You Might Be Procrastinating Because You’re Anxious

Author Article

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 Your Body Is Expressing Anxiety Physically

Author Article

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

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

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

Mladen Zivkovic/Shutterstock

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

Ashley Batz/Bustle

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

Africa Studio/Shutterstock

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

panitanphoto/Shutterstock

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

Photographee.eu/Shutterstock

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

LightField Studios/Shutterstock

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.

What To Do When Worry Keeps You Awake

Author Article

panitialapon/Adobe Stock

We may have outgrown our fear of monsters hiding under the bed, but nighttime anxiety continues to keep many of us awake long past lights out. According to the American Psychological Association, 43 percent of Americans say stress has caused them to lie awake at night at least once a month. So is there a way we calm our anxious minds, and get to sleep more quickly?

That’s a question Jared Minkel, assistant professor and director of the adult behavioral sleep medicine program at Brown University, answers in this video from Happify.

“One of the most common difficulties with getting to sleep is people just can’t turn their minds off,” Minkel says. “You might be tired and sluggish all day, but you lay down in bed and all of a sudden your mind just starts going and won’t stop.”

If that sounds familiar, here are four ways you can quiet the mind and sleep soundly:

Four Ways to Soothe Nighttime Anxiety

1. Encourage positive distractions

Focusing all your attention on how you can’t get to sleep will only make sleep more difficult. Instead, Minkel recommends distracting yourself with “interesting and engaging imagery,” involving as many as your senses as possible.

For example, close your eyes and picture a nice beach—can you hear the crashing of waves? Feel the sun on your skin? Taste the salt from the sea?

“These kinds of images can then transfer into dream content, so keep it pleasant and positive,” Minkel says.

2. Allow worrisome thoughts

If you’re unable to sleep because you’re fixated on something stressful that’s happening the next day—like a big presentation at work, or a confrontation with a family member—it’s common to want to push those thoughts from your mind. However, doing so may hurt more than it helps.

“Not only will you start to think about these things again, now your arousal will be higher, too,” Minkel says.

Rather than trying not to think about what’s worrying you, he recommends considering what comes after the big event. Remembering the mundane tasks that follow something stressful—like cleaning up your meeting space after the presentation, or going grocery shopping after you’ve seen family—can help you recognize that the panic will pass.

Remembering the mundane tasks that follow something stressful—like cleaning up your meeting space after the presentation, or going grocery shopping after you’ve seen family—can help you recognize that the panic will pass.

“Keep going until the stressful part is over and you’re back into your normal life,” Minkel says. “Don’t just replay the worst parts over and over.”

3. Practice nightly mindfulness

Often when we’re wide awake worrying, we’re focused on something that’s happening in the future. In those cases, mindfulness can be a powerful antidote as it directs your attention towards what’s happening in the present.

“You can always focus on your breathing, but it may also be helpful to focus on a physical sensation like how warm and soft your blankets feel,” Minkel says.

You can also try a body-scan meditation to relax both your body and mind.

“Anything that helps you focus your attention on something that’s happening right now, rather than something that might happen in the future,” he says.

4. Focus on gratitude

Finally, focusing on the good can evoke pleasant emotions and help soothe you to sleep.

“For example, rather than thinking what might go wrong, try to focus your attention on something you’re looking forward to,” Minkel says. “You can also think of something that happened during the last day or two that you are grateful for.”

It can also be comforting to think of a positive person in your life, or nice deeds other people have done for you.

“Feeling fortunate or grateful for that person can reduce worry and help you sleep,” Minkel says.

3 Words That May Help You Deal With Anxiety

Getty Images

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

Author Article

hands

Russell Johnson / EyeEm/Getty

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.

silhouette

Philippe Lesprit/Picturetank

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…”

Social Anxiety & Substance Use Disorder Were Linked In A New Study & Here’s What You Should Know

Author Article

Brent Stirton/Getty Images News/Getty Images

At one point or another, you’ve probably met someone who identifies as “a social drinker” — you may even identify as one yourself. People drink casually for a host of reasons: to help them unwind, because they enjoy the taste, and even as a “social lubricant” to help feel less awkward and make socializing a little easier. While there’s nothing wrong with responsibly sipping some wine or beer at a party, alcohol also has the potential to be misused, particularly when it comes to dealing with social anxiety. A new study found that social anxiety disorder may be linked to substance use disorder, and specifically alcohol use, that weren’t reflected in other types of anxiety disorders.

Lots of people feel nervous when meeting someone new or entering new social situations, but social anxiety disorder is distinguished by a constant fear towards a variety of social situations where the person “is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others,” the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) writes. A person with the disorder may be anxious about embarrassing themselves to the point where it interferes with their ability to live their life, and NIMH estimates that roughly 12 percent of American adults experience social anxiety disorder in their lifetime. The new research, published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, focused on understanding how the disorder might affect an individual’s relationship with alcohol and their drinking patterns.

Ashley Batz/Bustle

Researchers interviewed roughly 2,800 adult twins, assessing level of alcohol consumption and mental health factors including panic disorder, specific phobias and agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder. People with the disorder were associated with a higher risk for potentially developing alcoholism later in life, while the other studied anxiety disorders didn’t appear to be risk factors. Alcohol abuse also had the most significant link with social anxiety disorder.

This link is significant because of how it could affect treatment for both disorders. “Many individuals with social anxiety are not in treatment. This means that we have an underutilized potential, not only for reducing the burden of social anxiety, but also for preventing alcohol problems,” study author Dr. Fartein Ask Torvik said in a statement. “Cognitive behavioral therapy with controlled exposure to the feared situations has shown good results.”

Noam Galai/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Cognitive behavioral therapy, otherwise known as CBT, is a type of psychotherapy that helps patients by altering patterns of harmful and unhelpful thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. The therapy largely focuses on solutions that help patients question and confront “distorted cognitions and change destructive patterns of behavior,” according to Psychology Today, as well as to develop coping skills. It’s been proven effective as a treatment for a several mental health issues, including anxiety disordersdepression, and eating disorders.

Based on the study results, treating social anxiety and helping prevent it with therapies like CBT could potentially have the benefit of limiting alcohol abuse in patients. The relationship the study pinpointed between excessive drinking and social anxiety suggest further research on the topic is necessary, especially if people are drinking to deal with their mental health instead of seeking mental health treatment.

If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).

Seven Ways To Help Someone Through A Panic Attack

Author Article

Educate yourself

According to the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), 13.2% of people have experienced a panic attack. If you know someone who suffers from them frequently, it can be helpful to better understand what they are. Attacks can last between five and 30 minutes, with symptoms including rapid breathing, sweating, a racing heart, shivering and feeling sick. The NHS, MHF, the mental health charities MindTime to Change and No Panic have resources available.

Stay calm

“If you’re having a short, sudden panic attack, it can be helpful to have someone with you reassuring you that it will pass,” Paul Salkovskis, professor of clinical psychology and applied science at the University of Bath, says in official advice from the NHS. It is important to ride out the attack and not look for distractions; just remaining calm yourself can provide comfort.

Be reassuring

Panic attacks can be highly distressing; some people describe feeling as if they are having a heart attack or that they might die. It is important to reassure the person experiencing an attack that they are not in danger. The symptoms, attributable to the body’s fight or flight response, typically peak within 10 minutes.

Encourage deep breaths

Encourage the person to breathe slowly and deeply – Mind advises counting out loud or asking them to watch while you calmly raise your arm up and down. The NHS and No Panic also publish guides to calming breathing exercises.

Be careful not to be dismissive

Your “don’t panic” may be well-intentioned, but try to avoid any potentially dismissive language and phrases. As Matt Haig, author of the best-selling Reasons to Stay Alive, puts it: “Don’t belittle them. They’re among the most intense experiences you can go through.”

Try a grounding exercise

“One of the symptoms of panic attacks can be feeling unreal or detached,” says Martin Antony, a psychology professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. Grounding techniques, or other ways to feel connected to the present, can be effective – Mind suggests focusing on the texture of a blanket, smelling something with a strong scent – and even stamping your feet.

Ask them what they need

People can often feel exhausted after a panic attack. Gently ask them if you can get them a glass of water or something to eat. (Caffeine, a psychostimulant, is best avoided, as is alcohol.) They may be feeling shivery or too hot. At a later point, when they have recovered, you might like to ask them what they find helpful during or after an attack.

Science Says Today’s Girls Are More Anxious Than Ever

Author Article

Parents worry that their daughters constantly seem pressured and stressed. Turns out, most are. Studies show an alarming increase in anxiety and stress experienced by girls starting at age 10 and through college.

If you have a daughter, you know: They are under enormous pressure to do well in school, to be socially engaged and accepted, to look good—anyone of which can at times cause what feels like crippling stress or anxiety.

According to new Pew Center research, 7 in 10 teens see anxiety and depression as a major problem among their peers ages 13 to 17. Pew notes, “Girls are more likely than boys to say they plan to attend a four-year college…and they’re also more likely to say they worry a lot about getting into the school of their choice.” The Center’s research confirms “a larger share of girls than boys say they often feel tense or nervous about their day (36% vs. 23%, respectively, say they feel this way every day or almost every day).”

Adding to and percolating beneath those stressors are worries about bullying, drug addiction and alcohol use, relationships with boys, and, understandably, school shootings and what feels like a constant barrage of negative news. For young girls, many of whom are prone to overthinking a situation or incident, the pressure can feel relentless.

Ask any young lady you know and she may tell you she feels anxious at a party or she’s stressed by a disagreement she had with her best friend. She might be terrified by a speech she has to give in class or a test she doesn’t feel prepared to take. Or, she could be nervous about what she will see the next time she opens Snapchat or Instagram. She might be stressed or anxious about an upcoming athletic competition or musical performance, or what to do about a boy who is pursuing her (or isn’t).

If you have a daughter, you have to be asking yourself, “How can all this stress and anxiety be good, even beneficial?” As a parent in the trenches and the recipient of the outbursts, meltdowns, sulking or silent treatment, you have to also be asking yourself, “How can I help effectively?”

Stress and Anxiety are “Fraternal Twins”

Your daughter may hate feeling stressed or anxious; she may see these strong responses only as a plague. But, they’re not necessarily a bad thing. It’s important to first understand how stress and anxiety play a role in anyone’s day-to-day functioning. Although stress and anxiety often merge in people’s minds and are used interchangeably, parents can help their daughters use both to their advantage.

Know that these “negative” emotions and the body’s natural response to protect itself, can actually be harnessed for good. Lisa Damour, author of Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls refers to stress and anxiety as “fraternal twins…they are both psychologically uncomfortable.” She defines stress as “feeling of emotional or mental strain or tension;” anxiety as “the feeling of fear, dread, or panic.”

Because stress and anxiety have become epidemic for young girls doesn’t mean stress and anxiety can’t be helpful—even good—especially if we reframe them as tools for moving in the right direction, instead of bad feelings that hold us back. Damour makes these points to keep in mind as you assist your daughter:

It might be easier to run away at the first sign of stress or anxiety. But, by teaching our daughters to face stressful situations, we help them build resilience.
Stress and anxiety are byproducts of stepping out of one’s comfort zone. Operating beyond their comfort zone helps girls grow, especially when taking on new challenges.
Analyzing an anxiety-producing situation with daughters helps them better evaluate if they are over reacting to how bad it is or underestimating their ability to deal with it.
Dr. Damour documents just how profound and weighty that pressure is at the same time she delivers strategies to alleviate the pressure. She reassures parents that stress and anxiety can be a positive to help girls learn to take upsets and setbacks in their stride.

Transition Time Needed

In guiding your daughter, Dr. Damour recommends you think of your daughter’s brain as a snow or “glitter” globe turned upside down. The adolescent brain needs time for the “snow” to settle before it can think straight.

Once a parent understands how the adolescent brain functions, it is easier to allow your daughter transition time before rushing headlong into “bailouts” or making comments that are unproductive. This approach is valuable in the middle of an immediate “crisis.”

The transition time may be when your daughter races home after school, clearly upset, and heads to her room. Give her the space she needs and when she emerges discuss the situation or predicament she feels she’s in and options she might have. Allow her to complain, then ask her what she thinks might help…or happen. The goal is have her understand that her stress or anxiety is in Damour’s words, “only a thought or only a feeling.”

As we know dismissing her fear or avoidance isn’t the right path, strive to help her brainstorm her own solutions. Ask for ways she thinks she can handle or solve the problem. You will be surprised at her ability to figure it out with your composed guidance.

It’s Not About Rescuing Your Daughter

As parents our first instinct is to bail out our daughter. And, considering how strong these anxious emotions can feel, it’s natural to feel compelled to swoop in and save the day. We want nothing but comfort and painlessness for our children. This, however, can lead to a parent becoming a crutch. We may make an excuse so she doesn’t have to take the test she says she can’t pass, or have her stay home from a party because some friendship drama may be afoot, or even let her skip out on a recital or a play rehearsal or performance she committed to, all to protect from these endlessly stressful or anxiety-provoking situations that have created a meltdown.

Who hasn’t at times been at a loss in how to help? In her book, Dr. Damour offers parents a roadmap to step in and alleviate some of the pressure, but not in ways that parents are prone to believe are helpful.

Helping her avoid a situation will likely make the problem worse. Avoidance is only temporary relief. At some point, she’s going to have to face the test, face the boy, talk to her friend, join the conversation on Facebook, or perform in a recital or on an athletic field.

Instead of rushing to smooth the path to whatever a daughter’s conflict, drama, or worry of the moment, in most situations, parents can pause and lead them through it. Realize it’s better help to step back, calm their own alarm system, and encourage your daughter to find alternatives, think about what might happen, and come up with solutions she feels that can handle or execute. Guide her to form long-lasting habits that empower her to handle her stress and anxiety instead of trying to erase it altogether (which, as we know, won’t happen).

Tamping Down Perfectionism

Gently steer your daughter away from perfectionism if she leans in that direction. This is one common route to anxiety in the first place. The idea of being perfect particularly doing well in school is a toxic pressure that both society and parents place on their daughters, Dr. Damour points out. It’s time for parents to help their overly stressed daughters pull back on the time and intensity she may be devoting to academics.

Under Pressure not only helps calm parents but also gives them the tools to be supportive when daughters face obstacles. The work done now will help build resilience for the inevitable upsets they will face in the future. I highly recommend this book.

Copyright @2019 by Susan Newman

A Counselor Explains How Introverts Can Banish Social Anxiety

Author Article

A young introvert suffers from social anxiety.
I’m a counselor, and many of the introverts I see come to me because of anxiety. Some of the clients I see have diagnosable anxiety disorders, but those who don’t aren’t suffering any less. When I say anxiety, I mean “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure,” according to the American Psychological Association.Anxiety can come in many forms and have many different causes, but in this article, I’d like to focus on social anxiety. Let’s take a look at the major signs of social anxiety, plus how you can free yourself from it by fixing “thinking errors.”

Signs of Social Anxiety Disorder

According to the American Psychiatric Association, you might have social anxiety if you experience the following:

  1. Feeling anxious or afraid in social settings. You might feel extremely self-conscious, like others are judging or scrutinizing your every move. For an adult, this might happen on a first date or a job interview, or when meeting someone for the first time, delivering an oral presentation, or speaking in a class or meeting. In children, these behaviors must occur in settings with peers — rather than adult interactions — and will be expressed in terms of age appropriate distress, such as cringing, crying, or just generally displaying obvious fear or discomfort.
  2. Worrying quite a bit that you’ll reveal your anxiety and be rejected by others
  3. Consistently feeling distressed during social interactions
  4. Painfully or reluctantly enduring social interaction — or avoiding it altogether
  5. Experiencing fear or anxiety that’s disproportionate to the actual situation
  6. Having fear, anxiety, or other distress around social situations that persist for six months or longer
  7. Finding that your personal life, relationships, or career are negatively affected. In other words, your anxiety makes it quite difficult for you to function in day-to-day life.

For a diagnosis of Social Anxiety Disorder, these symptoms must be present for six months or longer and not be better explained by another mental health or medical diagnosis.

Why Is Social Anxiety Common in Introverts?

If you’re an introvert who experiences social anxiety, you’re not alone. The research shows that introverts are far more likely to suffer from it than extroverts. A small study done in 2011 found that “social phobia patients” were significantly more often introverts (93.7 percent) than not (46.2 percent). Although not all introverts suffer from social anxiety, this study suggests that us “quiet ones,” by nature, may be prone to it in one form or another.

Social anxiety can be excruciating. Introverts, in my practice, struggle with it because they tend to overthink and overanalyze situations. They may find themselves caught in a cycle of planning out a conversation only to have it go differently than their script. This puts them on the spot — an introvert’s nightmare — and creates a high level of anxiety.

They then may fall into the trap of mind-reading. Mind-reading is what some therapies, like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, call “thinking errors.” These patterns of thinking can be helpful in some situations, but when overused, can actually be quite harmful.

Many introverts (especially highly sensitive introverts) are particularly vulnerable to the “error” of mind-reading because they’re so good at attuning to others’ body language, emotions, and energy that it feels like they always know what someone else is thinking — even though they don’t actually possess telepathy.

When a conversation goes off-script and anxiety is heightened, introverts may assume others are thinking critically of them and take this assumption as fact. The thoughts of “now he thinks I’m an idiot” — though most likely false — create even more anxiety. It’s a vicious and debilitating cycle.

But you can banish social anxiety. Let’s take a look at the power of identifying and correcting thinking errors.

The Power of Fixing Thinking Errors

Let’s take an example from my practice. One young woman who came to me had a hard time making new friends. This girl was more mature than her cohort and seemed to be having trouble initiating conversation. As we talked, it came to light that her introverted trait of thinking before speaking had spiraled out of control. She’d rehearse for hours what she was going to say to a certain person, then be caught off guard when the conversation didn’t go as scripted. She then feared that people thought she was stupid or awkward (she was mind-reading) and became highly anxious.

After a conversation like this, she’d ruminate over what she should have said for days or weeks. Obviously, this left her too anxious to start any new conversations with anyone, which lead to a cycle of reinforcing her anxiety about social situations and her avoidance of them.

What did we do about it? The first step was education; we discussed both overthinking and mind-reading and how they relate to her introverted nature. She discovered that her tendency to overthink was very helpful in situations where she needed to analyze information and come to a conclusion, like schoolwork, but that with friends and family, it was creating a barrier to close relationships.

She was also able to see that while she is very attuned to others’ emotional states, she isn’t telepathic and can’t actually read others’ minds.

This education into the thought patterns that were feeding her anxiety gave her some valuable insights. For instance, she realized that the thoughts of “stupid” weren’t what she feared others would think of her, but what she thought of herself. Once we hit on this critical insight, she began to understand that her overthinking and mind-reading were actually ways to distract her from the mean things she was saying to herself.

It took quite a few sessions to help this girl become more self-compassionate and to lessen her overthinking. However, by the end of the school year, she was able to not only talk to new people, but to tackle intense, conflict-laden conversations she’d always avoided before.

Anxiety Doesn’t Have to Rule Your Life

This example gives us some valuable insight into how the introvert’s natural penchant for deep thinking and attunement to others can sometimes lead to harmful inner states. It also gives us a road map to moving forward and feeling better.

If you’re an introvert who suffers from social anxiety, the first step is to do what you do best: look inside and bring awareness to the thought patterns that are no longer helping you. Some of the best ways to do this are mindfulness, yoga, and journaling. Mindfulness trains the mind to be non-judging and discerning of thoughts and feelings; yoga helps relieve stress and is a moving meditation; and journaling brings up the unconscious thoughts, feelings, and beliefs we aren’t aware of in daily life that may be holding us back.

Ask yourself if there are thinking errors that are contributing to your anxiety. Are you like the girl I described above? The next time you notice yourself committing a thinking error, don’t judge or beat yourself up for it. Instead, simply notice it — there’s power in this alone! You might go a step further and intentionally replace your thinking error with a positive thought (even if you aren’t totally feeling it yourself at the moment). Try something like, “even though I’m scared, it’s going to be okay” or “I’m a likable person, and people enjoy being around me.”

Here are some more tips to help you mindfully control anxiety, and here’s a great explanation of mindfulness for introverts.

Your social anxiety won’t disappear overnight. But by stepping into mindfulness and identifying/correcting thinking errors, you can stop it from ruling your life.

How To Prevent Morning Anxiety From Totally Ruining Your Day

Author Article

Anxiety has a very unwelcome way of popping up when you least expect it. It could happen at a party, just when you were starting to have a good time. Or in the middle of the night, making it that much harder to get a blissful eight hours of sleep. And, for some, anxiety has a habit of rearing its ugly head in the early morning—just to make sure your day starts off on a really stellar note.
Why—why?!—does morning anxiety happen? And how do you get rid of it? Here, Gail Saltz, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine gives all the need-to-know facts.

What morning anxiety looks like (and why it’s happening)

There’s a difference between waking up and being in a bad mood because you don’t feel like going to work and having actual morning anxiety. Here are the signs of the latter, according to Dr. Saltz:

  • A rush in adrenaline, such as a racing heart or increased jitteriness.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • A sense of worry for no apparent reason.
  • Feeling on edge, but you aren’t sure why.
  • Exhaustion even though you’ve just slept.

As for why anxiety can strike in the morning, Dr. Saltz says there are a few factors at play that could cause morning anxiety:

1. You have higher amounts of stress hormones in the morning. “There’s actually a physiological reason why some people experience anxiety in the mornings,” Dr. Saltz says. “For one, it’s when cortisol levels are naturally at their highest.” She explains that cortisol is often called “the stress hormone” because high levels of it can lead to feeling stressed.

“There’s nothing you can do from stopping cortisol from raising slightly in the morning—that’s biologically what happens—but there are steps you can take to lower your cortisol over all so that it doesn’t peak as high,” Dr. Saltz says. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to it!)

2. Coffee can lead to feeling anxious. What you eat or drink in the morning can also lead to increased feelings of anxiety, according to Dr. Saltz. “The first thing many people do in the morning is drink a cup of coffee. Caffeine, particularly for people who already have anxiety, can definitely worsen the symptoms of that.” She explains that caffeine can lead to feeling jittery and having an increased heart rate. “Then our brain tries to come up with a reason to explain why we feel that way: I’m feeling jittery. I must be worried about X.” Dr. Saltz says this happens so quickly that it can feel like we have the thought first and thenthe physiological reaction, but it’s actually the other way around.

3. Sugar is another culprit. What are you normally eating for breakfast? If you’re going for something that has lots of simple sugars or carbs (like a smoothie bowl or toast), the quick energy spike could ultimately affect your morning anxiety. “Right after you have an insulin burst, blood sugar levels drop and that can make your anxiety feel worse,” Dr. Saltz says, adding that this can lead to feeling fatigued or on edge for seemingly no reason. Your blood sugar is also at a natural low point in the morning (since, you know, you haven’t eaten since the night before), which can contribute to feeling anxious.

4. Morning anxiety could also be a sign of having general anxiety disorder. If you experience morning anxiety several times a week, Dr. Saltz says you likely have generalized anxiety disorder, which she says is extremely common. (This means that you are consistently experiencing symptoms of anxiety over at least a six-month period.) If this is the case, the key will be finding ways to quell your anxiety as a whole.

If you suspect that you have generalized anxiety disorder, the next best step is to seek help from a mental health professional, who help you develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.

5. You’re chronically stressed. “If you are overly stressed, your body will produce more cortisol,” Dr. Saltz says. That means that morning peak is going to be higher than it would be otherwise. Again, the only way to get to the root cause of this is to take steps to minimize the stress in your life.

How to fight back against morning anxiety

Anxiety is a frustrating condition, especially when it pops up first thing in the a.m. As mentioned above, if you have chronic anxiety or a diagnosed anxiety condition, you’ll want to work with your mental health practitioner to find the right treatment for you. But if your morning anxiety is more of an occasional annoyance, Dr. Saltz has some tips that could help cut down on its occurrence:

1. Make measures to minimize overall stress. If you have generalized anxiety disorder or are overly stressed, Dr. Saltz says it’s important to take steps to manage it, which could include the help of a therapist. “Meditationregular exercise, and having an overall healthy diet all play parts in minimizing overall stress,” she adds.

2. Cut back on caffeine and sugar. Because these are two culprits that often cause physiological responses that mimic anxiety, cutting them out or reducing your intake could help. Look for breakfast foods rich in protein and healthy fats (the latter is especially good for brain health) that won’t spike insulin levels, like eggs or a green smoothie, and consider switching your regular latte for a milder form of caffeine, like matcha or tea.

3. Take some deep breaths. This might seem like an “easier said than done” situation, but Dr. Saltz says taking slow, deep breaths truly can help calm the mind and body. “If there’s something you’re worried about on your mind that pops up while you’re taking your deep breaths, acknowledge it and let it pass; don’t try to push it away,” she says.

4. Write down everything you’re worried about. In morning moments where you feel consumed by everything you have to get done that day, Dr. Saltz says it can help to write them down. “Some people keep a ‘worry journal’ for this purpose,” she says. “Once they write it down, it’s out of their mind and they can move on with their day.” It can also help, she says, to make a to-do list so you know exactly when you’re going to get everything done. That way, you’re not spending your morning trying to figure it out in your head.

5. Get enough good quality sleep. Dr. Saltz says not getting enough quality sleep can also lead to feeling anxious when you wake up. Again, it’s because those pesky cortisol levels come into play; not getting enough sleep can raise them higher.

Morning anxiety can feel frustrating and overwhelming. But knowing the everyday factors that can contribute to it can help you take back control of how you feel. Here’s to actually enjoying our morning routines again.

Find out how having anxiety impacted one woman’s career. And here’s the difference between feeling anxious and stressed.

 

%d bloggers like this: