Some time ago, I asked an exceptional psychologist friend of mine the main reason why people would come to see her for treatment. Even before I could even finish the sentence, she affirmed in matter-of-fact fashion “Anxiety, of course, César!”.
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as fear or worry, that can be mild or severe. Mild anxiety, such as low levels of apprehension, mild muscle tightness and doubts about your ability, may actually improve your performance. Anxiety levels on this low end of the spectrum may actually motivate you to work harder toward a goal and improve your attention and problem-solving.
For instance, anxiety about an upcoming meeting, presentation or interview will likely drive you to prepare thoroughly. Normal levels of anxiety can prove to be adaptive and helpful to your everyday life.
On the other side of the spectrum, however, you will find the clinical levels of anxiety. When your performance rapidly decreases, causing impairment and obvious physiological and recurrent symptoms (sleep problems, panic attacks, nausea, etc.), then you may find that you have a diagnosable anxiety disorder such as phobia, PTSD, obsessive/compulsive, panic or generalised anxiety disorder.
What if you find yourself in the middle of the anxiety spectrum? If you feel that your level of anxiety is becoming a barrier, is no longer adaptive and is hindering your performance, then I urge to act before your chronic anxiety grows steadily into a clinically diagnosable anxiety disorder. The smart course of action is to start using evidenced-based strategies that will help you bring your anxiety back to the adaptive, low end of the spectrum.
Here are a few evidence-based options to keep your anxiety in check:
1.-Practice mindfulness.- Whether in the form of daily 10-minute meditation practice or any other techniques that can help you focus on the present moment.
2.-Face situations instead of avoiding them.- If you regularly face the things that cause you anxiety (difficult conversations, public speaking, etc.) over time, the anxiety will fade away.
3.-Eat anxiety calming foods.- Choose foods such as complex carbs (quinoa, legumes, vegetables, etc.) which boost serotonin, the calming brain hormone. Drink plenty of water and limit your alcohol and caffeine consumption (which can cause edginess).
4.-Enjoy physical activity.- Whether in the form of regular exercise, playing sports, walking your dog, taking a power walk with your friends, any kind of activity that gets your body moving, will cause chemical changes in the brain which can positively improve your mood.
5.-Avoid drug therapies if possible.- If you are not experiencing clinical levels of anxiety, then exhaust all the non-pharmaceutical therapies possible. According to several studies, medications alone are less effective than psychotherapy in the long run.