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.
How to stop negative thoughts when you have anxiety
Negative thoughts can increase your worry or fear. Healthy thinking can help you prevent or control anxiety. Changing your thinking will take some time. You need to practice healthy thinking every day. After a while, healthy thinking will come naturally to you.
- Notice your thoughts.
Your thoughts, or self-talk, are what you think and believe about yourself and your experiences. It's like a running commentary in your head. Your self-talk may be rational and helpful. Or it may be negative and not helpful.
- Ask yourself about your thoughts.
Ask yourself if your thoughts are helpful or unhelpful. Look at what you're saying to yourself. Does the evidence support your negative thought? Some of your self-talk may be true. Or it may be partly true but exaggerated.
One of the best ways to see if you are worrying too much is to look at the odds. What are the odds, or chances, that the bad thing you are worried about will happen? If you have a job review that has one small criticism among many compliments, what are the odds that you really are in danger of losing your job? The odds are probably low.
There are several kinds of irrational thoughts. Here are a few types to look for.
- Focusing on the negative.
This is sometimes called filtering. You filter out the good and focus only on the bad. Example: "I get so nervous speaking in public. I just know that people are thinking about how bad I am at speaking." Reality: Probably no one is more focused on your performance than you. It may help to look for some evidence that good things happened after one of your presentations. Did people applaud afterward? Did anyone tell you that you did a good job?
People sometimes have set ideas about how they "should" act. If you hear yourself saying that you or other people "should," "ought to," or "have to" do something, then you might be setting yourself up to feel bad. Example: "I have to be in control all the time or I can't cope with things." Reality: There's nothing wrong with wanting to have some control over the things that you can control. But you may cause yourself anxiety by worrying about things that you can't control.
This is taking one example and saying it's true for everything. Look for words such as "never" and "always." Example: "I'll never feel normal. I worry about everything all the time." Reality: You may worry about many things. But everything? Is it possible that you are exaggerating? Although you may worry about many things, you also may find that you feel strong and calm about other things.
- All-or-nothing thinking.
This is also called black-or-white thinking. Example: "If I don't get a perfect job review, then I'll lose my job." Reality: Most performance reviews include some constructive criticism—something you can work on to improve. If you get five positive comments and one constructive suggestion, that is a good review. It doesn't mean that you're in danger of losing your job.
- Catastrophic thinking.
This is assuming that the worst will happen. This type of irrational thinking often includes "what if" questions. Example: "I've been having headaches lately. I'm so worried. What if it's a brain tumor?" Reality: If you have lots of headaches, you should see a doctor. But the odds are that it's something more common and far less serious. You might need glasses. You could have a sinus infection. Maybe you're getting tension headaches from stress.
- Choose your thoughts.
Pick a helpful thought to replace the unhelpful one.
Keeping a journal of your thoughts is one of the best ways to practice stopping, asking, and choosing your thoughts. It makes you aware of your self-talk. Write down any negative or unhelpful thoughts you had during the day. If you think you might not remember them at the end of your day, keep a notepad with you so that you can write down any thoughts as they happen. Then write down helpful messages to correct the negative thoughts.
If you do this every day, then accurate, helpful thoughts will soon come naturally to you.
But there may be some truth in some of your negative thoughts. You may have some things you want to work on. If you didn't perform as well as you would like on something, write that down. You can work on a plan to correct or improve that area.
If you want, you also could write down what kind of irrational thought you had. Journal entries might look something like this:
Stop your negative thoughtStop your negative thought
Ask what type of negative thought you hadAsk what type of negative thought you had
Choose an accurate, helpful thought insteadChoose an accurate, helpful thought instead
"I get so nervous speaking in public. I just know that people are thinking about how bad I am at speaking."
Focusing on the negative
"I'm probably better at public speaking than I think I am. The last time I gave a talk, people applauded afterward."
"I have to be in control all the time or I can't cope with things."
"I can only control how I think about things or what I do. I can't control some things, like how other people feel and act."
"I'll never feel normal. I worry about everything all the time."
"I've laughed and relaxed before. I can practice letting go of my worries."
"My headaches must mean there is something seriously wrong with me."
"A lot of things can cause headaches. Most of them are minor and go away."
Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.