Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling of fear, uneasiness, or concern that something bad may happen. Anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as trembling, shaking, muscle aches, restlessness, insomnia, rapid heartbeat, sweating, and clammy hands.
If anxiety interferes with your daily activities, you may need treatment with medicines (such as antidepressants or antianxiety medicines) and/or professional counseling.
How is anxiety linked to other health problems?
When you have a chronic health problem, such as diabetes, you may feel anxious about your condition. Or you may worry about the future. This is normal. But if anxiety continues, it can be hard for you to take care of your health. Anxiety is treatable, so talk to your doctor if you have concerns.
Caring for yourself when you have anxiety
A healthy lifestyle may help you feel better when you have anxiety.
- Be kind to your body.
- Try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. Walking is a good choice.
- Eat a healthy diet. Include fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains in your diet each day.
- Get enough rest. Try to go to bed at the same time every night. Try for 8 hours of sleep.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, marijuana, and illegal drugs. They can increase your anxiety and cause sleep problems.
- Engage your mind.
- Learn and do relaxation techniques. These may include guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation.
- Get out and do something you enjoy. Go to a funny movie, or take a walk or hike.
- Make a plan to handle worries.
- Plan your day. Having too much or too little to do can make you anxious.
- Go to your counseling sessions and follow-up appointments.
- Recognize and accept your anxiety. Then, when you are in a situation that makes you anxious, say to yourself, "This is not an emergency. I feel uncomfortable, but I am not in danger. I can keep going even if I feel anxious."
- Learn how to handle negative thoughts. Healthy thinking can help you prevent or control anxiety.
- Find support.
- Discuss your fears with a good friend or family member. Talking to others sometimes relieves stress.
- Get involved in social groups, or volunteer to help others. Or join a support group. Being alone sometimes makes things seem worse than they are.
- Talk to your doctor if your anxiety is getting in the way of work, relationships, or daily life.
Handling negative thoughts when you have anxiety
Negative thoughts can increase your worry or fear. But with some practice, you can learn how to shift those thoughts into healthier ways of thinking. Here are some tips to get started.
- Be on the lookout for common types of discouraging thoughts.
When you know the common types, it's easier to spot them when they happen. Here are a few to watch out for.
- Ignoring the positive. This means that you filter out the good and focus only on the bad. For example, you might focus only on critical feedback from your supervisor and ignore feedback about your strengths.
- The "should." Thinking that you or other people "should" or "have to" do something is a sign of this type of thinking. For example, "I have to be in charge of things, or I can't relax."
- Overgeneralizing. This means taking one example and saying it's true for everything. Watch for words such as "never" and "always." For example, "I always act awkward on first dates. I'll never find anyone who wants to be with me."
- All-or-nothing thinking. This is also called black-or-white thinking. It means that you think of things as either all good or all bad—with no options in between. For example, "If my job review isn't perfect, I'll get fired."
- Assuming the worst. For example, "I have a headache. What if it's a brain tumor?"
- Practice reframing your thoughts.
- Notice the negative thought. Don't be hard on yourself because you had the thought. Negative thoughts can pop up sometimes before you can stop them. But learning to recognize them can help you shift them.
- Question the thought. Ask yourself whether it's helpful or true. Your answers can help you find more accurate ways to think about the situation.
- Replace the thought. Ask yourself "What's something that's true and more helpful?" Use your answer to replace the discouraging thought. Here's an example:
- You might first think: "I get so nervous speaking in public. I just know that people are thinking about how bad I am at speaking."
- You can replace that thought with: "I'm probably better at public speaking than I think I am. The last time I gave a talk, people applauded afterward."
- Use a thought diary.
Write down negative thoughts throughout the day. Then rewrite them to be more encouraging. Over time, choosing more positive thoughts in the moment will get easier.
Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.