Chronic Anxiety and How to Treat It

Chronic Anxiety has become the number one mental health issue in North America. According to Anxiety and depression association of America, nearly one in five Americans have an anxiety disorder. The most common forms of Anxiety are generalized anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety, panic, and obsessive compulsive disorder.


There are many changes in our society that contribute to the increase anxiety within Americans. Three contributing factors is the loss of connectedness, weakening of close knit family and community, and our environment. We have loss the person connectedness which is brought on by our technological changes. Social media and technology allows us to avoid lengthy conversations and content through texting,email,tweet, Facebook,etc. There has been a weakening of close knit family and community. This is not only caused by family strife or intolerance among family members but our global approach within society causing families to be transitioned all over which can cause disconnection with family and communities. There is an increase in violent crimes in our communities,schools, movie theaters, and concerns in regards to terrorism, wars and security. There are also economic uncertainty with the decline of the economy and job loss. All of these things can increase the anxiety within humans.

There is no one cause to anxiety but there are factors that contribute to its development. Scientist and Researchers continue to learn about the factors that cause the development of anxiety disorders. Scientists have found that there are three factors that trigger anxiety; brain chemistry, hereditary, and life experience. Scientist have found that neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin) in the brain regulate thought and feeling that sometime has problems transmitting messages because of a chemical imbalance. When these chemicals are imbalance they can cause people to feel anxious and/or depressed. There is evidence that anxiety can run in families. Children who have parents or relatives with anxiety disorders are at a higher risk to developing anxiety. It has also been realized that if children are raised in a family where fear and anxiety is shown constantly it can be a learned behavior. Life experiences such as violence, constant anger, abuse or traumatic experience can bring about fear and anxious feelings that has the ability to change our chemical imbalance within our brain.

The most important treat anxiety is to take care of yourself. Anxiety can be brought on hormonal changes. There are foods that are high in caffeine,and sugar that can increase anxiety. People with anxiety should eliminate/decrease the use of alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and sugar. Our bodies also go thru hormonal changes which can bring about anxiety. Females that experience pregnancy, postpartum changes, hysterectomy, menopause and interruption in menstruation can have a higher risk of anxiety. Changes in thyroid function can also bring on some levels of anxiety. Therefore, it is important to take care of your body thru maintaining a routine in meeting with your doctor, keeping a journal of food/drink intake, getting enough sleep and exercise.

The following is some techniques to lessen anxiety. These techniques can be helpful if used on a regular basis. If the following techniques are not helpful you may need Professional assistance which you can obtain thru cognitive behavioral therapy.

  • Exercise - Regular Exercise has been proven to treat anxiety. Movement promotes blood flow and increases the neurotransmitters within our brain. Scientist have found exercise to calm anxiety symptoms.

  • Relaxation - There are several relaxation techniques that can help reduce anxiety. These techniques need to be practiced for a period of time before you will feel the effects of them as a useful strategy. The reason this happens is we become too hyper focused on how to do the technique which brings about stress. Once you have practiced it and know the proper steps then you will begin to feel it's usefulness. The following are some relaxation techniques:

    Breathing exercising - Can stop the stress response.

    Calm Breathing - Sit upright in a chair and have arms supported on arm of chair or in lap. Take a slow breath in through the nose, breathing into you lower belly for about 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 1 or 2 seconds. Exhale slowly through the mouth for 4 seconds. Wait a few seconds before taking another breath. Repeat for 6-8 breathing cycles to decrease anxiety.

    Visualization - In this technique you form mental images to take a visual journey to a peaceful, calming place or situation. During this technique utilize your senses such as smell, sight, sound and touch. To begin, sit in a quiet place, close eye and imagine a peaceful setting. Then think about the smell that would pertain to the image, the sound that would go with image, and the feel.


  • Systematic desensitization / Mindful Awareness - People with anxiety become worried about the anxiety itself, allowing catastrophic thoughts to take over and begin to send their body into experiencing physical symptoms. This then causes the anxiety to increase sometimes to a level of panic. We can prevent that from happening by remaining in the moment, and changing our focus away from the body symptoms. By shifting your thought of what's going on in your body and what's going on around you in repetition you can decrease the anxiety. This allows you to learn how to control your internal world by ignoring physical symptoms and stop the problematic thinking that brings on panic/worry. It helps you to remain in the moment which decreases anxiety.

    Anxiety can be reduced by facing the fear/worry that is holding you hostage from moving forward. An example of this technique is a fear of snakes. Go to reptile house at zoo. Look at snake in a protected environment to familiarize yourself with the snake. Focus on the patterns on their skin to distract you from the fear. Throughout this process utilize the breathing technique to calm your anxiety. Talk with the zoo handler to educate yourself and possibly pet the snake to decrease your anxiety. Facing the fear will decrease your anxiety/worry.

  • Find Healthy Distractions - Healthy distraction is a way to decrease anxiety. When you have too much time on our hands our mind tends to wonder. People that are predisposed to anxiety will allow anxiety to take control of their mind. Utilizing healthy distractions can control your anxiety. Healthy distractions are things such as watching TV, reading, listening to music, talking to positive friends/family on phone, doing a hobby or something that interests you, etc.

  • Have Fun - People with anxiety tend to be very tense and have forgotten how to have fun. Taking time to do something you enjoy can reduce tension and anxiety. Take time to figure out what brings you happiness and give your self permission to do those things. Spend time visiting with friends, family, doing a sport you enjoy, travel, etc to bring about more happiness which can decrease the tension.

    Reducing Anxiety requires real commitment and consistency but can be a liberating process that can restores purpose and pleasure in your life. Know that anxiety can be treated and can transform your life from a life of chronic anxiety, compulsive behaviors and paralyzingly fears to a state of greater peace, energy and happiness.

About the author: Sharon M. Walsh, MSW, LCSW

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