We’ve likely all felt that buzzing feeling of anxiety right on the cusp of panic. It’s a feeling that has the power to eat away at our mental and sometimes physical health. By working to better understand what our anxiety is trying to tell us, we can begin to foster both appreciation for and control over our anxieties.
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, there are more than 40 million adults in the United States with diagnosed anxiety disorders, less than 40% of those suffering are being treated, and roughly half of those diagnosed with anxiety disorders are also diagnosed with a form of depression.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety essentially stems from the amygdala, our brains’ natural threat detection system. The decision-making of the amygdala triggers the hypothalamus, an important hormonal hub in the brain, to enter fight-or-flight mode. By then, our heart is racing, skin is pale or flushed and muscles are tense. Do we curl up into a ball and cry? Do we punch something or someone? Do we need to run away? Or shout for help? Chances are, we don’t need to do any of those things, but our brains have convinced us that we should be taking action immediately. It’s this bodily process that causes the discomfort in the body and mind that we commonly call anxiety.
What Causes Anxiety?
The feelings we associate with anxiety come from a variety of different places. We might be genetically predisposed toward anxiety, suffer from an imbalance of brain chemicals, have experienced trauma, or simply develop a tendency toward anxious thoughts and feelings. Whatever the cause of anxiety, the neurotransmitters in the brain aren’t functioning properly, causing an active limbic system, the part of the brain primarily responsible for emotional regulation.
How Can We Manage Anxiety?
Medication can help, and there are also several avenues to explore in coping with anxiety on your own. For instance, a healthy diet and regular exercise can go a long way in decreasing stress hormones in the brain. Increased meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety, while caffeine and alcohol seem to increase or exacerbate it. Incorporating DBT skills like mindfulness practices, radical acceptance and self-soothing into your weekly routine can also help calm the mind and refocus your energy. Remember, if you struggle with anxiety, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about your options.
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