Anxiety is an increasingly common issue that affects people of all ages. While some anxiety is normal, excessive worry and fear that interferes with daily life may indicate an anxiety disorder. Managing anxiety effectively starts with understanding some of the key factors that influence it. Experts point to what they call the “3 C’s” – Cognitions, Chemistry, and Control. Addressing each of these core components can provide real relief from anxiety.
Cognitions – Your Thoughts
Cognitions refer to thoughts. The way we think about situations or perceive threats plays a major role in anxiety levels. Those with anxiety tend to have distorted thought patterns like:
- Catastrophizing – Automatically expecting the worst case scenario
- Black-and-white thinking – Viewing situations in extremes with no middle ground
- Overgeneralizing – Broadly applying negative experiences or thoughts
- Mental filtering – Focusing on the negatives and ignoring the positives
- Emotional reasoning – Assuming emotions reflect reality (“I feel scared so danger must be present”)
Learning to identify and counteract these distorted thought patterns through cognitive behavioral therapy techniques can lessen anxiety. This may involve examining evidence for and against fearful thoughts or coming up with alternative, more realistic explanations for anxiety-provoking situations.
Chemistry – Brain Function
The chemistry and function of the brain also significantly impacts anxiety. Those with anxiety often have an overly reactive amygdala, the brain’s emotional response center. Increased activation in the amygdala triggers the body’s fear response. Anxiety sufferers also tend to have low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood.
Certain lifestyle habits can help stabilize the brain’s chemistry and function. Exercise boosts serotonin and blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, the rational decision-making part of the brain. Relaxation practices like meditation strengthen prefrontal cortex activity, lowering amygdala reactivity. Eating a nutrient-rich diet and avoiding inflammation-causing foods may also help balance brain chemistry.
Control – Making Changes
The final “C” is control. Feeling unable to control anxious thoughts or situations can greatly worsen anxiety. Making purposeful lifestyle changes provides an empowering sense of control. Strategies like setting healthy boundaries, adopting structured routines, facing worries gradually, asking others for support, and finding constructive outlets for stress restore a sense control.
There are additional ways to gain more control over anxiety, including:
Instead of trying to avoid anxiety, accept it as normal and reframe the meaning behind it. Those with anxiety often fear the feelings and physical symptoms themselves. Rather than seeing anxiety as dangerous, view it as a common emotion that, while unpleasant, is not actually harmful.
Finding Your Triggers
Keep a journal tracking your anxiety episodes, including when and where they occur and possible contributing factors. Look for patterns around triggers like conflicts, deadlines, social situations, or sensory elements. Understanding your unique triggers allows you to better anticipate and manage anxiety symptoms.
Blaming and judging yourself for anxiety can worsen symptoms. Talk to yourself with kindness and patience, as you would a close friend. Keep perspective that anxiety is not anyone’s fault. Let go of shame and criticism. Nurture yourself through the ups and downs.
Anxiety often fixates on potential future catastrophes. Ground yourself in the present moment to calm anxious thoughts. Observe sensory details or focus fully on a task at hand. Start practicing mindfulness techniques like breath awareness meditation. Being fully engaged in the here and now will help stop the mind’s spinning thoughts.
While anxiety affects each person differently, addressing the underlying cognitions, chemistry, and control factors offers an effective approach to regaining peace and calm. Consulting with a professional can also help design a customized anxiety management plan. Rather than struggling alone, remember support and solutions are available – the key is tuning into your own mind and body to find what works best for you.