Constructing an Anxiety Toolbox

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety disorders. That accounts for 18 percent of people between the ages of 18 to 54. If you suffer from daily anxiety, it can help to create a toolbox of strategies to deploy when stress takes hold.

 

What to Put in Your Anxiety Toolbox

 

There are a number of items and techniques you can carry to help alleviate anxiety symptoms. Many times, just knowing you have these items can promote feelings of confidence and security, which serve to help ward off attacks.

 

  • Mints or antacids to relieve stomach discomfort

  • Hard candies to provide a distraction

  • Nuts or other snacks to improve low blood sugar

  • Colored pencils and paper for art therapy

  • A good book to provide a distraction

  • Stress balls

  • Scented items (try lavender and vanilla)

  • IPod or mp3 player with nature sounds or soothing music

  • Randomized relaxation technique reminder cards that say things such as "count to 100," "breathe," “practice mindfulness" or “imagine your favorite place”

  • A picture of your favorite place or beloved family member

  • A warm blanket

  • Breathing exercises

  • Imagery and visualization tactics

  • Positive self-talk

  • Thoughts of gratitude and accomplishments

 

What to Leave Out of Your Anxiety Toolbox

 

Just as some things help to prevent or alleviate anxiety symptoms, there are other things that can spark or worsen an attack. These include:

 

  • Caffeine, cigarettes and other stimulants

  • Alcoholic beverages

  • Dehydration and infrequent eating

  • Sugary foods that cause you to crash

  • Nutritional deficiencies

  • Rumination and catastrophic thinking

  • Sleep deprivation

 

Some studies have shown that exposure to cold water in various forms can also help to alleviate anxiety. While it may not be practical to jump into a cold shower every time anxiety sets in, you can try drinking cold water to improve anxiety symptoms. Make sure to carry a bottle of water with you wherever you go. This can help to prevent anxiety related to symptoms of dehydration. At the same time, a dose of cold water can help distract you when panic sets in.

 

The Importance of Sleep

 

According to studies, sleep deprivation amplifies anxiety by stimulating the brain's amygdala and insular cortex, both of which play a key role in emotional processing. Other studies have shown that people with chronic insomnia are at a much higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder. In fact, research has shown that sleep difficulties are present in nearly every psychiatric disorder.

 

In some instances, anxiety is the catalyst for a sleep disorder. In other cases, insufficient sleep is the catalyst for anxiety. Still, for others, the relationship exists as a cycle with one problem influencing the other and vice versa.

 

If you suffer from anxiety on a regular basis, prioritize your sleep to make sure you get at least eight hours every night. You can start by going to bed and getting up the same time every day. You should also avoid stimulants, alcohol, blue light from tablets and televisions at least two hours before bedtime, since these have all been shown to promote sleep problems.