Mental Health

How to manage anxiety?

manage anxiety Posted On
Posted By Alex Perez - Mental Health Writer, B.A.

Medically reviewed by Michel Fritzson, MPH, M.D. Updated on May 2, 2021. 2nd update on August 24, 2022.

Understanding anxiety

Defining anxiety

defining anxiety
Anxiety is the most common mental disorder in the world

You will first need to differentiate between fear, stress, acute anxiety, pathological anxiety, panic attacks, and anxiety disorder before you can answer this question.

Fear is the body’s emotional reaction to imminent danger. This reaction will alert us and evoke evasive behavior in us, which will allow us to avoid risk in the future. Fear is a strong emotional reaction that is kept in the brain in an automatic form. Fear systematically repeats itself as an effective defense system. It is complicated to reverse this system since it is triggered unconsciously. Problems arise when we start to have disproportionate emotional reactions or when we start to be afraid of unreal dangers.

Stress is the emotional reaction to a stressor. A stressor is a word we use to designate external attacks that are not dangerous. It is a principle much more present in our modern society than it used to be. These days, typical stressors are the rat race, money problems, work, and family concerns. It is essential to say that chronic stress can lead to behavioral, physical, and emotional issues. The symptoms of stress include but not limited to fatigue, insomnia, irritability, palpitations, eating disorders, hypertension, drug dependence, sex problem, and constant tension.

Acute anxiety is an automatic response of the body when it feels imminent danger. It characterizes by the production by the adrenal glands of stress hormones (adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol), which prepare the human being to react quickly and bluntly.
You may feel anxious about external or internal factors. Everyday stressful situations are considered external factors. Internal factors are thoughts that cause anxiety.
When the anxiety felt is proportional to the danger we face, we can speak of ordinary anxiety, which all human beings experience from time to time.

If the reaction is disproportionate and disabling towards a danger, which in many cases is unreal, we can speak of pathological anxiety. This kind of anxiety is recurrent, chronic, and prevents many patients from having an everyday life.
The most common symptoms are sweating, dizziness, nausea, palpitations, dry mouth, tremors, and chest pain.

Pathological anxiety is unlike acute anxiety; pathological anxiety -can come with anxiety attacks or PANIC ATTACKS. When faced with danger or a stressor, the anxiety attack is an extreme and short-lived reaction, on average, from a few minutes to half an hour. The anxiety attack never lasts more than an hour.
The anxiety attack symptoms are palpitations, pallor, dizziness, feeling of suffocation, nausea, and tremors.

If the sensation is more moderate but continues over time, we face an anxiety disorder.

To be clear generally when we say anxiety we mean pathological anxiety.

Origins of anxiety

origins anxiety
Anxiety disorders affect 11-12% of the adult population in Canada (anxiety alone counts for 5%)

Let’s go back in time to understand the origin of these disorders better
To better understand what anxiety is, we must think that man faced many more dangers before living in our modern society, and even had predators. It was perfect to be able to rely on a red alert system to escape or fight to survive. Today, this system of flight or fight persists in us. But the dangers are not so clear or sometimes even unreal, and very often, it is no longer suitable for us to put ourselves on red alert.

Let’s explain, when the caveman was confronted by a saber-toothed tiger coming out of his cave, he was delighted to have a system in place in his body, which automatically started producing stress hormones in his adrenal glands.  These increased his adrenaline and norepinephrine levels in his body. The system in place gave all kinds of signals in the body, like accelerating the heart rate to distribute more oxygen in the body through the blood, dilating the pupils to be more alert, or increased body temperature, which prepares the muscles in action. Logically, simultaneously the organs not directly related to this effort of survival are paused so you will feel nausea, notice a pallor, or feel dizzy.

At the same time, the adrenal glands will produce the third stress hormone called cortisol. The body uses cortisol to increase the levels of sugar or glucose in your body. Which therefore makes a supply of energy available to provide this additional effort. The caveman channeled all this energy to take his club with both hands to give the death blow to the saber-toothed tiger and save his life. On the other hand, if he saw his chances of victory too low, he could run with all his strength towards the nearest tree to take shelter in height. This effort will have expelled the energy accumulated in his body, and our ancestors will have saved their lives.

Anxiety in modern society

anxiety in modern society
Anxiety disorders affect between 12 and 13% of the adult population in the United Kingdom

Let’s go back to the 21st century, now we rarely find ourselves in such lethal dangers, but stressors are much more present than in the past. Let’s take an example when your boss yells at you that you have to finish this file before the end of the day and that it is 4:45 pm, your defense system will start, the reaction of flight or fight. Still, as a civilized being, you will not channel this energy to put on your boxing gloves and put your boss in his place. No, you will wisely finish the file before the end of the day and let the stress build up in your body. When you have finally finished your day, and you find yourself in a monster traffic jam afterward, you are going to have again this reaction of flight or fight, which will be triggered in front of this new stressful element. Still, yet you are a civilized being; therefore, you don’t put on your jogging shoes and leave your car in the middle of the road to escape from this stress factor.

So all of that energy builds up, giving you symptoms that we know to be stress. Suppose afterward, you are confronted with more stressors during your day, or you hardly manage to put into perspective, and you focus on this discomfort. In that case, this will give rise to an explosion of emotional order. All this energy will be released in the form of an anxiety attack or panic attack.

If, on the contrary, the accumulation of energy is not significant enough in you to release this surplus in the face of a stressor, you will set up a vicious circle. You will release in a consistent form these stress hormones, and the symptoms will become chronic, giving place to pathological anxiety.

If the anxiety symptoms persist for more than six months, we will speak of generalized anxiety disorder or GAD. In this case, the triggers will have become internal or psychic while being constant or chronic. In this case, the internal factors will give you a feeling of a constant worry. You are always worried that something terrible could happen like losing your job, running out of money, losing your house, getting sick, that a member of the family dies, etc. In other words, you will no longer need external stressors to find yourself confronted with the symptoms of pathological anxiety since you will experience anticipatory and apprehensive fear.

Longitudinal studies have shown that anxiety disorders are mostly a psychological reaction following adverse life events.

Practical solutions

practical solutions for anxiety
Anxiety disorders affect 14% of the adult population in the European Union (anxiety alone counts for between 5 and 6%)

Fortunately, today, I will show you some practical solutions to combat the two forms of the pathological stress response: anxiety and anxiety attacks.

Lower expectations

First, we need to ask the following question: What causes these high levels of stress in modern society? It’s quite simple. The new human being has expectations that are too high. He sets himself goals that he can never achieve. He is blinded by false materialistic rewards, which translate into a feeling of emptiness. To pay for these material things that give a false sense of satisfaction, he will always need more money and to undergo the routine of his day job. Because he will have to work so hard to pay for everything he doesn’t need, he will have no more free time to spare. He will feel trapped in the rat race and will conclude that he lacks freedom and perspective in life. The result is an internal conflict that is challenging to resolve because many of us are not even aware of the situation in which we live. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you to quit your job and go live naked on a desert island. I just want to clarify that one of the leading causes that make you feel stressed is conflict; this conflict can also be mental, with other words in your head.

From now on, if you want to learn how to manage your anxiety, you will first have to learn to reduce your expectations.  You will, above all, have to learn to accept that you will constantly be confronted with external factors and events that you will not be able to control. You will, therefore, perceive those external factors as stress factors. It will also be essential to be friendly with yourself. Forgive yourself immediately in the event of a panic attack and not stay focused on it; otherwise, the symptoms will be more accentuated and the attacks more frequent; a vicious circle will set in. After that, you will need to have clear goals in life and organize yourself to have control over the main aspects of your life. This new attitude towards life will give you more perspectives and boost your general well-being.

Of course, it is easy to say that it is enough to think that you are happy to be happy. But it doesn’t work that way, it’s a process and to get started, you’ll need to activate your mind, work on yourself. How do we do it?
We will have to make some changes in your life. That will allow you to be less stressed and calm your anxiety.

Breathing techniques

First, to relax, we need to work on breathing techniques to control your heart rate by regulating the airflow to reduce anxiety. So you start to breathe through your nose for better air filtration and allow oxygen to enter your body optimally. The second tip, which is the most important, is that you start breathing from your stomach and stop breathing from your chest. This calming effect is because abdominal breathing gives the body a signal that it is relaxed, that there is no threat present. Instantly you will feel calmer and have a more serene feeling.

Taking time to relax

Also, you must start taking time for yourself for simple pleasures like listening to music, which will allow you to escape for a moment and release destructive emotions.

On the other hand, writing will help you regain your concentration and channel your emotions. Finally, meditation will allow you to open your mind through introspection to regain control and perspective of your life. If you want to practice altogether, consider nature walks. These will allow you to feel the fresh air, listen to the sounds of nature, practice your breathing techniques, do meditation while walking (called conscious walking), and at the same time, you will practice low impact sports, which allows you to feel relief without stressing your body. All these benefits come with exposure to natural light. This sunshine has been offered to us by nature without asking for anything in return!  This present is a real boost to your mood. If you live in a country where the sun is lacking, you should consider light therapy to compensate.

Regaining control of our life

Finally, we will reduce stress by regaining control of our lives, getting organized, and having a healthy lifestyle. These changes will give you more time, and you will feel energized, which will allow you to become more restful. This free time will help you in your introspective reflection. Analyze your life, find out where things are going wrong, and start developing the solution. This new perspective will give you a feeling of serenity and satisfaction.
To sum up, it is crucial to have a positive attitude, eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and be organized. From there, you will be able to recover control of your life.

Hormonal level

anxiety hormonal level
Anxiety disorders affect between 14 and 15% of the adult population in Australia

It is essential to understand what is going on in your body at the hormonal level: The hormonal imbalance results in an emotional imbalance that gives rise to these feelings of anxiety and anxiety attacks. In this case, the right question would be whether we can restore this balance naturally and healthily. The answer is that YES, we can, and I will show you how it works.

Increase levels of positive hormones

You can naturally increase the levels of positive hormones in your body:

Serotonin: Serotonin is the hormone of happiness, produced naturally by your body based on tryptophan. How to get tryptophan? Easy, you have to eat healthily. This long list of foods will help you healthily increase your serotonin levels: oatmeal, lentils, chickpeas, cassava, sweet potatoes, brown rice, spinach, lettuce, avocado, pineapple, blueberries, currants, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, apples, banana, chili, eggs, chicken, veal, tuna, salmon, sardines, shrimps, crab, spider crab, nuts, almonds, fish, seeds, soy, milk, yogurt, dark chocolate, and cheese.

Even better would be to choose foods that, in addition to containing tryptophan, are natural sedatives such as oatmeal, lettuce, spinach, avocado, salmon, tuna, seeds, almonds, and nuts. In addition to feeling happier, you will also feel more relaxed.

Then opting for a diet rich in omega-three fatty acids is a good idea. What are they? These are essential elements for your well-being that surround every cell of your body. They are vital for the proper functioning of the brain, heart, and blood vessels. Your body does not produce them, so you must take care of your diet to get them. It’s the easiest way to protect yourself from depression, anxiety, and panic attacks! These foods would be oats, salmon, tuna, sardines, nuts, seeds, and soy.

Let’s not forget the antioxidants, which are molecules capable of fighting free radicals, which are the unstable molecules in your body that have lost an electron. They are one of the leading causes of aging and cause disease. To get a good dose of antioxidants, you need to focus on foods that contain vitamins C, E, and A. These foods would be: orange, lemon, pomelo, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, blackberries, strawberries, spinach, lettuce, avocado, squash, carrots, dark chocolate, beans, lentils, chickpeas, garlic, onions, oats, almonds, nuts, and seeds.

Forget processed and ultra-processed foods with high levels of saturated fat and salt. Start cooking. Ingestion of too much salt has harmful effects on your body, such as dehydration, which will make you feel uncomfortable and irritable. Although they are more expensive, I advise you to buy food without pesticides, organic. Either way, what you save at the supermarket, you will spend at the pharmacy.

You now know that your digestive system produces serotonin. You can help your digestive system work properly by ingesting probiotics. What are probiotics? These are living bacteria or microorganisms, which, when eaten in sufficient quantity, contribute to the proper functioning of your digestive system and your immune system. What foods contain probiotics? Yogurts, dark chocolate, certain cheeses such as blue cheese, hard goat cheese, mozzarella, and other soft cheeses, gouda, and cheddar.

In summary, you should have noticed that oat flakes appear in almost all the lists I mentioned. In addition to being an inexpensive food, they regulate the sugar level in your blood, protect you against cancer, lower bad cholesterol, promote your ability to relax. They do not stress your body as it is very digestive food. Besides, although it is not a probiotic, several studies have shown that it also naturally regenerates the intestinal flora. Long live oatmeal!

Dopamine: Dopamine is known as the pleasure hormone. It gives you signs of pleasure, satisfaction, and well-being. Getting a sufficient level of dopamine in the body is quite simple. First, you need to eat enough protein by eating chicken, eggs, veal, fish, nuts, almonds, lentils, chickpeas, lentils, beans, spinach, cucumbers, mushrooms, soy, and drink milk. You should also start playing sports, regardless of the type of sport, running, cycling, swimming, dancing. Start with half an hour a day. The positive hormonal effects of physical activity are that your dopamine and serotonin levels increase, and your adrenaline level decreases. Adrenaline is terrible if you are an anxious person. Then your dopamine levels will also increase if you start to relax by listening to music that you like to walk or meditate on. It would be better if you do outdoor activities because sunlight also increases your dopamine and serotonin levels. Studies have shown that after 5 minutes of sun exposure, dopamine, and serotonin levels increase. What are you waiting for? Put on sneakers and go for a walk in nature!

Endorphin: These hormones are the natural equivalent of morphine. These are natural pain relievers that decrease your perception of pain and anxiety, increasing your sense of well-being. While stress and anxiety are a natural way to increase your endorphin level, they will also increase the level of other hormones that don’t do the job for you. So how do you increase your endorphin levels without waking up the harmful hormones? You can do several activities to improve the level of endorphin in your body, such as playing sports, meditating, listening to music, eating chocolate, eating spicy foods, or having sex. Yes, do not hesitate. Making love is very good for you!

Progesterone: Progesterone is a female sex hormone, but men also need it to produce testosterone. This hormone has a relationship with sexual appetite and fertility.
To get a good dose of progesterone, I recommend the following foods: beans, chickpeas, bananas, nuts, seeds, carrots, lentils, broccoli, beets, almonds, spinach, squash, brown rice, and dairy products.
Progesterone will help you moderate sudden mood changes and reduce mood swings. The simple fact of being less stressed makes you naturally have higher progesterone levels in the body because when you are stressed, the stress hormones like adrenaline and norepinephrine will signal your kidneys to convert progesterone into cortisol. Later, you will read that it is terrible for you.

Oxytocin: Oxytocin is one of my favorite hormones because it is a very mysterious hormone. We call it the love hormone. It occurs in the hypothalamus, which is one of the oldest parts of our brain, and regulates essential functions such as controlling body temperature, sleep, thirst, hunger, sexual appetite, and parental relationships, more specifically paternal or maternal love. Oxytocin transmits feelings of love and empathy. It is one of the most potent relaxing hormones and an immunizer against anxiety and depression. Foods and condiments that stimulate the production of oxytocin are figs, spinach, arugula, basil, cinnamon, peppermint, watermelon, pomegranate, avocado, banana, almonds, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, carrots, asparagus, and oysters. You now know how aphrodisiac foods work!

Now you are aware of what you need to do to feel good and relaxed.

Decrease levels of harmful hormones

The time has arrived to explain what you should avoid so that you don’t get stressed and anxious. Avoid the high levels of these harmful hormones:

Adrenaline: adrenaline or epinephrine is the activation hormone. The adrenal glands, located above the kidneys, produce adrenaline. They give strong signals which are essential for our survival because they help in need, in dangerous situations. These famous signals to flee or fight. They speed up the heart rate, raise blood pressure, and give you more oxygen in the blood. Anxiety occurs when you receive these signals, but the danger is non-existent or irrational. In our modern society, stress is the leading cause of the high adrenaline levels that cause anxiety. As you already know, to relieve stress, you need to combine an active lifestyle, healthy eating, establishing a routine, spending time in nature, and finding a goal in your life, something that makes you happy.

Norepinephrine: norepinephrine or noradrenaline is the hormone we commonly call the stress hormone. The primary function of this hormone is to prepare the body for action and is one of the leading causes of anxiety. The adrenal glands also produce norepinephrine. Stress and anxiety are the leading causes of increased levels of norepinephrine, which, in turn, will lead to more stress and more anxiety, a vicious cycle. But norepinephrine also plays a positive role in the body. Too low a level of norepinephrine causes negative thoughts and depression.

Cortisol: Cortisol is also produced in the adrenal glands and is a hormone used to increase blood sugar and to transform fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into energy. That way, you have a great source of energy that will help you if you have to run away or fight. If you fail to channel this energy, you will have an anxiety attack.
Any food that contains a high level of refined sugar or saturated fat will increase your cortisol levels.

Above all, you must stop consuming these products: coffee, soda, Red Bull, candy, pizza, burgers, alcohol, fruit juice, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, and all light foods that are nothing but disguised junk food. I tell you that the low-fat products are hidden junk food because they contain a carcinogenic and neurotoxic sweetener called aspartame. It can cause nausea, diarrhea, and malaise.

Very similar is the neurotoxic aroma, monodic glutamate (MSG) found in most crisps, fast food, Chinese food, and ready meals. MSG can cause nausea and anxiety. You will also wonder why coffee is on this list.

The presence of coffee in the list is because caffeine consumption increases your cortisol and adrenaline levels. A large intake of caffeine will also increase your norepinephrine level. Do yourself a favor and don’t eat any of these foods until you’ve gotten your anxiety under control.


anxiety therapy
Anxiety disorders affect 18% of the adult population in the United States

If these tips have failed to get rid of your anxiety, you should consider cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy is a mixture of psychotherapy and behavioral therapy, which is generally short-lived and aimed to modify the behavior, the way of thinking, or the patient’s feelings. Typically cognitive behavior therapy lasts about five months. It focuses on disorders, attitudes, and thinking and how they influence behavior and emotions. The therapist will work with you to develop a strategy to address and resolve the problems encountered. You will learn a set of principles that you can use for the rest of your life when you need to. It is an effective and scientific therapy to regain your emotional balance and control of your life.

Then you will need to choose the therapist who is best for you. Among online psychologists, it would be best to go to a reputable website with accredited therapists and put filters to limit your search for specific problems, type of therapy, language, country, gender, etc.
Once you have found the psychologist who seems appropriate to you, contact him or her to ask questions that seem essential to you. If you have found the first contact satisfactory, you can make an appointment for your first session.

If you need more information, check out the website or join the Elefriends online supportive community to talk to someone.

Symptoms of Anxiety
Infographic Symptoms of Anxiety

Interesting questions and answers about anxiety

What causes anxiety?

Longitudinal studies have shown that anxiety is an evolutionary response to adverse experiences in life. We anticipate past stressors and traumas by a fight or flight response.

What are the most common symptoms of anxiety?

  • Rapid breathing and hearth rate
  • Nausea
  • Upset stomach and sudden need to urinate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle tension or twitch
  • Chest pain

Is anxiety a mental illness?

Yes, anxiety disorders are a mental health condition. It’s currently the most common mental illness affecting an estimate 275 million people around the world. That’s approximatively 3.5% of the global population.

Can anxiety make you crazy?

The rush of adrenaline that accompanies the fight or flight response that severe anxiety triggers can feel like you’re going crazy. The oppressed feeling and the accelerated heart rate can make you feel as if you lose control over your emotions, but you should not focus on this because you will not actually go crazy because of this, and it will only worsen the symptoms of anxiety.

Does anxiety lead to death?

Severe anxiety can lead to a panic attack. Some symptoms of a panic attack and a heart attack are similar, like chest pain, excessive sweating, and dizziness. But the difference is that heart attacks are lethal, and panic attacks are not.


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Anxiety Chat & Anxiety Support Forum

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Tips to Manage Anxiety

Harvard Business How to Manage anxiety

WebMD: 9Tips to Manage Anxiety

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