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How to Manage Chronic Anxiety


by Mark D. Lerner, Ph.D.

Chairman, The National Center for Emotional Wellness

 

We all experience feelings of anxiety at some point in our lives. It's a strong sense of nervousness, worry, or fear, often accompanied by physical symptoms like an increased heart rate, sweating, and shakiness. While occasional anxiety is normal, chronic anxiety can significantly impact our lives—including our relationships, work performance, and overall well-being.

 

Anxiety has become the most common form of mental illness in the United States (Anxiety & Depression Association of America). According to the National Institute of Mental Health (2019), nearly twenty percent of adults in the United States experienced an anxiety disorder in the past year, with the number being even higher for females (i.e., 23.4%). This alarming statistic highlights the need to address anxiety as a public health problem.

 

I believe that the proliferation of technology—particularly digital messaging, email, mobile apps, and social media, and a decrease in authentic in-person communication are contributing to this problem. And a growing body of research supports this (Haidt & Allen, 2020).

 

A common symptom associated with anxiety is panic attacks. These sudden, intense, overwhelming feelings of fear can be quite debilitating—compromising our ability to function. Panic attacks are one of the most frequent reasons people turn to professional mental health care (Schepis et al., 2019).

 

Fortunately, there are strategies we can use to manage chronic anxiety. Relaxation techniques have proven to be very effective in reducing anxiety symptoms. Deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery can help calm your mind and promote relaxation (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2018). Numerous articles and videos online can help you learn these strategies.

 

Meditation has also gained recognition as an effective technique for alleviating feelings of anxiety. Mindfulness meditation significantly reduced anxiety symptoms in individuals across various settings, including clinical and non-clinical populations (Goyal et al., 2014).

 

Regular exercise has been shown to reduce anxiety by releasing endorphins, which are natural mood elevators. Physical activity, such as walking, swimming, or yoga, can help improve overall well-being and alleviate anxiety (Kandola et al., 2019).

 

If you continue to experience chronic anxiety, speaking with a mental health professional can be invaluable. Engaging in evidence-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can empower you with coping strategies. Becoming aware of your thoughts and how they precipitate feelings of anxiety has been proven to be helpful. Furthermore, learning to replace maladaptive, unhealthy thinking with positive self-statements has helped me manage my feelings. Counselors and psychotherapists can support and guide the development of a personalized treatment plan (American Psychological Association, 2020).

 

In some cases, medication can be used to control anxiety when other natural strategies are insufficient. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed medications for debilitating anxiety and panic attacks. It's important to consult with a healthcare professional—your primary care physician or a psychiatrist, to evaluate the right course of medical treatment based on your needs (Mayo Clinic, 2021).

 

Whatever you do, don't suffer alone. Sharing your experience with friends and loved ones can provide emotional support and understanding. Speak with people who listen more than talk and with those who help you find answers within yourself. Social support plays a significant role in coping with anxiety (Otto et al., 2016).

 

As artificial intelligence (AI) rapidly advances, AI-Integrated Emotional Wellness (AIEW), including chatbots and other AIEW strategies, can provide support as an adjunct to genuine in-person care. While AIEW can't replace a mental health professional, it can serve as another tool in your toolbox to manage chronic anxiety.

 

Anxiety has become the most common mental health disorder in the United States. However, there are many strategies we can use to address and manage anxiety. Relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga, exercise, counseling, therapy, medication, and the support of friends and loved ones can contribute to a comprehensive approach to addressing chronic anxiety. The key is to take action, seek help, and remember that you are not alone in your journey toward emotional wellness.



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