Steps to Reduce Anxiety and Stress
Notice this page is not entitled: Get rid of stress or anxiety for men. Contrary to popular belief, it is simply not possible to completely eliminate a human feeling, such as anxiety.
What is possible is to change our reaction to anxiety. In fact, how we respond to anxiety is directly related to how we experience the emotion.
Because I recognize there are many people who suffer from various forms of anxiety, I thought it might be helpful to publish a basic guide for the purposes of general education.
Step One: Accept Stress/Anxiety is Part of Your Life
One of the healthiest things you can do as a starting point is accept the reality that anxiety is part of your life. In many ways, we have been inculcated to believe that anxiety is somehow “bad” or something to be ashamed of. It’s simply not true. Anxiety is a very human emotion.
The more you deny your anxiety’s existence, the more power you give the emotion. It might be helpful to reframe how you think about anxiety and contextualize it in the framework of your total person. In other words, anxiety is part of your life but it does not define you. Read this article on embracing your mental health issues.
Step Two: Learn About Anxiety Disorders
The more you learn about anxiety, the more empowered you become to reduce its impact in your life. Be sure to review the material on the six main anxiety disorders here.
There are also a number of professional organizations that are all about different kinds of anxiety. There is no way to list them all here but here are a few of the “biggies”:
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- Social Anxiety Association
- American Psychiatric Association
- International OCD Foundation
The more you learn about anxiety, including how it manifests in your life, the more you empower healing. Use the material you find from these sources as way of comparing your symptoms with what you are reading on the sites. Do not diagnose yourself.
It is worth mentioning that depression is a common feature with anxiety for some people. In fact, it has been said that anxiety and depression are “best friends”. Be sure to pay careful attention to material you read about depression in the context of your own symptoms.
Step Three: Visit your Medical Doctor
It is imperative that you visit your medical doctor and consult with him/her about any of the symptoms described in the various anxiety disorders. This is particularly true if you think you might be having panic attacks or generalized anxiety disorder.
For many people, their specific symptoms can be related to an underlying medical condition or an entirely different psychological issue/disorder. Your medical doctor will need to go about the business of asking you questions, potentially running tests and exploring your medical history to rule out various causes. This is part of the diagnostic process your medical doctor will go through in order to better understand why you may be experiencing symptoms.
Certain medications have been known to have side-effects, which may produce some of the symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Make sure you have a complete list of all medications you are taking when you visit your doctor. If you are using substances, legal or illegal, make sure you inform your doctor of this too.
Examples include the amount of alcohol you consume each week. If you are using something for recreational purposes, make sure you advise your physician of this too. Don’t be embarrassed – just be up front and tell your doctor the truth. Chances are this will not be the first or last time your physician will have heard about substance use/abuse from a patient.
Step Four: Explore Treatment Options
There are a number of treatment options available for anxiety. Some forms of treatment are more effective than others, according to clinical studies.
I personally am an advocate for cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which a type of mindfulness based therapy that is pretty much concerned with the “here and now”. While psycho-dynamic approaches may help with anxiety reduction, most all of the psychological literature suggests CBT is the talk-therapy treatment of choice.
Bear in kind there are different offshoots of CBT, such as Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Think of this as a “Zen-like” approach to counseling for anxiety and stress that is focused on being present in the moment, helped by things such as deep breathing and guided imagery.
You may be wondering about medications? I have certainly seen plenty of people helped by taking prescribed medications designed to reduce anxiety (and depression). But should this be your first treatment approach?
Whenever possible, I recommend that a person try CBT type therapies first before going on a prescription drug. The reasons are fairly straight forward:
- CBT generally has a longer, more enduring effect on anxiety than medications alone.
- Meds have side effects. CBT does not.
- Anxiety medications often “dull” what you are feeling but to not reduce or alleviate.
- Anxiety medications can create changes in personality.
The ultimate decision to use medications is yours. I recommend that clients work closely with their primary care physician and helping professional (therapist) in the decision making process.
What is important that you know is that in many cases, once a person goes off a prescribed anxiolytic (aka anxiety medication), the benefits associated with previously taking that drug often diminish.
Here is a link to a list of common anti-anxiety medications that are prescribed to treat anxiety. Make sure you look at the side-effects so that you have a greater understanding of how they may impact you.
If you are interested in learning more about CBT, I encourage you to listen to this CBT podcast, published by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
What About Self-Help?
Some people have found that they are able to work through their issues with anxiety through various forms of self-help. Generally speaking, the greater intensity of anxiety in your life, the more likely you will need professional help.
Dr. David Carbonell, founder of the website: The Anxiety Coach suggests that if you decide to take this route, you may benefit from having a buddy or friend monitor your progress.
For people with minor manifestations of anxiety, self-help may be a perfectly effective wellness option. My own thought is that self-help works best when it is combined with talk-therapy, group counseling and depending upon the dynamic, medications.
Forms of self-help can include:
- Insightful books on stress & anxiety that provide concrete assignments.
- Anxiety support groups that are designed to share universal experiences.
- Mindfulness based workshops that provide stress reducing activities.
- Moderate physical activity and exercise that avoids over-training syndrome
Step Five: Pick the Right Therapist for Stress and Anxiety
If you decide working with a therapist may benefit in the treatment of your anxiety, it is important that you pick someone that has the appropriate background and experience.
Here is the deal – almost all therapists claim they work with anxiety. Very few, however, practice CBT type therapy. And because there are few certifications available for specifically treating the different forms of anxiety, it can be hard to find someone who is a “good fit” for your situation.
I highly recommend that you look at a number of directories in your area. I will provide a few here:
- Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies
- OCD Foundation’s Find a Therapist Page
- Anxiety and Depression Association Find a Therapist Page
If you are in the Chicago area, try to find someone who has experience working with stress related issues that focus on reducing stress and anxiety in your busy life. If you are looking for counseling and therapy aimed at men, feel free to contact me.
Bonus Tip: Choose Your Therapist and Make an Appointment
Once you have identified a therapist that you would work well with your anxiety issues, contact the person to make an appointment. If they have availability in their schedule, try to get in as soon as possible.
Think about the first couple of sessions as evaluative in nature. Here, I am talking about seeing how the therapist interacts with you. If you are involved in cognitive behavioral therapy, your helping professional should be interactive. This means she/he will ask you questions from time to time and be conversational. Interaction is a trademark of CBT counseling.
FYI: If the therapist basically is just sitting there and nodding their head without much feedback, you may not be working with someone who practices CBT.
How long you will be in therapy largely depends upon the unique dynamics happening in your life. In truth, there is no way to really know how long therapy will last. One thing that you will know from the first couple of sessions is if the counseling you are receiving is helpful. Don’t expect instant, overnight results.