 1st century BC. Our current medical definition dates to 1980, when the American Psychological Association estimated that between 2 and 4 per cent of people in the US had an anxiety disorder. Today, some studies suggest it’s more like 18 per cent in the US and 14 per cent in Europe.

Such figures have led some to conclude we are in the midst of an anxiety epidemic, fuelled by factors such as economic anxiety, social media and the rise of the 24-hour society. The reality is more complex. The apparent increase is probably due to changes in diagnostics over the years, which make long-term comparisons difficult. “I think we are becoming more stressed and that has to do with having a lot of demands on our time,” says Jennifer Wild of the Oxford Centre for Anxiety Disorder and Trauma in the UK. “But if you’re looking at the prevalence of anxiety disorders, they haven’t gone up.”

There is tentative evidence to support this conclusion. For instance, Olivia Remes and her colleagues at the University of Cambridge found little overall change in the number of people around the world affected by anxiety disorders between 1990 and 2010. Their meta-analysis, published earlier this year, found that roughly 1 in 10 people experience anxiety at any given time, and about 17 per cent are likely to experience it at some stage in their lives.

Remes found that adults under the age of 35 were disproportionately affected by anxiety. Similarly, Borwin Bandelow and Sophie Michaelis at the University Medical Centre in Göttingen, Germany, found evidence that the prevalence of most anxiety disorders peaks in 18 to 34-year-olds before dropping off again. Specific phobias were the exception, peaking in 35 to 50-year-olds.

Even if the overall prevalence of anxiety disorders hasn’t increased, anecdotal evidence suggests that the type of anxiety people are experiencing is changing. When Nicky Lidbetter, chief executive of Anxiety UK, joined the charity 20 years ago, the majority of queries they received were from people with panic disorder or agoraphobia, an extreme fear of open spaces. “Nowadays it is health anxiety [hypochondria] and social anxiety,” she says.

What causes the symptoms of anxiety?

Although we are still a long way from fully understanding what is going on in an anxious brain, recent studies offer some insights into why anxiety seems to take over in some people. Central to it all is the amygdala, a brain region that processes our emotions and triggers the release of the hormones responsible for the fight-or-flight response.

The amygdala is linked to parts of the prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex that process social information and help us make decisions (see diagram). During bouts of everyday anxiety, this brain circuit switches on and then off again – but Oliver Robinson at University College London and his colleagues have shown that in people with anxiety disorders it seems to get stuck in the on position. “We think it might be amplifying negative information in your surroundings to make sure you pay attention to it, and triggering a fight-or-flight response so you’ll run away,” says Robinson.

Studies suggest that fear memories stored in the amygdala prime us to respond to threats we have previously experienced. This response is normally kept in check by a parallel circuit: in healthy people, inputs from the prefrontal cortex can temper our learned response and even overwrite it with new memories. Occasionally the system fails, however. Psychiatrists have found that war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder – a kind of anxiety disorder – have abnormally low levels of activity in their prefrontal cortex, and unusually high levels in their amygdala.

Ultimately, an overactive amygdala appears to hype up the familiar symptoms of the fight-or-flight response by stimulating a network of hormonal glands and brain regions called the “HPA axis” – causing rapid heart rate and breathing, a dry mouth, shaking and tense muscles. The fight-or-flight response also has less obvious effects, like slowing digestion and making us more susceptible to pain.

Understanding these interactions will help design better treatments. For instance, Robinson’s circuit switches on when levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin are low, which could explain why a class of antidepressants known as SSRIs can reduce anxiety levels: they increase the availability of serotonin in the brain. “Maybe serotonin is applying the brakes to this particular circuitry,” says Robinson.

Are some people naturally more anxious than others?

Do you calmly navigate life’s bumps or agonise at every turn? Psychologists have long argued that people have innate dispositions that explain how we act, one of which is neuroticism – or proneness to anxiety. A recent study of more than 106,000 people identified nine regions of the genome that seem to correlate with neuroticism. Some of these contain genes previously linked to anxious behaviour, such as CRHR1, which regulates release of the stress hormone cortisol. The same gene has also been associated with anxiety-related behaviour in mice, and panic disorder in humans.

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Some people are therefore naturally more prone to anxiety. But even if you are a natural-born neurotic, this doesn’t mean you will develop an anxiety disorder. “Having a high level of dispositional anxiety is a risk factor for developing an anxiety disorder, but you can be highly anxious and completely healthy,” says Marcus Munafo, a behavioural neuroscientist at the University of Bristol, UK.

Your age (see “Are we more anxious than we used to be”) and sex are factors at play. Population studies show that women are about twice as likely to develop an anxiety disorder as men. In part, this may be down to hormones and their influence on the brain. The surges in oestrogen and progesterone that occur during pregnancy, for instance, have been linked to obsessive compulsive disorder, an anxiety-related condition. Remes points out that there may be other explanations too, such as the fact that women tend to cope with stressful situations differently. “They worry a lot more about what’s going to happen, which can increase their anxiety,” she says. “Men tend to take a more problem-focused approach.”

“Being a natural-born neurotic doesn’t mean you’ll develop anxiety disorder“

The anxious brain

What’s the best way to tackle an anxiety disorder?

If you have an anxiety disorder, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is likely to be the first recommended treatment. Considered the gold standard in treatment, it aims to address the maladaptive beliefs that drive your anxiety. Once they have been identified, CBT helps you challenge them. “If someone is worried about blushing, we might put blusher all over their face and make them have conversations with people to see that they generally don’t even notice,” says Wild. “For panic disorder, you might get someone to run up and down the stairs, to show them that even if they do an extreme behaviour, they aren’t going to have a heart attack.”

A shortage of therapists has spurred the development of online delivery of CBT. In a pilot study of 11 people with social anxiety disorder, Wild found that nine of them responded to online CBT and seven achieved remission, although it is too early to say if this is better or worse than face-to-face therapy.

Therapy isn’t for everyone, however. Some people don’t respond well to therapists or analysing their own behaviour. In this case, a second line of attack is drugs, which can redress chemical imbalances in the brain.

Several studies have shown that people with panic disorder and generalised anxiety disorder tend to have lower levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which is thought to help the amygdala filter out unthreatening stimuli. Blocking GABA production in rats has been shown to trigger anxiety-like symptoms.

Benzodiazepines, a class of common anti-anxiety drugs which includes Valium, work on this system but are highly addictive. Doctors may feel more comfortable prescribing antidepressants, says Lidbetter. These can help with the physiology of anxiety as well as the secondary symptoms, which often include depression. However, Lidbetter believes that this is a field that needs to move on. “We need a new benzodiazepine-type drug – something which isn’t addictive,” she says.

Exercise can help with day-to-day anxiety and is a helpful additional strategy for people with anxiety disorders. It triggers the release of mood-boosting endorphins, and forces you to concentrate on something other than your own thoughts. Then there’s diet. A team led by Phil Burnet at the University of Oxford has found that taking a fibre-rich supplement to encourage the growth of beneficial gut bacteria for three weeks caused people to pay more attention to positive words on a computer screen and less attention to negative ones. Upon waking each morning, the volunteers also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood. “We saw a small but significant effect on the underlying psychological mechanisms that contribute to anxiety,” says Burnet.

Modern life may be packed with events outside your control, seemingly designed to foster anxiety and self-doubt. The important thing is to recognise the symptoms and do something about them.

This article appeared in print under the headline “Worry…”

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