Everyone has experienced some form of anxiety at one point, but nothing is worse than feeling uncomfortable and not knowing the reason. Although your distress can come from a number of factors, there are a number of helpful ways to know what is causing your anxiety, and once you take these steps, you'll be able to better fix the problem. Pinpointing the source of your anxiety isn't easy, but if you're aware of what can cause it, then you can more likely help ease the stress and unpleasantness in the moment and in the long-run.
"One of the hallmarks of anxiety is that it can set it in for no apparent reason," says Alena Gerst, LCSW, RYT over email. "Even for many people whose lives and circumstances do not warrant anxiety suffer. Or for many people, the external cause for anxiety is not something that is logically fear inducing, for instance in the cases of agoraphobia and other triggers that don't make sense logically." In other words, it's totally normal to feel anxious about something that your friend actually finds enjoyable, so it can be hard to identify what's stressing you out.
This can leave a lot of people confused why they feel the emotions they do, but it's time to change that. If you're not sure what is causing your anxiety, here are 11 ways to help you figure it out what's getting to you and how you can fix the problem.
1. Look For What Is Making You Uncomfortable
"Ask yourself, 'what areas in your life are making you feel uncomfortable?'" says Gerst. "Your job? Your partner? Where you live? You may not realize it, but your discontent may be playing out in the form of anxiety." Identifying a specific part of your life that stresses you out is a very important first step.
2. Evaluate Your Physical Activity
"Are you avoiding exercise or forcing yourself to do exercise you don't like?" says Gerst. "Moving your body is an ideal way to alleviate and prevent anxiety." Find a workout you like, and stick to it regularly. One vigorous exercise session can help alleviate symptoms for hours, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
3. Inspect Your Diet
What you eat can affect your mind just as much as it can impact other aspects of your overall health. Research from the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that people who eat a traditional diet of meat and vegetables have lower rates of depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder than those who eat a diet high in processed and fast foods. Switch up your diet to include less junk foods and more whole foods, and you might be surprised at how much you feel better.
4. Look At Your Bedtime Habits
"Inadequate sleep can result in more than feeling tired," says Gerst. "It is a leading contributor to increased symptoms of anxiety. Give yourself a one-week commitment of absolutely adequate sleep. If you feel less anxious, there's a clue for you." Gerst suggests setting yourself up for good sleep throughout your entire day. "Eat breakfast and avoid caffeine and high sugar foods," she says. "Write in a journal when you wake up or early in the day about all the things on your mind, without judgement, just to observe."
5. Consider Your Company
It's good to have friends, but if they're not giving you the support you need, they've got to go. "Multiple studies show that the more social support someone has, the lower their risk of stress and anxiety," Gerst says. "Having negative and toxic friends around whom you can't truly be yourself will send anxiety through the roof. You need your friends and loved ones to accept you for who you are, anxiety and all."
It's always best to talk to a friend about your issues, but if they're not willing to have a clean break, you have to take matters into your own hands. "If they call, you don't have to answer, " says Gerst. "And if they text, remember that 'less is more' in your response. Respond politely but do not engage."
6. Pay Attention To Your Caffeine Intake
Have you had coffee today? It might be responsible for that jittery and stressed out feeling. Coffee can exacerbate existing anxiety or even create feelings of anxiousness in people who don't normally suffer, according to the Archives of General Psychiatry. "Give yourself a week to switch to half-caf or green tea, not so you're cutting caffeine entirely, but just to see if it makes a difference," says Gerst.
7. Look At What You Can Control
"Figure out what you can and cannot control," psychologist Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. tells me over email. "If something is out of your control, you need to accept it and let go. Also recognize that when you accept your lack of control, the worst thing you imagined doesn't actually happen." Raymond suggests putting yourself in the same boat as others. Everyone else deals with the same control issues, and they end up OK too. "It helps ground and center you so that you feel protected in that group rather than all alone and having to control things to make things work out a certain way," she says.
8. Focus On Your Self-Image
Are you holding yourself to unrealistic standards? Do you regularly engage in negative self-talk? "You can't be perfect because you, like everyone else, make errors of judgement, mistakes, and forget things," says Raymond. "So give yourself a dose of reality checking, and see how your anxiety about being perfect prevents you from enjoying being in the human race. Observe other people who aren't behaving, or looking perfect. Are they suffering or unwanted?" It can help to look at others who have made mistakes, but still have love and support.
9. Notice Your Patterns
"Do you always feel a bit anxious Monday mornings before you go to work, a pattern that’s been going on for years?" says Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed. over email. "If so, remind yourself that the anxiety has absolutely no meaning and is just habit." Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing or mindfulness in meditation in moments where your anxiety comes from conditioned emotion.
10. Recognize Triggers
"Recognize triggers — high emotion memories to certain stressful situations that happened in childhood or caused later trauma," says Koenig. "When similar to situations occur now, you will likely feel anxious." Knowing what your triggers are ahead of time can help you calm down the moment you encounter them. Koenig suggests looking for a distraction, preferably something that brings you pleasure or letting the thought go by and acknowledging it, almost as if you are watching a train pass. Let the train go by, but don't hop on.
11. Consult Your Doctor
Don't worry if you can't figure out what's causing your anxieties on your own — your doctor is here to help. "Underlying medical conditions can also play out as anxiety, especially if your symptoms appear rather suddenly," says Gerst. "It would help to run some tests and rule out anything medical going on."
The more aware you are about what can cause your anxiety, the better able you are to work and fix it.
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