When is Anxiety a Problem? Management and Prevention Strategies

Anxiety is the most common, chronic and costly emotional disorder in the U.S. Increasing numbers of young children are experiencing clinical anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and as they get older are at risk for engaging in substance abuse (self-medicating). Unfortunately, it is estimated that only one-third of people with anxiety disorders receive treatment.

When is anxiety a problem? Brief anxiety is a natural response, but persistent anxiety leads to feelings of fear and apprehension even in non-threatening situations. Persistent anxiety (versus mild anxiety or situational stress) involves feelings of nervousness and related tension that lasts for months when there is no clear reason to be anxious. Anxiety is stress that continues after an identified stressor is gone and is often described as a consistent feeling of unease, which interferes with one’s quality of life and participation in everyday activities. Those who suffer from anxiety describe their mind as being pre-occupied with excessive worrying and “What if….” thoughts. They feel trapped in this vicious cycle. When anxiety negatively impacts one’s mood, behavior, and quality of life it has become a problem that needs to be addressed with effective treatment to manage symptoms.

How does one manage and prevent anxiety? The best way to manage and prevent anxiety begins with utilizing good stress management strategies on a daily basis. These include the following (in no specific order as they are all equally important):

  1. Diet and Nutrition: Eliminate stimulants, reduce sugary foods, drink lots of water regularly (good hydration), eat healthy meals regularly (do not skip meals which can cause blood sugar level upsets ). Nourish your Gut Flora! Most serotonin (neurotransmitter linked to anxiety disorders) is found in the gut not in the brain. So, our emotions are largely governed by the state of our gut; therefore intestinal inflammation may cause anxiety; healthy gut flora=better emotional functioning.

American diet is pro-inflammatory (refined, processed, manufactured food).

Avoid putting things in our body that upset healthy bacteria equilibrium and cause inflammation, such as excess sugar, refined grains and processed foods. We all need to maintain beneficial bacteria in our bodies. Diet should include Omega-3’s (especially those with optimal levels of EPA and DHA) and use of a daily high-quality probiotic supplement.

  1. Relaxation: So much research exists and continues to support the great benefits of engaging in Yoga, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, and Meditation Practices.

Relaxation practices calms the body, restores imbalances due to stress/anxiety, and increases our ability to successfully cope with stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. We need to give our body the gift of “calm time” on a daily basis.

  1. Exercise: Research has shown again and again that people who follow a regular exercise regimen see improvement in their mood, energy, concentration and overall health. Exercise boosts levels of potent brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which helps buffer some of the effects of stress and anxiety.
  1. Therapy/Counseling: When symptoms of anxiety persist despite trying some supportive interventions described above, then it is advised to seek the help of a trained mental health professional who can assist you. If you or your child/teen is engaging in avoidance behaviors and or is experiencing panic attacks clinical intervention is highly recommended from a qualified mental health professional.

It is very important to understand and treat anxiety because under-managed anxiety can lead to a greater problem: Depression.

Maria Kanakos, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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