If you’re living with an anxiety disorder, ignoring your symptoms might make them worse.
Everyone experiences anxiety at one time or another, whether that’s feeling nervous about that big presentation or having butterflies before a first date.
For some people, these feelings of anxiousness go away after the anticipated event or situation. But for others, those feelings are constant to the point that they interfere with daily functioning.
Living with an anxiety disorder can be challenging. But ignoring your condition can lead to worsened symptoms, changes in body function, or difficulty with daily activities.
There are simple practices you can try right now and regularly that have shown to be helpful for improving anxiety symptoms and your overall mental health and well-being.
If anxiety is left alone, it usually doesn’t go away on its own.
Exploring the underlying reasons why you may be feeling anxious is a good first step to improving your symptoms.
This is different from identifying anxiety triggers, which are situations or circumstances that may worsen anxiety symptoms. The underlying reasons for your anxiety symptoms can often be separate from your triggers.
For example, some people may experience anxiety symptoms due to hormonal imbalances, according to a
In other words, while a person’s anxiety may be triggered by large crowds, the underlying reason for the anxiety could be that their hormones are out of balance. This imbalance might make them more likely to experience anxiety in stressful situations.
Other contributing factors could include:
- traumatic events
- learned coping patterns
- family history
- ongoing stress
- medical conditions
- substance use
- personality traits
Determining the underlying reasons for your anxiety could be a key part of helping to manage and treat it.
Ignoring anxiety can often lead to worsened symptoms or new, associated symptoms, such as:
- gastrointestinal problems
- social isolation
- substance use
- suicidal ideation
Untreated symptoms can continue to build up over time and may affect your job, relationships, or school performance.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), certain criteria must be met for a diagnosis of anxiety disorder.
These include the following:
- Managing your anxiety is difficult.
- Your anxiety causes you extreme stress, which affects your daily life.
- You have anxiety nearly every day for more than 6 months.
- Your anxiety is excessive and out of proportion to the trigger.
- Another mental health condition isn’t the likely cause of your symptoms.
A healthcare professional will likely perform an examination to determine whether there’s an underlying cause for your symptoms. Then you may be referred to a mental health professional for a psychological evaluation.
If you’re diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ll work together with the doctor to develop a treatment plan that works best for you and your unique situation.
Treatments for anxiety often include:
Depending on your unique set of symptoms, a combination of one or more of these treatments may be recommended for you.
There are natural options you can also try to improve your symptoms.
Although more studies are needed, Ashwagandha is an herbal medication that has shown the potential to offer mild to moderate relief from anxiety symptoms.
Study participants experienced less anxiety while taking Ashwagandha together with an SSRI in 6 weeks than an SSRI alone. However, this study was small and only included 40 patients.
If you tend to feel stressed and anxious easily, you might benefit from taking scheduled pauses for deep breathing exercises throughout the day.
Taking deep breaths can slow the heart rate and have a calming effect on your body and mind. Becoming aware of your breath is a helpful practice that can shift your focus away from worrisome thoughts.
Exercise has been shown to be a powerful protector against anxiety symptoms, according to a
Any type of exercise will work, and it doesn’t have to be at a gym.
Outdoor exercises such as running or cycling can allow you to focus on reaching a certain location, time, or distance while enjoying the calming effect of nature.
While many cultures have long recognized the benefits of spending time in nature, the Japanese culture refers to this practice as “shinrin yoku,” or forest bathing — loosely translated as “spending time in a forest.”
While nature is both beautiful and peaceful, a 2020 study praised shinrin yoku for its overall benefit for mental health and anxiety in particular.
If you’re feeling anxious at this moment, there are a few simple exercises you can try to calm down immediately.
You can try to:
- Breathe. Try taking a few deep breaths right now or even taking a 5- or 10-minute pause for a breathing meditation. One way to do this is to relax in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and focus on your breath.
- Focus. Try to focus on a single word such as peace or serenity and enjoy the images that may come to mind during this practice.
- Laugh. A funny joke, video, or meme may be just what you need to calm your anxiety in the moment. Laughter has a way of easing anxiety and boosting spirits.
- Name it. Recognizing how you’re feeling and talking through it can ease your symptoms and help you calm down.
You also might find it helpful to reach out to a mental health professional for help calming down immediately.
If you’re looking for support but not sure where to start, you can check out Psych Central’s hub for finding mental health support.
Living with anxiety can be frustrating and challenging at times. But ignoring your symptoms doesn’t make them any better and can even make you feel worse in many cases.
There are several different treatment options you can try to manage your symptoms. With a few changes to your daily routines, you can start feeling better soon.
Simple lifestyle practices such as breathing meditations, spending time in nature, and exercise can have a calming, grounding, and stabilizing effect.
If your anxiety symptoms have been persistent for longer than 6 months, it may be a good idea to reach out to a healthcare or mental health professional. They can help guide you on the next steps.