Posted: September 12th, 2022

Put the Brakes on Anxiety

Posted in: General

Stress Can Be a Lifesaver

Did you know that feeling nervous, worried, and fearful are all normal and even healthy emotions that help us deal with the stressful situations in life? That’s right. It’s our body’s way of helping us survive, whether we’re facing an angry boss, a sudden car crash, or an impossible deadline. The second we perceive a threat to our safety, an elaborate set of hormonal changes and physiological responses quickly kick in.

Much like pressing the gas pedal in a car, our sympathetic nervous system revs up the adrenaline and cortisol to sharpen our senses and alert our bodies for action. That’s why people can suddenly jump out of the way of oncoming traffic before they even have a chance to think about it.1 Fear and worry can also motivate us to get our taxes done on time and study for the big test. And that nervous gut feeling tells us to be well-prepared before giving a speech, stay away from dark alleys, and say no to questionable-looking food. Stress can literally save our lives!

Stuck on High Speed

When the threat passes – and it usually does – our parasympathetic nervous system puts on the brakes to help us calm down. Our senses relax, and the adrenaline dissipates. We no longer feel anxious, worried, or afraid. At least, that’s true for MOST of us. But some people’s nervous systems have a hard time slowing down. In other words, the fear, worry, and nervousness just keep going, even after the danger is gone.

Suffering from anxiety disorder means that the everyday stress we normally experience develops into intense fear and worry in situations that are not really threatening. It’s as if the gas pedal gets stuck on high speed, continually pumping stress hormones into our systems for no reason. As the autonomic nervous system continues to trigger physical reactions, it causes a debilitating wear-and-tear on the mind and body.

After a while, this chronic stress can contribute to other health problems, including damage to the following: 1,2

  • Brain functions of memory, cognition, logical stress response, and learning
  • Immune system
  • Gastrointestinal system
  • Endocrine system
  • Blood vessels and arteries

People with anxiety disorders may begin to lose sleep, avoid activities and people, and have trouble functioning at school or work. It can contribute to job and relationship loss, poor health, social isolation, and depression.

Do I Have Anxiety Disorder?

At this point, you may be wondering if what you experience can be termed an anxiety disorder. Experts at the National Alliance on Mental Illness say that those who suffer from anxiety disorder regularly experience one or more of the symptoms below:3

Emotional symptoms:

  • Feelings of apprehension or dread
  • Feeling tense or jumpy
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Anticipating the worst and being watchful for signs of danger

Physical symptoms:

  • Pounding or racing heart and shortness of breath
  • Sweating, tremors and twitches
  • Headaches, fatigue, and insomnia
  • Upset stomach, frequent urination, or diarrhea

Do any of these sound familiar to you? To know if your daily stress is developing into an anxiety disorder, take this simple questionnaire called the GAD Screening Tool.4 This is a good starting point to help determine if you might have an anxiety disorder that needs professional attention. Share the questionnaire with a mental health professional who can discuss a diagnosis and treatment with you based on your unique situation. Every individual varies in their stress responses, so a particular intervention for one person may not be suitable for another.

If you suffer from anxiety disorder, you’re not alone. An estimated 40 million adults (18.1%) in the U.S. are affected by some type of anxiety disorder in their lives. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) affects 6.8 milion adults, or 3.1% of the US population. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. Other types of anxiety disorders include panic disorders (2.7%), social anxiety disorder (6.8%), and specific phobias (8.7%).5

How to Put the Brakes on Anxiety

The good news is that anxiety disorder is one of the most treatable mental health disorders. Learning how to take our foot off the gas and apply the brakes allows our autonomic nervous systems to slow down the stress response and relax. Overall, we can breathe easier in knowing that anxiety disorder can be overcome by applying one or more of these useful interventions.

  1. Relaxation Techniques

Counter the stress response by replacing it with a relaxation response. This brings our mind and body back to a peaceful state by focusing our attention on the present and releasing tension. Learning relaxation techniques can easily be done in the comfort of our own home. Here are a few to get started:

  1. Physical Health

Our bodies work hard to keep us functioning every day. We need to restore ourselves with quality food, rest, and exercise to keep us in tip-top shape. Strengthening our physical health is a powerful way to reverse anxiety.

  • Healthy eating. Regular meals rich in high quality, nutrient-dense carbohydrates, fats, and proteins fuels our mind and body with the energy and repairing mechanisms we need. Read more about certain foods that can ease anxiety.14
  • Make sleep a priority because stressed bodies need additional rest to rejuvenate.15 Do what you can to make sure you’re getting enough sleep to feel rested. Try these helpful tips to get a better night’s sleep.16
  • This is vital for maintaining mental fitness and reducing stress. Regular exercise reduces fatigue, improve alertness and concentration, and enhance cognitive function. Read more about how to manage anxiety with exercise.17
  • Avoid stimulants and addictions. These substances can worsen anxiety, including alcohol, coffee, smoking, and recreational drugs.18
  1. Social Support

A strong social support network can reduce our stress levels by finding positive, new friends and improving our current relationships. Either way, the goal is to relieve our anxiety, so we need to make sure our social interactions are uplifting and energizing, not draining. Read more about ways to tap social support and try the tips below:19

  • Get involved. Volunteering in our community can give us a break from everyday stress. Helping others can bring a warm, calming feeling and lesson our worries.
  • Strengthen relationships. Social interactions and caring relationships with family and friends can provide the emotional support that strengthens us to meet times of chronic stress. We need people to talk to, share with, believe in us, and just be there to love and be loved.
  • Join a support group. A self-help or support group can allow us to find compassion, understanding, and strength as we share similar experiences together.20
  • A skilled licensed mental health professional can help us greatly reduce our anxiety by addressing the root causes. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy are two successful ways anxiety disorder can become a thing of the past.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. The cognitive portion of CBT assists us in changing fearful thinking patterns, while the behavioral portion centers on relaxation training and desensitization to anxiety triggers. We learn the specific skills needed to directly manage our worries, behaviors, and reactions to stressful situations.18, 20 Read more about cognitive behavioral therapy.21
  • Exposure therapy. This type of psychotherapy focuses on helping us break the pattern of avoidance and fear surrounding anxiety disorder. By creating a safe therapeutic environment in which to reveal what we fear and avoid, we can learn to disconnect the anxiety triggers from situations that scare us.20 Read more about exposure therapy.22

Medications prescribed by a doctor or psychiatrist do not cure anxiety disorders but can help relieve the symptoms. Each person is unique, so it’s important to talk with your doctor or psychiatrist about benefits, risks, and possible side effects before taking any medications. Anti-anxiety drugs most commonly used include:18,20

  • This medication usually includes serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI). There are many options, so consulting with your mental health professional will help to find the right antidepressant that works for you. Learn more about antidepressants.23
  • This medication is usually prescribed as a second option to antidepressants and may take three to four weeks to become effective. Learn more about buspirone.24
  • These medications are generally used on a short-term basis due to their habit-forming capacity.18,20 Benzodiazepines work by boosting the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is a chemical that reduces electrical activity in the brain. Learn more about benzodiazepines.25

When to See a Professional

We should try to seek professional help before anxiety becomes severe – it may be easier to treat early on. Some anxiety is normal, but see a doctor or mental health professional if:

  • You feel like you’re worrying too much, and it’s interfering with your work, relationships, or other parts of your life
  • You feel depressed or irritable, have trouble with drinking or drugs, or you have other mental health concerns along with anxiety
  • You have suicidal thoughts or behaviors – seek emergency treatment immediately.


Mind Spa recommends our mental health treatment for individuals battling anxiety disorder. Our licensed therapists and medical professionals are dedicated to providing patients with safe and effective mental health treatment that teaches them how to heal their symptoms. Contact Mind Spa today for personalized treatment options.


1 Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, July 6). Understanding the stress response. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response

2 Yaribeygi, H., Panahi, Y., Sahraei, H., Johnston, T. P., & Sahebkar, A. (2017). The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI journal16, 1057–1072. https://doi.org/10.17179/excli2017-480

3 National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2017, December). Anxiety disordershttps://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders

4 Newman, M. G., Zuellig, A. R., Kachin, K. E., Constantino, M. J., Przeworski, A., Erickson, T., & Cashman-McGrath, L. (2002). Preliminary reliability and validity of the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Questionnaire-IV: A revised self-report diagnostic measure of generalized anxiety disorder. Behavior Therapy, 33, 215-233. 10.1016/S0005-7894(02)80026-0

5 Anxiety & Depression Association of America. (n.d.). Facts and Statistics. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics

6 Yoga with Adriene (2015, December 23). Yoga for anxiety and stress. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJbRpHZr_d0

7 BodyWisdom Yoga, Fitness & Wellness. (2019, December 21). Tai Chi for beginners –best instructional video for learning Tai Chi all 24 Yang Tai Chi poses. [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/R8NbQecDygQ

8 Eight Pieces. (2020, December 1). Qigong full 20-minute daily routine. [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/cwlvTcWR3Gs

9 Benson-Henry Institute. (n.d.). Guided relaxation exercises. https://bensonhenryinstitute.org/guided-relaxation-exercises/

10 UNC Health Care. (n.d.). Diaphragmatic breathing. https://www.uncmedicalcenter.org/app/files/public/238b14aa-3d39-447f-89f7-ff9a764c6fa0/pdf-medctr-rehab-diaphbreathing.pdf

11 BSU. (n.d.). Square breathing. https://www.bsu.edu/-/media/www/departmentalcontent/counseling%20practicum%20clinic/pdfs%20new%20website/square%20breathing.pdf?la=en&hash=24FD234DA3F4A5E99360ECDE95FC637CA3B54A8D

12 Johns Hopkins Rheumatology. (2018, February 7). Reduce street through progressive muscle relaxation (3 of 3). [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClqPtWzozXs

13 Rachel Richards Massage. (2018, January 16). Self massage and meditation for anxiety and stress relief. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-nKMaCxkGM

14 Crichton-Stuart, K. (2018, August 1). What are some foods to ease your anxiety? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322652

15 Anxiety & Depression Association of America. (n.d.). Tips to manage anxiety and stress. https://adaa.org/tips

16 Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, October 13). Tips for beating anxiety to get a better night’s sleep. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/tips-for-beating-anxiety-to-get-a-better-nights-sleep

17 Anxiety & Depression Association of America. (n.d.). Exercise for stress and anxiety. https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety

18 Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Generalized anxiety disorder. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20361045

19 Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Social support: Tap this tool to beat stress. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/social-support/art-20044445

20 National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Anxiety disorders. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders

21American Psychological Association. (2017, July). What is cognitive behavioral therapy? https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral.pdf

22 American Psychological Association. (2017, July). What is exposure therapy? https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/exposure-therapy.pdf

23 Mayo Clinic (2019, December 31). Antidepressants: Selecting one that’s right for you. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/antidepressants/art-20046273

24 National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). Buspirone. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Treatments/Mental-Health-Medications/Types-of-Medication/Buspirone-(BuSpar)

25 National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). Benzodiazepine-associated risks. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Treatment/Mental-Health-Medications/Benzodiazepine-Associated-Risks


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